Free Your Mind with Mindfulness

It took me a couple of years after I got out of Berkeley before I dared to start writing. That academic mind-set – which was kind of shallow in my case anyway – had begun to fade.Joan Didion
Our thinking is affected by many factors outside of the actual task at hand. Our previous training and experiences shape how we approach the problems in the present moment. Proactive interference is the psychological term for the fact that previous learning interferes with your ability to learn and remember new material. In other words, the more you know the harder it is to learn new things.


It has been noted that major breakthrough ideas in science and mathematics usually occur when the individual is young. For example, Einstein’s most inventive and breakthrough ideas including relativity occurred before age 26. This has been attributed to the notion that young minds have not been ingrained with established ways of thinking, so they can think in completely new and creative ways. The expression “think outside of the box” means thinking outside of the traditional established ways of thinking (the box).


To be a better, more creative thinker, we need to inhibit or release our learned habits of thought. These are termed our “set” in psychology. But, how do we do this? Mindfulness has been shown to improve attentional control and cognitive flexibility (see Perhaps, mindfulness training could help individuals overcome their prior “set” and “think outside the box.”


In today’s Research News article “Reset a task set after five minutes of mindfulness practice

Kuo and colleagues examine whether a brief mindfulness training (5-min breath following meditation) can help in overcoming a task set. They found that the mindfulness training reset their thinking such that there was no evidence of previous set interference with a current task. “The participants were able to put aside the past event while concentrating on the present requirement.”


In addition, Kuo and colleagues found that the mindfulness training allowed the participants to reconfigure their mode of attentional control. That is, the previous experience created a situation wherein attention was controlled by inhibiting (restraining) responses to a particular class of stimuli. After mindfulness training the method of controlling attention established by the previous experience was absent. This suggests that mindfulness training allows attention to reset and be freed from the effects of prior experience.


These findings are exciting and suggest that mindfulness training may allow us to get rid of the “box” around our thinking. It should be mentioned, however, that the study by Kuo and colleagues was very short term. There is a need to investigate whether these effects of mindfulness training are enduring. It would be cumbersome to have to meditate before tackling every new task, but would be wonderful if a regular practice was sufficient to maintain an open mind. The answer to this question is, at this time, not known.


So, practice mindfulness and free your mind!


I am thankful the most important key in history was invented. It’s not the key to your house, your car, your boat, your safety deposit box, your bike lock or your private community. It’s the key to order, sanity, and peace of mind. The key is ‘Delete.’Elayne Boosler


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies




Practice Yoga to Relieve Anxiety and Depression during Pregnancy


“The effort to separate the physical experience of childbirth from the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of this event has served to disempower and violate women.” ~Mary Rucklos Hampton


Depression is quiet common during pregnancy. More than 20 percent of pregnant women have an anxiety disorder, depressive symptoms, or both during pregnancy. The psychological health of pregnant women has consequences for fetal development, and consequently, child outcomes. Depression during pregnancy is associated with premature delivery and low birth weight. It is also associated with higher levels of stress hormone in the mother and in the newborns, which can make them more stress reactive, temperamentally difficult, and more challenging to care for and soothe. Long-term there’s some evidence that the children have more social and emotional problems, including aggression and conduct problems and possibly child IQ and language. But, while gestational diabetes is far less common than depression during pregnancy, women are routinely screened for this disorder, but not for depression, any psychiatric illness, nor even experiences of life stress.


It is clear that there is a need for methods to treat depression and anxiety during pregnancy. Since the fetus can be negatively impacted by drugs, it would be preferable to find a treatment that did not require drugs. Moderate exercise is also beneficial during pregnancy. Yoga has antidepressive and anti-stress properties and it is a moderate exercise, so, it would appear to be a good candidate to treat depression and anxiety during pregnancy.


In today’s Research News article “A randomized controlled trial of yoga for pregnant women with symptoms of depression and anxiety”

Goodman and colleagues examine whether yoga practice during pregnancy is effective for depression and anxiety. They found that in comparison to treatment as usual, and 8-week program of yoga practice significantly reduced depression and negative emotions. Anxiety levels decreased in both the yoga and the treatment as usual groups.


It is not known if the efficacy of yoga for depression is due to its exercise value or to an intrinsic property specific to yoga. Both study groups had high levels of exercise before, during and after the treatment. As such, the additional exercise contributed by yoga would not make a significant difference in the fitness of the women. This speculation suggests that there may be other aspects of yoga practice that relieve depression. One obvious candidate is the social nature of the yoga classes, particularly since they were with other pregnant women. The camaraderie and sharing could be responsible for the antidepressive effects. It is also possible that the stress relieving properties of yoga are responsible for the psychological improvements.


Regardless, practice yoga during pregnancy to prevent or treat depression and anxiety.


“Yoga practice can make us more and more sensitive to subtler and subtler sensations in the body. Paying attention to and staying with finer and finer sensations within the body is one of the surest ways to steady the wandering mind.” ― Ravi Ravindra,


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Trauma May Reduce Mindfulness


“People with BPD are like people with third degree burns over 90% of their bodies. Lacking emotional skin, they feel agony at the slightest touch or movement.” ― Marsha M. Linehan


Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a very serious mental illness that is estimated to affect 1.6% of the U.S. population. It involves unstable moods, behavior, and relationships, problems with regulating emotions and thoughts, impulsive and reckless behavior, and unstable relationships. BPD is associated with high rates of co-occurring depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders, self-harm, suicidal behaviors, and completed suicides. Needless to say it is widespread and debilitating.


BPD has not responded well to a variety of therapies with the exception of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (BPT). It is interesting that DBT emphasizes mindfulness. This suggests that there may be a relationship between the etiology of Borderline Personality Disorder and mindfulness. In addition 30 to 90 % of BPD cases are associated with high rates of early traumatic experiences including sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Also, mindfulness has been shown to reduce the impact of trauma on the individual All of this suggests that childhood trauma may affect BPD by lowering mindfulness.


In today’s Research News article “Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious mental illness marked by unstable moods, behavior, and relationships.”

Elices and colleagues measure childhood trauma, personality and mindfulness in a sample of individuals with relatively severe Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). They found, although did not report, that the degree of mindfulness measured was very low in the BPD sample than occurs in the general population. They also reported high levels of childhood trauma in the BPD sample.


One of the most interesting findings was that the mindfulness characteristics of acting with awareness and non-judging were negatively associated with childhood trauma, but only with sexual abuse. That is for individual with BPD who experienced sexual abuse in childhood there were lower levels of acting with awareness and non-judging than with BPD sufferers who didn’t experience this form of trauma. Given the mindfulness scores were low to begin with and that sexual abuse is negatively associated with mindfulness, suggests that trauma may make a bad situation worse.


These are very preliminary results and do not clearly make a case for childhood trauma affecting Borderline Personality Disorder by lowering mindfulness, the results are compatible with this idea. It obviously needs to be explored further.


So, improve mindfulness to combat the effects of trauma.


“Thirty seconds of pure awareness is a long time, especially after a lifetime of escaping yourself at all costs.” ― Kiera Van Gelder


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies



Add Spirituality to substance Abuse Treatment to Amplify its Benefits

“What fascinates me about addiction and obsessive behavior is that people would choose an altered state of consciousness that’s toxic and ostensibly destroys most aspects of your normal life, because for a brief moment you feel okay.” – Moby


Substance abuse and addiction is a large and difficult problem for all groups. But, it is especially a problem for Native American and Alaska Native populations. The rates of binge alcohol use and illicit drug use are higher among American Indian or Alaska Native adults than the national averages (30.6 vs. 24.5 percent and 11.2 vs. 7.9 percent, respectively) and  the  need for treatment is higher than the national average for adults (18.0 vs. 9.6 percent). But only one in eight (12.6 percent) in need of treatment received treatment.


There is a great need for effective treatments for substance abuse overall, but particularly for the Native American and Alaska Native populations. Mindfulness based treatments have shown promise. The mindfulness based therapeutic technique Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) has been demonstrated to be effective for the treatment of substance abuse. Similarly, spirituality has also been shown to be beneficial in recovery from addictions and alcoholism (see links below).


In the treatment of Native American and Alaska Native populations there has been a glaring lack of incorporation their spiritual beliefs into the therapeutic process. This is a problem as these spiritual beliefs are critical and central to their cultures and integration of them into therapy is critical in working with this population.


In today’s Research News article “Dialectical behavior therapy with American Indian/Alaska Native adolescents diagnosed with substance use disorders: Combining an evidence based treatment with cultural, traditional, and spiritual beliefs.

Beckstead and colleagues integrate Native American and Alaska Native spiritual beliefs into the evidence based treatment Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and applied it to treating substance abuse and addiction in Native American and Alaska Native adolescents. Remarkably they found that 90% of the 229 patients treated showed clinically significant improvement and 6% more showed improvement. No patients demonstrated deterioration.


These results are remarkable as reflected in the very large calculated effect size for the integrated treatment. This suggests that integrating culturally appropriate spiritual beliefs into treatment greatly amplifies the effectiveness of the treatment. As we discussed previously (see links below) spirituality has a number of positive characteristics that make it effective in recovery from addiction. So, its integration into secularly based treatments appears to have an amplifying effect, making these treatments even more effective.


So fight substance abuse with spiritually appropriate treatment.


“All the suffering, stress, and addiction comes from not realizing you already are what you are looking for.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies



Spirituality improves recovery from addictions

Spirituality improves recovery from alcoholism



Love thyself

“Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.” ~Malcolm S. Forbes


There is a widespread problem in the west that many people don’t seem to like themselves.  The term used to describe this in psychology is self-loathing, although this term is far too strong and is not an appropriate descriptor for the majority of people. In general, the dislike of self has a much smaller magnitude than the word loathing implies. As a result I prefer self-dislike.


The self-dislike sometimes means that the individual dislikes every aspect of themselves; but most frequently people only don’t like certain aspects of themselves. Often it is there physical appearance, their school achievement, their career, their social behavior, etc. Making matters worse, they tend to overlook their strengths and discount them, focusing instead in the parts that they find problematic.


The discounting and overlooking of strengths shows up in what psychologists call the Imposter Syndrome. Here very successful people do not appear to be able to assimilate their success and instead attribute it to luck. The esteem with which they’re held makes them feel like imposters. It is estimated that two out of five successful people consider themselves frauds that 70 percent of all people feel like impostors at one time or another.


When this issue of self-dislike was raised to the Dalai Lama he was totally perplexed and repeatedly asked for clarifications. Not liking oneself is unheard of in his culture. So, he was dumbfounded and without comment. Hence, the problem seems to be primarily one of western culture. This suggests that self-dislike is learned within a particular cultural context with western culture and its values particularly adept at producing it.


There are sometimes circumstances that underlie self-dislike. Abuse or bullying, belittling parents, learning disabilities, physical appearance or disabilities are apt to result in self-dislike. But, most frequently it originates from western culture’s tendency to promote unrealistic expectations.


Physical appearance is a good case in point where the media holds up extraordinarily attractive individuals as what we should strive to be. Very, very few people can ever measure up and so can end up disliking their appearance. Academic achievement is another case where for many anything less than an “A” is seen as failure. Once again few can measure up and most end up disliking their intellectual ability. Sports are another case where the media holds up professional athletes as role models. These are exceptional people and the vast majority of the population can’t perform anywhere near their level and thus feel inadequate. It is relatively easy to think of many other unrealistic expectations prompted by our hyper-success oriented culture.


What can we do to overcome self-dislike. Unfortunately, the self-dislike is usually deeply ingrained and becomes resistant to persuasion or evidence. No matter how successful the person becomes or how much praise is received the person cannot truly believe that he or she has value or worth. They believe themselves to be imposters.


Self-dislike is an indicator that the individual is unsatisfied with the way things are. There is a strong desire for them to be different and the individual believes that if one or more aspects of themselves changed, then things would be much better. This is in fact rarely true. An overweight person who loses a significant amount of weight doesn’t usually become happier instead it frequently produces depression. A far better approach is for people to learn to accept things, including themselves, just as they are.


Meditation is uniquely suited to promote accepting things as they are. So, it would seem appropriate for dealing with self-dislike. Meditation focuses on awareness of the present moment. As we’ve seen, self-dislike is often rooted in the past. By learning to focus on now, the past recedes in importance. When individuals learn to look closely at what is actually going on in the present moment they can begin to see that there is nothing wrong at all. In fact, there is tremendous good present. So, meditation can move the individual away from the past where the self-dislike originated and can then move forward in the present moment to develop self-acceptance.


Another method to address self-dislike is to employ what psychologists call counterconditioning where one behavior or belief is eliminated by replacing it with its opposite. Self-dislike can be eliminated by replacing it with self-love.  Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) is designed to do just that. We practice loving ourselves and wishing ourselves well. It seems overly simple, but experience and research has shown that it can have remarkable impact.


Self-dislike is deeply ingrained. It will not be changed overnight. It will take practice and patience to weaken and eventually overcome it. But, contemplative practice can help.


So, engage in contemplative practice and learn to love thyself.


You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love & affection.” ~Buddha


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

Don’t get Stroked Practice Tai Chi

“The medical literature tells us that the most effective ways to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and many more problems are through healthy diet and exercise. Our bodies have evolved to move, yet we now use the energy in oil instead of muscles to do our work.”David Suzuki


A stroke results from an interruption of the blood supply to the brain, depriving it of needed oxygen and nutrients. This can result in the death of brain cells and depending on the extent of the damage produce profound loss of function. Strokes come in two varieties. The most common (87%) is ischemic stroke resulting from a blocked artery. But strokes can also occur due to leaking or rupture of a blood vessel in the brain, known as hemorrhagic stroke.


Every year, more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke and it is the third leading cause of death, killing around 140,000 Americans each year. It is estimated to cost $34 billion each year in health care services, medications, and missed work. In addition, Stroke is the leading cause of serious long-term disability.


There are a number of risk factors for stroke that are unchangeable, such as family history, age, and genes. But there are a very large number of factors that are under our control including high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, poor diet, sedentariness, and obesity. Given this list it is clear that basic physical fitness and exercise would be excellent for stroke prevention.


The ancient mindful movement technique Tai Chi is a very safe form of gentle exercise that is even appropriate for the elderly. But, can such a gentle exercise help reduce strokes by altering the risk factors for stroke. In today’s Research News article “Tai Chi Chuan for the Primary Prevention of Stroke in Middle-Aged and Elderly Adults: A Systematic Review”

Zheng and colleagues review the literature investigating this very point and find that Tai Chi does significantly reduce the incidence of non-fatal strokes and reduces a number of risk factors for stroke.


The practice of Tai Chi was found to reduce the stroke risk factors of body weight, Body Mass Index (BMI), waistline and hip circumference, blood pressure, plasma lipids and cholesterol. It even was effective in reducing these risk factors for stroke in patients with chronic diseases. It had all of these positive effects without any reported adverse effects.


It should be mentioned that the effect sizes were small to moderate. Hence, Tai Chi cannot be seen as a magical treatment for the prevention of stroke. It simply makes it less likely that a stroke might occur. Since it is safe and has many other benefits particularly for the elderly, it should be seriously considered as an exercise to assist in healthy aging.


So practice Tai Chi so you don’t get stroked!


“The most important reason to study T’ai-Chi Ch’uan is that when you finally reach the place where you understand what life is all about, you’ll have some health to enjoy it.” – Professor Cheng Man-Ch’ing


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

ACT for Depression

ACT depressed_man


“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key.” – Elizabeth Wurtzel

Depression is challenging and potentially deadly. It permeates the individual’s entire life and being. It is also widespread, affecting millions of people in the U.S. and worldwide. Recently mindfulness based therapies have been developed to treat depression and have been found to be quite effective (see links below). In fact, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was developed specifically to treat depression. But Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness Meditation, and Loving Kindness Meditation have all been shown to be effective.


Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a new form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that has been shown to be effective for depression. It helps the individual examine how their thoughts, feelings, and behavior interact to impact their psychological and physical well-being. It then works to change thinking to alter the interaction and produce greater life satisfaction. ACT employs mindfulness practices to increase awareness and develop an attitude of acceptance and compassion in the presence of painful thoughts and feelings. Additionally, ACT helps people strengthen aspects of cognition such as in committing to valued living.


As impressive as the effectiveness of many of the therapies for depression are, they require the supervision of a trained therapist working either with a single individual or in small groups. With the magnitude of the problem of depression, these therapies can only touch a small fraction of depression suffers. Recently the internet has been used to provide therapy to a wide audience. It allows for therapies to be made available to a much larger number of patients over a much larger geographical area.


In today’s Research News article “Web-Based Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Depressive Symptoms With Minimal Support: A Randomized Controlled Trial.

Lappalainen and colleagues use the internet to deliver Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (iACT) for the treatment of depression and compared its effectiveness to a group of participants on a wait list for treatment. They found large significant and much greater improvements for the iACT group for depression overall and also marked improvements in experienced psychological and physiological symptoms, psychological flexibility, mindfulness, frequency of automatic thoughts, and thought suppression. In addition, the improvements continued and even increased over the year following treatment, demonstrating the long lasting effectiveness of iACT.


These are impressive results and indicate that ACT can be delivered effectively over the internet, producing long-lasting improvement in depression. The results suggest that iACT worked the way it was designed to, by producing more mindful, positive, and constructive thought processes. Thinking was more targeted to the present moment reducing rumination about past events, it was more under control and less automatic, and provided much greater flexibility in evaluative thinking. So the depressed individuals’ broke the cycle produced by the ideas and thoughts they have regarding their depression contributing further to their depression, allowing them to understand better the nature of their problems and the sources of their feelings.


So, ACT for depression.


Depression isn’t about, ‘Woe is me, my life is this, that and the other’, it’s like having the worst flu all day that you just can’t kick.” – Robbie Williams


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies




Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is effective for major depression even after drugs fail

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is effective for depression

Loving Kindness Meditation is effective for depression

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is effective for depression

Mindfulness Meditation alters the brain to relieve depression


Reduce Pain with Meditation


Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.Joseph Campbell


Pain can be difficult to deal with, particularly if it’s persistent. But, even short-term pain, acute pain, is unpleasant. But acute pain is an important signal that there is something wrong or that damage is occurring and some form of action is needed. It’s an important signal that is ignored at the individual’s peril.


So, it’s important that pain signals not be blocked or prevented. But, it would be useful to establish a method to lower pain and improve recovery from a painful stimulus. Contemplative practice has been shown to be useful for both chronic and acute pain (see links below). But the question remains as to how much practice is needed to assist with pain.
In today’s Research News article “A Brief Mindfulness Meditation Training Increases Pain Threshold and Accelerates Modulation of Response to Tonic Pain in an Experimental Study”

Reiner and colleagues examine whether a very brief (2-week) meditation practice can reduce pain in an experimental situation. They found that a brief meditation reduced the perception of pain by increasing the level of stimulation required to produce pain and by decreasing the time it takes to recover from the painful stimulus.


How does a 2-week meditation practice change the perception of pain? One way is by altering the brain’s processing of painful stimuli. It appears that meditation practice results in an uncoupling of the brain areas that process pain stimuli and the areas involved in the conscious appreciation and reactivity to pain. Also, meditation practice by focusing on the present moment, letting the past recede from attention, may promote recovery from pain. Rather than continuing to think about past pain and thus prolonging the experience, meditation may lead the individual to focus on the present when the painful stimulus is absent. This may allow the individual to let go of the pain faster.


Regardless of the mechanism the results are important in that meditation appears to reduce sensitivity to pain, but still allows the pain to be experienced. So the individual will be less uncomfortable but still able to respond appropriately to the painful stimulus, thus preventing further injury. The results also indicate that it doesn’t take years of meditation practice to provide the relief from pain. Two weeks of practice was sufficient. That such a brief practice still is effective is quite remarkable and suggests that the benefits of meditation can be obtained fairly soon after initiating practice.


So, reduce pain with meditation, even with only 2-week practice.


There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.Aeschylus
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies



Meditation reduces pain sensitivity in adolescents

Mindfulness Based Stress reduction (MBSR) improves quality of life in fibromyalgia patients

Yoga improves quality of life with arthritis pain


Control PTSD with Mindfulness


“It is as though some old part of yourself wakes up in you, terrified, useless in the life you have, its skills and habits destructive but intact, and what is left of the present you, the person you have become, wilts and shrivels in sadness or despair: the person you have become is only a thin shell over this other, more electric and endangered self. The strongest, the least digested parts of your experience can rise up and put you back where you were when they occurred; all the rest of you stands back and weeps.” – Peter Straub


Experiencing trauma is quite common. It has been estimated that 60% of men and 50% of women will experience a significant traumatic event during their lifetime. But, only a fraction will develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But this still results in a frightening number of people with 7%-8% of the population developing PTSD at some point in their life. For military personnel it’s much more likely for PTSD to develop with about 11%-20% of those who have served in a war zone developing PTSD.


PTSD involves a number of troubling symptoms including reliving the event with the same fear and horror in nightmares or with a flashback. PTSD sufferers avoid situations that remind them of the event this may include crowds, driving, movies, etc. and may avoid seeking help because it keeps them from having to think or talk about the event. They often experience negative changes in beliefs and feelings including difficulty experiencing positive or loving feelings toward other people, avoiding relationships, memory difficulties, or see the world as dangerous and no one can be trusted. Sufferers may feel hyperarousal, feeling keyed up and jittery, or always alert and on the lookout for danger. They may experience sudden anger or irritability, may have a hard time sleeping or concentrating, may be startled by a loud noise or surprise.


Obviously, these are troubling symptoms that need to be addressed. There are a number of therapies that have been developed to treat PTSD. One of which, mindfulness training has been found to be particularly effective (see links below).


In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder among Veterans: A Randomized Clinical Trial”

Polusny and colleagues tested Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) against Present Centered Group Therapy (PCGT) for the treatment of PTSD in military veterans. They found that MBSR was superior to PCGT and produced clinically significant improvements in PTSD symptoms and improved quality of life and mindfulness skills in the veterans. This superiority was enduring as it was present not only at the end of treatment but also significantly two months later.


These are exciting results that mindfulness practice can be of significant help for PTSD sufferers but especially because the treatment was superior to another form of therapy. In addition, its’ effectiveness continued to produce improvements even two months after the completion of therapy.


It is not known how mindfulness training could be so effective for PTSD. It can be speculated that the improvement in present moment awareness might have helped by focusing on the individual on the present rather than the past when the trauma occurred and by reducing rumination about the past. In addition, mindfulness training is known to improve emotion regulation and this may allow the veterans to not avoid but fully experience the emotions and then respond to them in a constructive fashion.


Regardless, it’s clear that PTSD sufferers benefit from mindfulness training.


“Often it isn’t the initiating trauma that creates seemingly insurmountable pain, but the lack of support after.” – S. Kelley Harrell


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies




Yoga has been shown to be effective in treating children who have experienced trauma and mindfulness has been shown to improve an individual’s ability to deal with the aftermath of trauma



Caring for Caregivers


“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama


There is a tremendous demand for caregiving in the US. It is estimated that over 65 million (29% of the adult population) provides care to someone who is ill, disabled or aged, averaging 20 hours per week spent caring for their loved ones. In addition, caregiver demand is increasing due to the increase in our older adult population. But, this caregiving comes at a cost to the caregiver. It exacts an economic toll in lost work hours, income, and even the opportunity to take a promotion or relocate for a better position. But, more significantly, it exacts a tremendous toll on caregivers’ health and well-being. Caregiving has been associated with increased levels of depression and anxiety as well as higher use of psychoactive medications, poorer self-reported physical health, compromised immune function, and increased mortality.


Palliative care of a dying loved one is particularly difficult as the emotional toll supplements the time and energy demands of the caregiving. The adverse effects of providing the care increase over the course of the disease, particularly as death approaches and tend to continue with bereavement. Hence there is a need to care for the caregivers. They are providing much needed care and support for the terminally ill family member, but need care and support themselves. This care for the caregiver is often totally lacking.


Mindfulness practice has been shown promise in improving the health and well-being of caregivers (see links at the bottom). Is it also effective for individuals providing end-of-life care? In today’s Research News article “Evaluating the effects of mindfulness-based interventions for informal palliative caregivers: A systematic literature review”

Jaffray and colleagues review the literature exploring this question. They report that the published literature shows that mindfulness practice reduces depression and caregiver burden and increases quality of life in informal caregivers of palliative care.


The effect sizes for the reported improvements were moderate. This suggests that mindfulness practice is helpful but is not a miracle treatment for this difficult situation. This indicates that there is need for further study to try to identify what sorts of practices are most effective to improve the effectiveness of mindfulness techniques.


Some studies obtained interviews with the caregivers who reported that the practice increased acceptance of the care recipient’s illness, as well as of the self and family, increased a sense of presence, increased the sense of peace and reduced stress, and decreased the reactivity response to difficult care recipient behavior. These reports are interesting and suggest that the mindfulness practice may be having its effects by improving non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. This is exactly what mindfulness practices are aimed at developing. These reports also suggest that improved emotion regulation may also be responsible for the improvements, allowing the caregiver to be more in touch with their emotions and improving their ability to respond appropriately to the emotions.


So, caregivers should practice mindfulness to care for themselves.


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies




Mindfulness practice improves the stress levels experienced by caregiver for autistic children (see and in caregiving for spouses with chronic pain (see