Improve Psychological Health with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Mindfulness exercises are ways of paying attention to the present moment, using techniques like meditation, breathing, and yoga. Training helps people to become more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and body sensations so that instead of being overwhelmed by them, they are better able to manage them. Practising mindfulness can give more insight into emotions, boost attention and concentration, and improve relationships.” – Mental Health Foundation
Mindfulness training has been shown through extensive research to be effective in improving physical and psychological health and particularly with the physical and psychological reactions to stress. The vast majority of the mindfulness training techniques, however, require a certified trained therapist. This results in costs that many clients can’t afford. In addition, the participants must be available to attend multiple sessions at particular scheduled times that may or may not be compatible with their busy schedules and at locations that may not be convenient. As an alternative, online mindfulness training programs have been developed. These have tremendous advantages in decreasing costs, making training schedules much more flexible, and eliminating the need to go repeatedly to specific locations.
One difficulty with understanding the effects of mindfulness training is that they often contain multiple components such as training on the ideas of mindfulness, practicing mindfulness in everyday activities, meditation, chanting, body scanning, yoga, etc. It cannot be determined then what component or combination of components are responsible for the effects. It would be helpful to compare one form of training with the same training minus single components to begin to isolate what components are necessary and sufficient for the benefits.
In today’s Research News article “A Randomised Controlled Trial of a Brief Online Mindfulness-Based Intervention in a Non-clinical Population: Replication and Extension.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6061247/ ), Cavanagh and colleagues compared a 2-week online mindfulness training containing meditation with the same training without meditation. They recruited university students and staff to participate in a “Learning Mindfulness online” course and randomly assigned them to receive either mindfulness training, mindfulness training without meditation, or a wait-list control condition.
The mindfulness training consisted of a 5-minute mindfulness video and a 2000-word teaching on mindfulness that recommended performing one activity per week mindfully. The training also had a daily guided walking exercise. When meditation was included it consisted of instructions on meditation and a daily 10-minute guided meditation. The participants were measured before and after training for mindfulness, perceived stress, anxiety, depression, perseverative thinking, and a daily questionnaire on the use of training components.
They found that in comparison to baseline and the wait-list control, both mindfulness training groups had significantly higher levels of mindfulness and significantly lower levels of perceived stress, anxiety, depression, and perseverative thinking. They also found that perseverative thinking mediated the effects of mindfulness on perceived stress, anxiety, and depression. That is mindfulness was associated with decreased perseverative thinking (worry, rumination) which was, in turn, associated with lower perceived stress, anxiety, and depression.
The primary findings that mindfulness training decreases perseverative thinking, perceived stress, anxiety, and depression and that rumination (perseverative thinking is an important mediator http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/anxiety/of the effects, are not new as have been documented repeatedly elsewhere. What is new is that a relatively brief, online, training is sufficient to produce these benefits. The fact that it could be taught exclusively online is important and suggests that mindfulness training can be implemented broadly, at low cost, and great convenience.
It was surprising that the inclusion of meditation in the mindfulness training did not add any extra benefits. This may suggest that training on the application of mindfulness to day to day living is the most important component of mindfulness training for producing improvements in the psychological state of otherwise healthy individuals. This suggests that it is using mindfulness in ongoing day to day activities is very important for the training to be effective.
So, improve psychological health with mindfulness.
“Their analysis indicated that one skill—the ability to consciously focus on moment-to-moment experiences—fully predicted the benefits of mindfulness for work-related maladies.” – Adam Hoffman
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Cavanagh, K., Churchard, A., O’Hanlon, P., Mundy, T., Votolato, P., Jones, F., … Strauss, C. (2018). A Randomised Controlled Trial of a Brief Online Mindfulness-Based Intervention in a Non-clinical Population: Replication and Extension. Mindfulness, 9(4), 1191–1205. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0856-1
Building on previous research, this study compared the effects of two brief, online mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs; with and without formal meditation practice) and a no intervention control group in a non-clinical sample. One hundred and fifty-five university staff and students were randomly allocated to a 2-week, self-guided, online MBI with or without mindfulness meditation practice, or a wait list control. Measures of mindfulness, perceived stress, perseverative thinking and anxiety/depression symptoms within were administered before and after the intervention period. Intention to treat analysis identified significant differences between groups on change over time for all measured outcomes. Participation in the MBIs was associated with significant improvements in all measured domains (all ps < 0.05), with effect sizes in the small to medium range (0.25 to 0.37, 95% CIs 0.11 to 0.56). No significant changes on these measures were found for the control group. Change in perseverative thinking was found to mediate the relationship between condition and improvement on perceived stress and anxiety/depression symptom outcomes. Contrary to our hypotheses, no differences between the intervention conditions were found. Limitations of the study included reliance on self-report data, a relatively high attrition rate and absence of a longer-term follow-up. This study provides evidence in support of the feasibility and effectiveness of brief, self-guided MBIs in a non-clinical population and suggests that reduced perseverative thinking may be a mechanism of change. Our findings provide preliminary evidence for the effectiveness of a mindfulness psychoeducation condition, without an invitation to formal mindfulness meditation practice. Further research is needed to confirm and better understand these results and to test the potential of such interventions.