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Office workers report increased job control after using meditation app

Posted 06.13.2018 | by AMRA

Work-related stress contributes to a variety of health ailments including anxiety, depression, heart disease, and adult-onset diabetes. Up to 8% of U.S. health care costs are attributable to work-related stress. Mindfulness-based Interventions (MBIs) can reduce stress, but finding qualified teachers, allocating meeting spaces, and arranging for employees to attend sessions can be challenging. Consequently, it remains difficult to scale-up MBIs to meet the needs of larger corporations.

Bostock et al. (Journal of Occupational Health Psychology) conducted a randomized, controlled study of whether a mindfulness app, as a lower-cost alternative to in-person training, could reduce work-related stress among corporate employees.

The researchers randomly assigned 238 office workers (average age = 35 years; 59% female) from two United Kingdom Fortune 500 companies to a mindfulness group or a wait-list control. Mindfulness participants were provided access to an app called Headspace, containing several short introductory mindfulness videos and 45 guided mindfulness meditation sessions lasting 10-20 minutes. Sessions offer sequential, graduated instruction on key aspects of mindfulness practice.

Participants were instructed to listen to one session per day for 45 days. They were assessed on psychological measures, job strain, perceived workplace social support, and blood pressure at baseline, post-intervention, and 2 months after the intervention had ended.

The employees completed an average of 17 of the 45 meditation sessions: 13% completed 0 sessions, 74% completed at least 6 sessions, 68% completed at least 10 sessions, 23% completed at least 25 sessions, and 2% completed all 45 sessions.

The mindfulness group showed significantly greater improvement on wellbeing (partial η2=.04), mood (η2=.04), depression (η2=.03), anxiety (η2=.005), job strain (η2=.04), and perceived workplace social support (η2=.07). Further analysis of job strain showed that perceived […]

June 13th, 2018|News|

MBSR and relaxation both reduce stress, but brain activity differs

Posted 05.17.2018 | by AMRA

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Relaxation Response (RR) training are both well-established mind-body interventions designed to reduce stress. While there is some overlap between these modalities—both involve meditative attention to bodily sensations—there are also significant differences. MBSR emphasizes non-judgmental awareness to increase acceptance of the present moment, while RR employs muscle relaxation to induce a parasympathetic state that interferes with the fight-or-flight response.

To understand the ways in which these two programs function, Sevinc et al. [Psychosomatic Medicine] tested for commonalties and differences in terms of psychological effects and brain correlates.

The researchers randomly assigned 50 volunteers (64% female, average age = 38 years) to either MBSR or RR with 40 of the volunteers completing the programs. Both programs involved 8 weekly 2-hour group sessions with 20 minutes of daily home practice. RR included a body scan meditation emphasizing muscle relaxation along with breath-focused and mantra-focused meditations.

Participants were assessed at baseline and after the intervention on self-report measures of mindfulness (using the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire or FFMQ), perceived stress, self-compassion, and rumination.

After the intervention, participants underwent fMRI brain scanning while at rest and while engaging in the body scan meditation specific to each program: the RR body scan emphasized relaxing various muscle groups, whereas the MBSR body scan emphasized mindful awareness of body sensations.

The researchers were interested in exploring changes in functional connectivity in specific brain regions of interest. Brain regions exhibiting simultaneous increases and decreases in activity are said to be functionally connected. Usable fMRI data was obtained from 34 participants.

The results showed that both programs significantly reduced perceived stress (RR Cohen’s d=0.5; MBSR d=1.0). After the intervention, RR participants showed significant […]

May 24th, 2018|News|

How are MBSR participants doing 6 years after the program?

Posted 05.17.2018 | by AMRA

Most mindfulness research studies do not follow participants long after the intervention ends. At best, a few studies have followed their participants for up to two years. As a result, little is known about whether the effects of mindfulness-based interventions persist, strengthen, or fade over time. To address this limitation, de Vibe et al. [PLOS One] followed participants for six years after completing a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program.

The researchers randomly assigned 288 Norwegian medical and psychology graduate students (76% female, average age = 24 years) to a slightly abridged form of MBSR or a no-intervention control. The MBSR program consisted of seven 1.5-hour weekly group sessions and required 20 minutes of daily home practice.

Participants were assessed on dispositional mindfulness (using the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire), subjective wellbeing, problem-focused coping and avoidance-focused coping at baseline, one month post-intervention, and at 1, 2, 4, and 6-year follow-up. Problem-focused coping involves facing one’s problems head-on by actively addressing them, while avoidance-focused coping consists of avoiding one’s problems or suppressing thoughts and emotions about them.

Participants also had the opportunity to enroll in a 1.5-hour mindfulness “booster” class each semester. While most attended at least one booster class, 46% never attended any. There were dropouts at each assessment time-point, with 61% of the participants having dropped out of the study by year six. There was no difference between MBSR and control group dropout rates, but participants with higher baseline avoidance-focused coping were significantly more likely to drop out.

Six-year longitudinal growth curves revealed that the MBSR participants showed significant continuing increases in mindfulness and problem–focused coping, with significant continuing decreases in avoidance-focused coping over time. MBSR rates […]

May 17th, 2018|News|

Adult ADHD symptoms improved by MBCT up to 6 months

Posted 04.24.2018 | by AMRA

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a childhood developmental disorder that can persist into adulthood, affecting 2.5% of the adult population. Adult ADHD symptoms include inattentiveness, distractibility, and difficulty staying organized. Stimulant medications remain the standard first-line treatment for adult ADHD, sometimes supplemented by cognitive-behavioral interventions. Some adults object to stimulant medication, some experience adverse medication-related side-effects, and some fail to achieve complete symptom remission through its use.

As a result, there is interest in developing psychosocial treatments as adjunctive or alternative treatments. Mindfulness-based interventions may be good candidates for such treatments, as they improve attentional regulation in healthy populations, and strengthen the brain regions associated with it. Janssen et al. [Psychological Medicine] tested the efficacy of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) as an adjunctive treatment for adults with ADHD in a multi-center, randomized, controlled study.

Researchers recruited 120 participants (50% male; average age = 39 years) from three Dutch specialty outpatient clinics for adult ADHD, as well as through media recruitment, physician referral, and a patient support-and-advocacy group. Participants were randomly assigned to either treatment-as-usual (TAU) or treatment-as-usual plus MBCT.

TAU consisted of medication for 59% of participants, while 59% received previous or current psycho-educational/skills training, and 55% received previous or current psychosocial treatment. MBCT was offered in 8 weekly 2.5-hour group sessions and a 6-hour silent retreat.

Modifications were made in the standard MBCT format: the length of meditations gradually increased to 30 minutes, and material relevant to depression was replaced by material relevant to ADHD. There was also greater emphasis on mindfulness in daily life, mindful listening, and mindful speaking. Participants were encouraged to practice at home 6 days a week.

Participants were assessed at baseline, […]

April 24th, 2018|News|

Fewer learning errors after mindfulness training, brain’s hippocampus involved

Posted 04.17.2018 | by AMRA

Previous learning sometimes interferes with our ability to learn new things. For example, when we memorize one poem and then another, we may mistakenly include words from the first poem when reciting the second. This problem is called proactive interference (PI). People may be able to reduce PI by focusing on the present while screening out competing thoughts and memories—in other words, by mindfulness.

Previous research suggests that reduced PI depends on activation of a brain structure known as the hippocampus. The hippocampus plays an important role in learning and memory, and helps us distinguish old learning from new. Prior research shows that mindfulness training can increase the size of the hippocampus. Greenberg et al. [Brain Imaging and Behavior] investigated whether mindfulness training reduces PI, and whether that reduction is associated with increases in hippocampal size.

The researchers randomly assigned 79 participants (70% female; average age = 27 years; 65% Caucasian) to a 4-week mindfulness-training program or a 4-week creative writing program. Of those, 67 participants were scanned using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) before and after training to assess hippocampal volume.

Both the mindfulness and creative writing programs were offered in four 1-hour group sessions using a web-based technology that enabled participants to see and communicate with instructors and fellow participants. The mindfulness program offered training in focused-attention and open monitoring meditation. Participants were asked to practice learned mindfulness skills on their own for 30 minutes five times a week. The creative writing participants wrote short essays in response to photos or texts, and were asked to write on their own for 30 minutes five times a week.

PI was assessed before and after training by […]

April 17th, 2018|News|

Depressive symptoms reduced in COPD patients after MBCT

Posted 03.21.2018 | by AMRA

Chronic Obstructive Respiratory Disease (COPD) is an incurable progressive inflammatory lung disease that restricts airway flow and causes shortness of breath, wheezing, excessive mucus production, and coughing. The disease afflicts 16 million Americans and 65 million people worldwide. Treatment commonly includes smoking cessation, exercise, bronchodilator inhalers, anti-inflammatory medications, and supplementary oxygen. About one third of COPD patients report symptoms of anxiety and/or depression that are linked to poorer health and quality of life outcomes.

Farver-Vestergaard et al. [European Respiratory Journal] investigated whether Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) could provide additional psychological, health, and quality of life benefits when provided in conjunction with standard pulmonary rehabilitation (PR).

The researchers randomly assigned 84 Danish COPD patients (average age = 67 years; 57% female) to PR alone or PR plus MBCT. PR was delivered in 2 weekly sessions over an 8-week period and consisted of exercise in combination with disease and lifestyle education.

The add-on MBCT program consisted of 8 weekly 105-minute group sessions. MBCT meditations were modified to focus on the sensations of heartbeat, blood flow, and contact of the feet with the floor rather than on the breath. Meditations were shortened, cognitive exercises simplified, and the full-day retreat eliminated.

Participants were assessed on anxiety, depression, COPD health status impairment, mindfulness (the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire), self-compassion, COPD self-efficacy, and breathlessness-related catastrophizing at five time points: before treatment, mid-treatment, after treatment, and at 3- and 6-month follow-up.

Pre- and post-treatment measures were taken of activity level (using an accelerometer, a Fitbit-like device for measuring movement), and pre- and post-treatment blood samples were drawn to measure blood inflammatory factors including tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), and a variety of interleukins (IL-6, […]

March 21st, 2018|News|

MBSR changes brain networks of opiate dependent patients

Posted 03.14.2018 | by AMRA

The United States is in the midst of an opioid epidemic, with over 42,000 opioid overdose related deaths in 2016. There is a clear need for innovative approaches to help deal with the problems of substance dependency and misuse. Mindfulness-based interventions are sometimes used as adjunctive treatments for substance use disorders, but little is known about how these interventions affect the brains of substance users.

Fahmy et al. [Addictive Behaviors] used structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to investigate brain changes in opiate dependent patients undergoing either treatment-as-usual (TAU), or treatment-as-usual plus Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).

MRI data were analyzed to identify structural changes in the cellular networks connecting brain regions. The researchers limited their investigation to regions previously shown to be of interest in addiction and mindfulness research. They also looked at whether structural brain network changes were accompanied by meaningful changes in personality traits relevant to recovery and relapse.

The study followed 28 opiate dependent patients (average age = 30 years; 89% male) in a four-week inpatient substance treatment program in Cairo, Egypt. Half the participants were assigned to treatment as usual (TAU) and half to MBSR. Assignment was based on order of enrollment in the study and was not strictly random.

Nineteen participants completed their treatments and post-treatment evaluations. There was no difference in treatment dropout rates. TAU included medication and group cognitive behavioral therapy. The MBSR program was a culturally adopted Arabic-language version of MBSR. Participants completed the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory (FMI), self-reported measures of distress tolerance, sensation seeking, impulsivity, and addiction severity, and underwent MRI scanning before and after treatment.

MBSR participants showed significant strengthening in the brain networks connecting the prefrontal cortex […]

March 14th, 2018|News|

High schoolers practicing mindfulness have less emotional habituation, brain study shows

Posted 02.23.2018 | by AMRA

Event-related potentials (ERPs) are segments of brain waves occurring in response to stimuli. For example, when people with depression are shown happy faces, the amplitude of their ERPs 300 milliseconds later (the so-called “P3b” ERP) is smaller than in non-depressed people. Since mindfulness encourages openness to emotions, mindfulness may enhance P3b responding to emotional stimuli and perhaps play a role in reducing or preventing depressive symptoms.

In a pioneering study of adolescent brain function and school mindfulness programs, Sanger el al. [Developmental Science] tested whether a high school mindfulness-training program could affect the size of healthy students’ P3b responses to happy and sad faces, and whether it improved their wellbeing relative to a control group.

The researchers assigned 40 students (16-18 years old) to mindfulness training or a waitlist control. Assignment was not random. Volunteers from two secondary schools were assigned to mindfulness training, and volunteers from two other secondary schools were assigned to the waitlist control. Control volunteers were slightly older and more likely to be male.

Participants completed the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) along with measures of stress, wellbeing, and empathy, both before and after training. Schoolteachers taught the mindfulness practices in eight 50-minute classes. Curriculum topics included “Taming the Animal Mind, “Being Here and Now,” “Moving Mindfully,” and “Befriending the Difficult.”

Before and after training, students were shown pictures of faces with varying expressions while an EEG measured their P3bs. Most of the faces shown were neutral, but 20% were happy or sad. Participants were instructed to press a space bar whenever they saw a happy or sad face.

Mindfulness levels did not increase over time, nor did they differ between the mindfulness […]

February 23rd, 2018|News|

Multiple studies find mindfulness increases prosocial behavior

Posted 02.15.2018 | by AMRA

While people generally regard helpfulness and friendliness to be virtues, they often fail to extend their empathy to strangers in need. Berry et al. [Journal of Experimental Psychology] conducted a series of four experiments to see whether mindfulness—as an individual’s disposition and as an induced mental state—increases prosocial behavior towards an excluded stranger by increasing empathic concern.

In the first study, 82 undergraduates (52% female, 58% Caucasian) completed the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) and the Act with Awareness subscale of the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ). Participants then watched a Cyberball computer game involving three computer-generated characters playing catch. Participants were misled into believing that the computer-generated characters represented three live participants playing the game in other rooms. During the observed game, two characters excluded the third character by passing the ball only between themselves.

After watching the game, participants were assessed for empathic concern and distress, and asked to write emails to each of the players. Empathic concern is the desire to help others, whereas empathic distress often leads to focusing on relieving one’s own distress rather than helping others. Participants then played a game of Cyberball together with the other characters. The researchers rated the helpfulness of the emails written to the excluded character, and counted how often the participant threw the ball to the excluded character.

The study found that higher mindfulness was significantly associated with higher empathic concern (but not empathic distress), more helpful emails, and a greater number of ball throws to the excluded character.

In the second study, 83 undergraduates (68% female, 44% Caucasian) completed the same personality measures and followed the same Cyberball protocol as in the first […]

February 15th, 2018|News|

MBCT and cognitive therapy equally effective for depression relapse

Posted 01.24.2018 | by AMRA

One of the biggest difficulties in treating recurrent major depressive disorder (MDD) is that most people with recurrent MDD experience a relapse within two years following recovery from symptoms. Three treatments appear to have some success at limiting the two-year relapse rate to 30-40%: Antidepressant Medication Maintenance Therapy, Cognitive Therapy (CT), and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).

MBCT and CT attempt to reduce the risk of relapse by promoting different skill sets. CT promotes challenging dysfunctional thinking and increasing physical activity level. MBCT promotes nonjudgmental monitoring of moment-by-moment experience, and decentering from thoughts or seeing thoughts as transient mental phenomena and not necessarily valid.

Farb et al. [Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology] conducted the first randomized controlled head-to-head comparison of CT and MBCT for relapse prevention in MDD.

The researchers randomly assigned 166 people with MDD (average age = 40 years, 2/3 female; average of 4 past MDD episodes) currently in remission to either a MBCT or CT group.

Assessments of diagnosis and symptoms were done through a combined structured clinical interview and a self-report questionnaire. MDD symptoms were assessed bimonthly through an initial brief questionnaire. If the initial questionnaire suggested relapse, it was followed-up with another questionnaire and a structured clinical phone interview. A research psychiatrist confirmed all relapse diagnoses. In addition, participants completed questionnaires measuring decentering and dysfunctional beliefs every three months.

CT was delivered in 8 weekly 2-hour sessions that stressed goal setting, self-monitoring, maintaining thought records, and cognitive restructuring during its initial sessions, and lifestyle modification, environmental mastery, life purpose, self-acceptance, and optimizing interpersonal relationships in later sessions.

MBCT was delivered in 8 weekly 2-hour sessions with an additional retreat day. It emphasized mindfulness […]

January 24th, 2018|News|