Improve Psychological Health with a Mindfulness App
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“The Mindfulness App opens up a world of professional guided meditations. It helps you towards a more peaceful and healthier state of mind. Newbie or guru? Don’t worry, we’ve got you. The Mindfulness App offers guided meditations for everyone.” – Google Play
Mindfulness training has been shown through extensive research to be effective in improving physical and psychological health and particularly with reducing the physical and psychological reactions to stress and increasing resilience in the face of stress. Indeed, these practices have been found to reduce stress and improve psychological health in college students.
The vast majority of the mindfulness training techniques, however, require a 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, mindfulness training over the internet 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. In addition, research has indicated that mindfulness training online can be effective for improving the health and well-being of the participants.
In today’s Research News article “Feasibility and Acceptability of a Mobile Mindfulness Meditation Intervention Among Women: Intervention Study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7298633/) Rung and colleagues recruited adult women and had them train for at least 30 days with 10-minute sessions of an online mindfulness app (Headspace) based upon the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. They were measured before participation and 45 days later for feasibility and acceptability of the mindfulness app, mindfulness, depression, perceived stress, sleep quality, physical activity, body size, and healthy eating.
Of the women enrolled only 14% completed the Headspace program while 60% of the women completed all measures but did not engage in the Headspace program. Of the women who used the Headspace App three quarters liked or loved the program while 85% stated that they would recommend the app to others. They found that in comparison to baseline and to the participants who did not participate with Headspace, there were significant reductions in depression, sleep latency, and perceived stress, and increases in sleep quality and duration, and physical activity. Interestingly, there was no significant increase in mindfulness.
The fact that improvements in psychological health and sleep occurred without an increase in mindfulness is puzzling. Online apps have been found previously to increase mindfulness and mindfulness has been shown to decrease depression and perceived stress, and improve sleep quality. This suggests that the app can be beneficial independent of changes in mindfulness. This needs to be further explored in future research.
The willingness to use the mindfulness app was disappointingly low indicating that many of the women did not have the time or desire to use it. But if they used it, they tended to like it, recommend it to others, and have improvements in their psychological health and sleep. Obviously, more research is needed to identify why so few women were willing to utilize the app as this markedly limits its usefulness.
So, improve psychological health with a mindfulness app.
“Meditation apps aren’t just a boon for consumers hoping to learn how to be more present at an affordable price. If effective, they also have implications for workplaces, schools, and even nations, who want to cultivate happier and healthier communities.” – Kira Newman
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Rung, A. L., Oral, E., Berghammer, L., & Peters, E. S. (2020). Feasibility and Acceptability of a Mobile Mindfulness Meditation Intervention Among Women: Intervention Study. JMIR mHealth and uHealth, 8(6), e15943. https://doi.org/10.2196/15943
Traditional mindfulness-based stress reduction programs are resource intensive for providers and time- and cost-intensive for participants, but the use of mobile technologies may be particularly convenient and cost-effective for populations that are busy, less affluent, or geographically distant from skilled providers. Women in southern Louisiana live in a vulnerable, disaster-prone region and are highly stressed, making a mobile program particularly suited to this population.
This study aimed to (1) assess the feasibility and acceptability of a mobile mindfulness app in real-world conditions in a pilot study of a community sample of women residing in southern Louisiana, (2) describe predictors of app usage, and (3) assess the effect of the app on secondary health outcomes.
Women were recruited from an oil spill study on health. A total of 236 women completed a baseline survey, were offered the mobile mindfulness program, and completed a follow-up survey. Subjects were asked to download and use the app for at least 30 days for 10 min. All study procedures were completed on the web. Primary outcomes were feasibility and acceptability of the app and characteristics of app utilization. Secondary outcomes included mindfulness, depression, perceived stress, sleep quality, physical activity, BMI, and healthy eating.
Overall, 74.2% (236/318) of subjects completed the follow-up survey, and 13.5% (43/318) used the app. The main barrier to app usage was lack of time, cited by 37% (16/43) of users and 48.7% (94/193) of nonusers of the app. Women who chose to use the app were more highly educated (16/43, 63% had a college education vs 65/193, 33.7% of nonparticipants; P<.001), had higher incomes (23/43, 58% had incomes >US $50,000 per year vs 77/193, 43.0% of nonparticipants), and were employed (34/43, 79% vs 122/193, 63.2% of nonparticipants; P=.047). Those who engaged with the app did so at high levels, with 72% (31/43) of participants self-reporting the completion of some or all sessions and 74% (32/43) reporting high levels of satisfaction with the app. Participation with the app had a beneficial impact on depression (odds ratio [OR] 0.3, 95% CI 0.11-0.81), sleep quality (OR 0.1, 95% CI 0.02-0.96), sleep duration (OR 0.3, 95% CI 0.07-0.86), sleep latency (OR 0.3, 95% CI 0.11-0.81), and physical activity (2.8 95% CI 1.0-7.8), but mindfulness scores did not change from baseline to follow-up.
The Headspace mobile mindfulness app was easy and cost-effective to implement and acceptable to those who participated, but few women elected to try it. The unique characteristics of this southern Louisiana population suggest that more intense promotion of the benefits of mindfulness training is needed, perhaps in conjunction with some therapist or researcher support. Several short-term benefits of the app were identified, particularly for depression and sleep.