Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBIs) have been shown to improve health outcomes in a wide range of clinical and non-clinical populations [a]. MBCT reduces relapse rates amongst patients who have had multiple episodes of depression [b]. Other research includes a recent meta-analysis of 209 studies with a total of 12,145 participants. It concluded that MBIs showed “large and clinically significant effects in treating anxiety and depression, and the gains were maintained at follow-up” [c]. MBIs have also consistently been found to reduce self-reported measures of perceived stress, anger, rumination, and physiological symptoms, while improving positive outlook, empathy, sense of cohesion, self-compassion and overall quality of life [d].
Mindfulness training is associated with reduced reactivity to emotional stimuli [e], as well as improvements in attention and cognitive capacities [f]. These may be some of the mechanisms by which health and wellbeing gains are made – by relating to thoughts, emotions, body sensations and events in life more skilfully, practitioners may be less drawn into unhelpful habitual reactions and more able to make good choices about how to relate to their circumstances.
Neuroscientific studies into the effects of mindfulness indicate that it is associated with brain changes that seem to reflect improvements in attention and emotion regulation skills [g]. The benefits of mindfulness appear to extend to relationships so that practitioners are more likely to respond compassionately to someone in need [h], and enjoy more satisfying personal relationships [i]. There is also some evidence that they take more environmentally responsible decisions [j]. As with any new field of enquiry, there is much more research to be done to understand its effects.
[a] See for example Khoury B, Lecomte T, Fortin G, Masse M, Therien P, Bouchard V, Hofmann S
et al. Mindfulness-based therapy: A comprehensive meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review. 2013;33:763–771. Also de Vibe M, Bjørndall A, Tipton E, Hammerstrøm K, Kowalski K. Mindfulness- Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for improving health, quality of life and social functioning in adults. Campbell Systematic Reviews 2012:3. Also Keng S L, Smoski MJ, Robins CJ. Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: A review of empirical studies. Clinical Psychology Review. 2011;31(6):1041–1056.
[b] Williams JMG, Kuyken W. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: a promising new approach to preventing depressive relapse. British Journal of Psychiatry. 2012; DOI: 10.1192/bjp.bp.111.104745.
[c] Khoury B, Lecomte T, Fortin G, Masse M, Therien P, Bouchard V, et al. Mindfulness-based therapy: A comprehensive meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review. 2013;33:763–771.
[d] Keng SL, Smoski MJ, Robins CJ. Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: A review of empirical studies. Clinical Psychology Review. 2011;31(6):1041–1056. Trait mindfulness (how “mindful” a person generally is in their approach to life) is positively associated with wellbeing indicators such as life satisfaction, conscientiousness, vitality, self-esteem, empathy, sense of autonomy, competence, and optimism, while it is negatively correlated with depression, neuroticism, absent- mindedness, rumination, cognitive reactivity, social anxiety, emotion regulation difficulties, and general psychological symptoms.
[e] Hölzel B, Lazar SW, Gard T, Schuman-Olivier Z, Vago DR, Ott U. How does mindfulness meditation work? Proposing mechanisms of action from a conceptual and neural perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science. 2011;6:6537-559. Farb N, Anderson A, Segal Z. The Mindful Brain and Emotion Regulation in Mood Disorders. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. 2012;57(2):70–77.
[f] Brown KW, Ryan RM, Creswell JD. Mindfulness: Theoretical foundations and evidence for its salutary effects. Psychological Inquiry. 2007;18(4):211–237.
[g] Chiesa A, Calati R, Serretti A. Does mindfulness training improve cognitive abilities? A systematic review of neuropsychological findings. Clinical Psychology Review. 2011;31:449–464. Ostafin BD, Kassman KT. Stepping out of history: Mindfulness improves insight problem-solving. Consciousness and Cognition. 2012;21(2):1031-6.
[h] Condon P, Desbordes G, Miller WB, DeSteno D. Meditation increases compassionate responses to suffering. Psychological Science. 2013;10:2125-2127.
[i] Brown KW, Ryan RM, Creswell JD. Mindfulness: Theoretical foundations and evidence for its salutary effects. Psychological Inquiry. 2007;18(4):211-237.
Further academic papers of interest:
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