Relieve Generalized Anxiety Disorder with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“a way to reduce the symptoms of anxiety is to be fully, mindfully, anxious. As anxiety reveals itself to be a misperception, symptoms will dissipate.” – George Hofmann
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults, or 18% of the population. A characterizing feature of anxiety disorders is that the suffer overly identifies with and personalizes their thoughts. The sufferer has recurring thoughts, such as impending disaster, that they may realize are unreasonable, but are unable to shake. Anxiety disorders have generally been treated with drugs. But there are considerable side effects and these drugs are often abused. There are a number of psychological therapies for anxiety. But, about 45% of the patients treated do not respond to the therapy. So, there is a need to develop alternative treatments.
Recently, it has been found that mindfulness training can be effective for anxiety disorders. One way that this training might affect anxiety disorders is by reducing negative interpretation bias. This involves a tendency to interpret relatively ambiguous situations as threatening. Indeed, such bias is characteristic of patients with anxiety disorders.
In today’s Research News article “Investigating the Role of Interpretation Bias in Mindfulness-Based Treatment of Adults With Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00082/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1254058_69_Psycho_20200225_arts_A), Hoge and colleagues recruited adult patients with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and provided them with an 8-week program in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). The program involves weekly 2-hour sessions consisting of meditation, body scan, yoga, and discussion with daily home practice. The patients were measured before and after training for mindfulness, anxiety, and interpretation bias.
They found that in comparison to baseline, after Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training there were significant increases in mindfulness and significant decreases in anxiety and interpretation bias. They then performed mediation analysis and found that the higher the levels of mindfulness after training the lower the levels of anxiety but negative interpretation bias did not significantly mediate the association. They also found that the greater the change in mindfulness from baseline, the greater the change in anxiety. But the change in negative interpretation bias did not significantly mediate the association.
These findings corroborate previous findings that mindfulness training produces decreases in anxiety. But, contrary to the experimental hypothesis, there was no evidence that mindfulness’ effectiveness for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) results from a change in negative interpretation bias. This is contrary to previous findings that interpretation bias mediates the effects of mindfulness on anxiety. The current study used patients with GAD while prior research used healthy undergraduate students. This suggests that interpretation bias may mediate the effect of mindfulness on normal, typical, levels of anxiety but not pathological levels.
Other research has suggested that changes in emotion regulation, rumination and worry, or self-compassion might partially mediate the effects of mindfulness training on anxiety. The present results, taken together with prior findings suggests that mindfulness induced reductions in negative interpretation bias may help to lower anxiety levels when the levels are relatively low but not when the levels are extreme as in Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). At extreme levels it is known that anxiety begets anxiety. That is, that the high levels of anxiety tend to produce more anxiety. It may be this amplifying effect is not addressed by changes in interpretation bias while the initial levels are.
So, relieve generalized anxiety disorder with mindfulness.
“Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment.” – Thich Nhat Hahn
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Hoge EA, Reese HE, Oliva IA, Gabriel CD, Guidos BM, Bui E, Simon NM and Dutton MA (2020) Investigating the Role of Interpretation Bias in Mindfulness-Based Treatment of Adults With Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Front. Psychol. 11:82. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00082
Although mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have garnered empirical support for a wide range of psychological conditions, the psychological processes that mediate the relationship between MBIs and subsequent symptomatic improvement are less well-understood. In the present study we sought to examine, for the first time, the relationship between mindfulness, negative interpretation bias as measured by the homophone task, and anxiety among adults with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Forty-two individuals with GAD completed measures of mindfulness, interpretation bias, and anxiety before and after treatment with Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Contrary to prior research, we did not find evidence of an indirect relationship between baseline levels of mindfulness and anxiety via negative interpretation bias. MBSR did result in significant reductions in negative interpretation bias from baseline to post-treatment; however, we did not find evidence of an indirect relationship between changes in mindfulness and changes in anxiety via changes in interpretation bias. Taken together, these results provide minimal support for the hypothesized relationship between mindfulness, negative interpretation bias, and anxiety among adults with GAD. Limitations and specific suggestions for further inquiry are discussed.
– We examined the role of interpretation bias in the mindfulness-based treatment of adults with GAD.
– Participants experienced significant reductions in mindfulness, negative interpretation bias, and anxiety.
– We did not find evidence for an indirect relationship between mindfulness and anxiety via interpretation bias.