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Daily meditation practice key to positive emotions

Posted 09.19.2017 | by AMRA

Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) are founded on the assumption that meditative practice increases mindfulness and that mindfulness, in turn, enhances psychological wellbeing. The evidence supporting this assumption is somewhat mixed. While some studies find that the extent and quality of a meditation practice is positively associated with improvement in mindfulness and wellbeing, others have not.

The methodology by which some studies measure a meditation practice may be one reason for these diverse findings. Some studies do not measure practice on a daily basis, but instead ask participants to estimate the quantity and quality of their practice over a period of weeks or months, increasing the likelihood of measurement error.

Lacaille et al. [Journal of Clinical Psychology] investigated the relationship between meditative practice, mindfulness, and wellbeing by having MBI (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction or MBSR) participants complete daily diaries that rated these three variables.

The researchers studied the daily diaries of 117 MBSR participants (80% female, 86% Caucasian, 64% between 30-50 years of age) collected over a 49-day period. The MBSR program differed from the standard MBSR protocol by shortening at-home and in-class mindfulness meditation practice periods from 45-60 minutes to 20-30 minutes.

Participants were sent daily text messages reminding them to complete online diaries. If participants failed to complete a diary entry that night, they were text messaged again the following morning. If they failed to respond to the second message within 8 hours, they could no longer make an entry for that day.

In their diaries, participants indicated whether or not they had practiced, how long they had practiced, and the degree to which they had adhered to the practice instructions. They also responded to questions designed to […]

September 19th, 2017|News|

Elderly taking MBSR improve verbal recall and mental health

Posted 08.24.2017 | by AMRA

Elderly anxiety and depression sufferers often report subjective problems with memory and cognition. They also perform more poorly on objective measures of short-term memory, verbal fluency, and the ability to ignore irrelevant cues while focusing on a task. Stress can play an important role in worsening anxiety and depression and also in degrading cognitive function.

There is evidence that cortisol, a hormone secreted during stress, can have a harmful effect on brain cells in the hippocampus, which may in turn negatively affect memory and cognition. Reducing stress may therefore yield a double benefit: reducing anxiety and depression, and improving memory and cognition.

Wetherell et al. [Journal of Clinical Psychiatry] explored whether Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) could improve clinical symptoms and cognitive functioning better than a control group in elderly people suffering from anxiety and/or depression who also experience subjective cognitive difficulties.

The researchers randomly assigned 103 elderly patients (average age = 72 years; 75% Female; 83% Caucasian) with clinical diagnoses of anxiety and/or depressive disorders and with subjective cognitive complaints to either an 8-week group MBSR intervention or an 8-week Health Education control intervention. The Health Education groups met for the same frequency and duration as the MBSR groups, but focused on understanding and managing anxiety and depression, eating well, managing medications, and communicating with one’s heath care providers.

Patients were assessed at baseline, at the end of the intervention, and at 3-and-6-month follow-ups. Outcomes were assessed on measures of psychiatric symptoms, verbal memory, verbal fluency, the ability to ignore distracting cues and stay focused on a task, mindfulness (as measured by the Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale-Revised), and average peak salivary cortisol.

Despite randomization, the health […]

August 24th, 2017|News|

Mindful teachers report closer relationships with preschoolers

Posted 08.16.2017 | by AMRA

Being a good preschool teacher is no easy matter. Good teachers are both self-aware and socially aware. They are sensitive to children’s developmental levels, learning styles, familial and cultural contexts, and social and emotional competencies. Good teachers must simultaneously self-regulate their inner emotional states and vigilantly monitor the complexities of classroom process while maintaining a focus on educational goals.

All of this is important because teacher’s social and emotional competencies play a crucial role in facilitating preschoolers’ personal and academic growth. This raises the question of how to help teachers develop the personal qualities they need to foster optimum teacher-pupil relationships.

One way might be to help teachers develop higher levels of dispositional mindfulness, or nonjudgmental moment-by-moment attentiveness. This may be especially important when workplace stress—the combined effect of high job difficulty, low perceived support, and low sense of control—makes preschool teaching even harder.

Becker et al. [Journal of School Psychology] analyzed data from an online survey of preschool teachers to test the relationships between teachers’ dispositional mindfulness, their perception of their degree of closeness and conflict with their pupils, and their levels of depression and perceived workplace stress.

The researchers explored data from an online staff wellness survey of 1,001 preschool teachers (98% female; 89% Caucasian; 51% college graduates) working for Head Start in Pennsylvania. The teachers completed self-report measures of the perceived quality of their relationships with their students (closeness vs. conflict), dispositional mindfulness (as measured by the Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale-Revised), depressive symptoms, and perceived workplace stress.

Results showed that higher levels of dispositional mindfulness were significantly associated with higher levels of perceived closeness with students (r = .20) and negatively associated with […]

August 16th, 2017|News|

Mindful people cope better during stressful waiting periods

Posted 07.26.2017 | by AMRA

Waiting to learn the outcome of an important event can be quite stressful. People employ a variety of strategies to cope with waiting. These may include, “bracing for the worst” or trying to maintain a positive attitude, but the employed strategies are often ineffective and sometimes counterproductive. For example, “bracing for the worst” can help when deployed at the very end of a waiting period but make things worse if engaged right from the outset.

In two related studies, Sweeny & Howell [Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin] first explored how mindfulness disposition affects coping when people wait for their performance results. They then tested whether mindfulness meditation outperforms loving-kindness meditation in helping people cope with this stressful waiting period.

In the first study, 150 law school graduates (61% female; 61% Caucasian) completed questionnaires at five different times during the 4-month period of waiting for their bar exam results. The first questionnaire was completed three days after taking the bar exam, the last within a day of getting their results. The questionnaires assessed mindfulness disposition (using the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory), “bracing for the worst,” “hoping for the best,” and self-rated coping and worry.

The results showed that more mindful graduates used “bracing for the worst” significantly less, and reserved it only for the end of the waiting period when it was likely to be of actual benefit. More mindful graduates were also significantly more likely to maintain an optimistic mindset, worry less, and report better coping.

In the second study, 90 law school graduates (56% female; 61% Caucasian) completed a questionnaire assessing dispositional optimism and intolerance for uncertainty one week before taking their bar exam. Participants were […]

July 26th, 2017|News|

New blood marker of Alzheimer’s disease improved by MBSR

Posted 07.19.2017 | by AMRA

Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive brain disease affecting some five million older Americans. Given the profound personal, social, and economic costs of this disease, scientists are seeking ways to prevent its occurrence and progression. One avenue of investigation involves a protein called Repressor Element 1-Silencing Transcription Factor or REST. REST plays an important role in helping developing cells differentiate as neurons and protects aging brain cells from stress and toxicity.

People with Alzheimer’s have low REST levels, while older adults who retain their cognitive function well into their 90s and 100s have high REST levels. Also, older adults who show neurological changes typical of Alzheimer’s do not progress to show behavioral signs of the disease if their REST levels remain high.

Can raising REST levels reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s? Ashton et al. [Translational Psychiatry] explored this question using a new method for measuring REST in blood plasma. First they investigated whether this new REST measure in blood could discriminate between different levels of Alzheimer’s risk. Second, they studied whether Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) improved REST levels in a population at risk for potentially developing Alzheimer’s.

The first study compared plasma REST levels in three groups of older (65 years or older) adults: 65 adults with Alzheimer’s, 65 adults with mild cognitive impairment, and 65 healthy adults. There was a significant difference between the Alzheimer’s group and both the healthy and mildly cognitively impaired groups. Mean REST levels were lowest for Alzheimer’s patients (112 pg mL-1) and highest for healthy controls (199 pg mL-1), with mildly cognitive impaired patients measuring in between (194 pg mL-1). Those mildly cognitive impaired who remained stable over time had higher […]

July 19th, 2017|News|

Cost savings of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy in cancer care

Posted 06.22.2017 | by AMRA

One in five breast cancer survivors report significant pain that persists years after the conclusion of medical treatment. Persistent post-treatment pain reduces cancer survivors’ quality of life and contributes to greater health care costs due to increased medical visits and medication usage. While mindfulness-based interventions have been shown to reduce pain in cancer survivors, little is known about the overall cost effectiveness of these interventions.

Johannsen et al. [Psycho-Oncology] analyzed data from a previously published randomized, controlled trial of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) to reduce pain in breast cancer survivors, in order to explore its cost effectiveness.

The researchers randomly assigned 129 Danish female breast cancer patients who had completed treatment and reported persistent pain to either an 8-week trial of MBCT or a wait-list control group. Health care utilization and cost analyses were performed only for a subset of 84 patients for whom there was no missing data. The MBCT intervention followed the standard weekly two-hour group protocol. Subjective pain ratings were collected from the patients at baseline, immediately at the end of the intervention, and at 3 and 6-month follow-up.

The treatment was deemed a success if a patient decreased her pain by at least two points on a 10-point rating scale, which was deemed to be the minimal clinically meaningful difference. A Danish national health registry was the source of information about healthcare utilization and prescription medication usage and costs during the 6-month follow-up period.

As previously reported, 53% of the MBCT patients reduced their pain by at least two points, whereas only 29% of the wait list controls did. MBCT patients made significantly fewer visits to general practitioners, medical specialists, physical therapists […]

June 22nd, 2017|News|

Meditation generates compassion for other’s embarrassment

Posted 06.15.2017 | by AMRA

The social pain associated with rejection or embarrassment activates some of the same brain structures that are activated during the experience of physical pain. These brain structures are also activated when we witness someone else’s embarrassment. Feeling distressed over someone else’s embarrassment can cause us to focus on reducing our own distress rather than on responding compassionately to the other person. In this way, excessive empathic distress paradoxically decreases our ability to relate compassionately.

Can mindfulness reduce the magnitude of empathic distress caused by another’s social pain, thereby facilitating increased compassion? Laneri et al. [Human Brain Mapping] explored how both mindfulness meditation and long-term meditation practice affect the brain mechanisms associated with empathic distress in long-term meditators and matched controls.

The researchers recruited 32 long-term meditators (average age = 51 years, 63% male, average length of meditation practice = 17 years, meditation practice = Zen, Vipassana, or Mindfulness Meditation) and 19 matched meditation-naïve control participants. All of the participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while engaging in a task designed to elicit empathic distress at someone else’s embarrassment.

Half of the long-term meditators were randomly assigned to engage in mindfulness meditation for eight minutes immediately before participating in the fMRI-monitored task, while the other half were instructed to merely rest prior to the task. The meditation-naïve controls also merely rested prior to the task.

The empathy-for-embarrassment task involved viewing a set of embarrassing and neutral social situations presented on a computer screen in the form of drawings accompanied by brief descriptions. As an example, one of the embarrassing situations included the description, “You are at a post-office: you observe a women’s trouser ripping while she […]

June 15th, 2017|News|

For online apps, mindfulness outperforms cognitive training

Posted 05.24.2017 | by AMRA

When people aren’t focused on what they’re currently doing, but are instead thinking about the past, or future, or lost in fantasy, they’re said to be “mind wandering.” Psychologists estimate that people spend almost half their waking hours mind wandering, and that they are less happy when doing so. Can on-line programs intending to support attentional capacities help people decrease mind wandering?

In a randomized, controlled study, Bennike et al. [Journal of Cognitive Enhancement] compared the ability of an online mindfulness training program and an online cognitive training program to improve a behavioral measure of sustained attention.

The researchers randomly assigned 137 healthy adult volunteers (average age = 42 years) to either a 4-week mindfulness training using the Headspace application, or a 4-week cognitive training using the Lumosity application. Headspace participants used the online application to practice daily guided meditations that increased in duration over time, starting at 10 minutes daily and ending at 20 minutes daily. Luminosity participants played online games designed to improve memory, attention, cognitive flexibility, processing speed, and problem solving. Lumosity users were instructed to engage in cognitive training for the same durations that Headspace users meditated.

Twenty-one participants in each group were excluded from final data analysis either because they failed to show up for post-testing, or because they were discovered to have had prior mindfulness training.

All participants engaged in a Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART) before and after training. Participants were shown a series of digits on a computer screen, and told to quickly press the space bar whenever they saw a number, except for the number 3. The number 3 was presented only 10% of the time, […]

May 24th, 2017|News|

Body scan meditation during chemotherapy changes stress

Posted 05.18.2017 | by AMRA

Being diagnosed and treated for cancer can be highly stressful, and prolonged stress often alters the body’s normal stress response. For example, the amount of cortisol (a stress hormone) secreted by the adrenal gland typically varies over the course of the day, peaking upon morning awakening and gradually diminishing throughout the day. Prolonged stress blunts this biological response so that the difference between morning and afternoon cortisol levels is much smaller.

Cancer survivors often show this kind of blunted cortisol response—reduced daily variation and reduced reactivity to stress. This blunting of stress reactivity is associated with greater disease progression and shorter survival times for many types of cancers. It’s possible that somehow preventing this blunting may improve patient outcomes. Prior research shows that mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) can limit cortisol blunting across the day in breast and prostate cancer patients.

Black et al. [Cancer] conducted a randomized, controlled test of whether a brief mindfulness activity could reduce the blunting of acute cortisol reactivity in colorectal cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy infusion.

The researchers randomly assigned 57 adults with colorectal cancer (average age = 54 years; 51% Male; 66% non-Hispanic, 33% Hispanic/Latino) who were undergoing chemotherapy infusion to one of three conditions: 1) a standard chemotherapy control group, 2) a chemotherapy + cancer education attention control group, and 3) a mindfulness meditation + cancer education group.

Saliva samples (to assess cortisol levels) were drawn four times during the hour-long chemotherapy infusion: at the start of infusion and at three 20-minute intervals thereafter. The patients also completed self-report measures of stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue during the past week, as well as general levels of mindfulness (using a short form […]

May 18th, 2017|News|

Brain regions connect after mindfulness training

Posted 04.25.2017 | by AMRA

Mindfulness training has been shown to improve performance on behavioral measures of executive control including attention, working memory, emotional and cognitive control, and decision making. Research also suggests that a brain region known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) plays an important role in executive control, serving as the hub of an executive control brain network. The dlPFC has rich anatomical connections to other brain regions that are also thought to be involved in executive control. Does mindfulness training assist executive control by improving the way the dlPFC interrelates with these other brain regions?

One way to test this is by assessing resting state functional connectivity between the dlPFC and other brain regions. Resting state functional connectivity is a measure of how much different brain regions work in tandem. For example, when one region increases activity, other brain regions act in sync with it.

Taren et al. [Psychosomatic Medicine] tested whether mindfulness training increases the functional connectivity between the dlPFC and other executive control brain regions by comparing functional connectivity after either mindfulness training or relaxation training in a randomized, controlled study.

The researchers randomly assigned 35 unemployed, job-seeking adults (average age = 40; 57% male; 66% Caucasian) who reported high levels of stress to either an intensive 3-day residential mindfulness training, or an intensive 3-day residential relaxation training. Mindfulness training was a condensed version of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction that included body scanning, sitting, walking, and eating meditations, and mindful yoga. Relaxation training included resting while walking and stretching and didactic presentations, but did not include progressive muscle relaxation.

All participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) both at baseline and two weeks after training. The […]

April 25th, 2017|News|