Reduce Perceived 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
Mindfulness training has been shown to be effective in improving physical and psychological health. One reason for these benefits is that mindfulness training improves the individual’s physical and psychological reactions to stress. Stress is an integral part of life, that is actually essential to the health of the body. In moderation, it is healthful, strengthening, 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. The research, however, at times, involves weak research designs and suffers from lack of control for social support and experimenter and participant expectancy effects. In addition, it is not known how mindfulness training influences levels of perceived stress. In today’s Research News article “Investigating the Specific Effects of an Online Mindfulness-Based Self-Help Intervention on Stress and Underlying Mechanisms.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6061241/ ), Gu and colleagues examined the effects of mindfulness training on stress levels in a well controlled experimental design.
They recruited university students and staff and randomly assigned them to one of three conditions; online Mindfulness-Based Self-Help training, listening to classical music online, or to a wait list. The Mindfulness training occurred over 2 weeks with 4 times per week 10-minute online recordings and home practice. The online listening to classical music conditions paralleled the mindfulness condition in being presented over 2 weeks with 4 times per week 10-minute recorded instructions and home practice. The participants were measured before during and after the training for mindfulness, self-compassion, worry, perceived stress, how engaged was the participant in practice, and participant expectancies.
They found that in comparison to before training and the music and wait list conditions, the mindfulness group had significantly lower levels of perceived stress and worry and significantly higher levels of mindfulness and self-compassion. They also performed a mediation analysis to investigate whether the effects of stress may have been mediated by the effects on mindfulness, worry, and or self-compassion. They found that higher mindfulness scores produced by the mindfulness intervention were associated with lower perceived stress. Similarly, lower worry scores produced by the mindfulness intervention were associated with lower perceived stress and higher self-compassion or scores produced by the mindfulness intervention were associated with lower perceived stress. Importantly, there were no significant differences between the conditions in engagement or expectancy effects.
These results demonstrate that mindfulness training lowers perceived stress levels and this could not be accounted for by expectancy or engagement effects. They further demonstrated that a mindfulness intervention lowers perceived stress by increasing mindfulness and self-compassion and lowers worry. Previous research has demonstrated that mindfulness training decreases perceived stress and worry, and increases mindfulness and self-compassion. The contribution of the current study is to demonstrate that the effects were not due to experimental contaminants and that the effects on perceived stress are due to effects on all three of these variables.
So, reduce perceived stress with mindfulness.
“There is nothing a busy man is less busied with than living; there is nothing harder to learn.” — Seneca
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Gu, J., Cavanagh, K., & Strauss, C. (2018). Investigating the Specific Effects of an Online Mindfulness-Based Self-Help Intervention on Stress and Underlying Mechanisms. Mindfulness, 9(4), 1245–1257. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0867-y
Previous research examining the effects of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) and their mechanisms of change has been hampered by failure to control for non-specific factors, such as social support and interaction with group members, facilitator contact and expectation of benefit, meaning that it remained possible that benefits of MBIs could have been attributable, perhaps entirely, to non-specific elements. This experimental study examined the effects of a 2-week online mindfulness-based self-help (MBSH) intervention compared to a well-matched classical music control condition and a waitlist control condition on perceived stress. This study also tested mindfulness, self-compassion and worry as mechanisms of the effects of MBSH versus both control conditions on stress. University students and staff (N = 214) were randomised to MBSH, classical music, or waitlist conditions and completed self-report measures pre-, mid- and post-intervention. Post-intervention, MBSH was found to significantly reduce stress compared to both control conditions. Bootstrapping-based mediation analyses used standardised residualised change scores for all variables, with mediators computed as change from baseline to mid-intervention, and the outcome computed as change from baseline to post-intervention. Changes in mindfulness, self-compassion and worry were found to significantly mediate the effects of MBSH versus both control conditions on changes in stress. Findings suggest that cultivating mindfulness specifically confers benefits to stress and that these benefits may occur through improving theorised mechanisms.