Improve the Physical and Sleep Symptoms of Stress with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“mindfulness not only reduces stress but also gently builds an inner strength so that future stressors have less impact on our happiness and physical well-being.” – Shamash Alidina
Stress is an integral part of life. People often think of stress as a bad thing. But, it is actually essential to the health of the body. In fact, we invest time and resources in stressing ourselves, e.g ridding rollercoasters, sky diving, competing in sports, etc. We say we love a challenge, but, challenges are all stressful. So, we actually love to stress ourselves. In moderation, it is healthful and provides interest and fun to life. If stress, is high or is prolonged, however, it can be problematic. It can significantly damage our physical and mental health and even reduce our longevity, leading to premature deaths. So, it is important that we develop methods to either reduce or control high or prolonged stress or reduce our responses to it.
Mindfulness practices have been found routinely to reduce the psychological and physiological responses to stress. But, it is not known exactly how mindfulness produces these benefits. In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness Meditation Targets Transdiagnostic Symptoms Implicated in Stress-Related Disorders: Understanding Relationships between Changes in Mindfulness, Sleep Quality, and Physical Symptoms.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5971306/ ), Greeson and colleagues investigated some potential intermediaries between improved mindfulness produced by mindfulness training and improved responses to the physical and sleep problems produced by stress.
They recruited participants in a community based 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. The participants were primarily well-educated, white women averaging 45 years of age. The MBSR program consisted of meditation, yoga, and body scans. It met once a week for 2.5 hours and included home practice of 20 to 45 minutes per day for 6 days a week They had the participants complete measures online before and after the MBSR program of mindfulness, physical symptoms, sleep quality, ruminative responses, thought suppression, experiential avoidance, and emotion regulation.
They found that compared to baseline, following MBSR training there were statistically significant improvements in all measures, including reductions in physical symptoms and increases in sleep quality. In addition, they found that the greater the increase in mindfulness produced by MBSR training, the greater the reduction in physical symptoms, rumination, unwanted intrusive thoughts, thought suppression, experiential avoidance, and expressive suppression and the greater the improvement in sleep quality, emotion regulation and cognitive reappraisal. Using a partial correlation strategy, they found that the improvements in physical symptoms and sleep quality produced by increased mindfulness were, in part, mediated by the improvements in rumination, unwanted intrusive thoughts, thought suppression, experiential avoidance, emotion suppression, and cognitive reappraisal.
These results clearly replicate prior findings that improved mindfulness is a consequence of MBSR training that produces improvements in physical symptoms and sleep quality. They further demonstrate that this is, in part, produced by the ability of mindfulness training to improve the cognitive and emotional issues that lead to physical symptoms and poor sleep quality. This clearly demonstrates how beneficial mindfulness training is for the physical and psychological health of the participants. It also suggests that there is, to some extent, a causal chain of effects that produce the improvements with some of the benefits of mindfulness training being responsible for other benefits.
So, improve the physical and sleep symptoms of stress with mindfulness.
“If you believe being overly busy and overextended is evidence of productivity, then you probably believe that creating space to explore, think, and reflect should be kept to a minimum. Yet these very activities are the antidote to the nonessential busyness that infects so many of us.” — Greg Mckeown
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Jeffrey M. Greeson, Haley Zarrin, Moria J. Smoski, Jeffrey G. Brantley, Thomas R. Lynch, Daniel M. Webber, Martica H. Hall, Edward C. Suarez, Ruth Q. Wolever. Mindfulness Meditation Targets Transdiagnostic Symptoms Implicated in Stress-Related Disorders: Understanding Relationships between Changes in Mindfulness, Sleep Quality, and Physical Symptoms. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2018; 2018: 4505191. Published online 2018 May 13. doi: 10.1155/2018/4505191
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is an 8-week meditation program known to improve anxiety, depression, and psychological well-being. Other health-related effects, such as sleep quality, are less well established, as are the psychological processes associated with therapeutic change. This prospective, observational study (n = 213) aimed to determine whether perseverative cognition, indicated by rumination and intrusive thoughts, and emotion regulation, measured by avoidance, thought suppression, emotion suppression, and cognitive reappraisal, partly accounted for the hypothesized relationship between changes in mindfulness and two health-related outcomes: sleep quality and stress-related physical symptoms. As expected, increased mindfulness following the MBSR program was directly correlated with decreased sleep disturbance (r = −0.21, p = 0.004) and decreased stress-related physical symptoms (r = −0.38, p < 0.001). Partial correlations revealed that pre-post changes in rumination, unwanted intrusive thoughts, thought suppression, experiential avoidance, emotion suppression, and cognitive reappraisal each uniquely accounted for up to 32% of the correlation between the change in mindfulness and change in sleep disturbance and up to 30% of the correlation between the change in mindfulness and change in stress-related physical symptoms. Results suggest that the stress-reducing effects of MBSR are due, in part, to improvements in perseverative cognition and emotion regulation, two “transdiagnostic” mental processes that cut across stress-related disorders.