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MBSR program safe and feasible for people with multiple sclerosis

Posted 08.16.2018 | by AMRA

Multiple sclerosis is a central nervous system disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the fatty layer of insulation surrounding nerve cells. Symptoms may include visual and sensory disturbances, muscle weakness and discoordination, fatigue, pain, and problems with mood and cognition. Stress can worsen these symptoms, and stress management can reduce the risk of the illness spreading to other brain regions.

Senders et al. [Multiple Sclerosis Journal] tested the feasibility of using Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) with multiple sclerosis patients, and whether MBSR worked better than an active control intervention in improving psychological symptoms and wellbeing.

The researchers randomly assigned 67 patients with multiple sclerosis (average age = 53 years, 77% female, 97% Caucasian) to a standard 8-week MBSR intervention or to an education control group matched for time and attention. The control group curriculum covered topics such as medication, symptom management, financial planning, knowing one’s rights, and connecting with resources.

The groups were assessed on a variety of self-report measures of psychological symptoms, stress, and wellbeing at baseline, immediately after program completion, and at twelve months post-intervention.

Attention and cognition were assessed using a serial addition task in which participants listened to an audio recording of single digits presented at three-second intervals. Participants had to add each newly presented digit to the previously presented one. Participant expectations for the success of their respective interventions were assessed at baseline, with MBSR assignees having significantly higher expectations.

In regard to feasibility, 85% of the MBSR patients attended at least 6 of the 8 group sessions, thus meeting the author’s standard for course completion. They completed their at-home meditation on 55% of the assigned days for an average […]

August 16th, 2018|News|

Mindful people less distressed after social rejection, brain activity shows

Posted 07.26.2018 | by AMRA

Social rejection can be hurtful, but people differ in how distressed they become following rejection. People also vary in the strategies they use to reduce distress.

Some people subdue feelings of distress by employing a “top-down” strategy in which cognitive-related brain centers suppress the activity of emotion-related brain centers. This “top-down” strategy is taxing on cognitive resources, and if those resources become depleted, feelings of distress can re-emerge.

Other people employ “bottom-up” strategies such as mindfulness of negative emotions that do not require suppression by cognitive-related brain centers.

Martelli et al. [Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience] studied whether highly mindful people feel less distress when socially rejected, and examined whether cognitive- and emotion-related brain responses to rejection varied according to levels of mindfulness.

The researchers assessed dispositional mindfulness levels among 40 participants (54% male, average age = 19 years) using the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale. Participants then played a computerized Cyberball game while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Cyberball involves a pair of computer-generated characters playing virtual catch with the participant. Participants are misled into believing the computer-generated characters are avatars for real people playing the game. Initially, the computer-generated characters toss the ball between themselves and the participant equally, but in the final minute of play, they toss the ball only between themselves, effectively excluding the participant from the social interaction.

Approximately an hour after the game, participants completed a questionnaire measuring their level of social distress. Participants also completed a manipulation check that showed they believed they were playing Cyberball with live co-participants.

The neurobiology of distress and its suppression is complicated. Feelings of distress are associated with increased activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), […]

July 26th, 2018|News|

MBSR and exercise both reduce cold and flu frequency, severity

Posted 07.17.2018 | by AMRA

Acute respiratory infections including colds and flu affect over 50% of the population annually. Interestingly, our psychological states and behaviors can affect our susceptibility to these infections. People who are under stress or otherwise unhappy are more likely to catch acute respiratory infections, while people who exercise regularly are less likely to catch them.

Barrett et al. [PLOS One] conducted a randomized controlled study to test the effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and moderate intensity sustained exercise on the frequency, duration, and severity of colds and flu compared to a control group.

The researchers recruited 413 volunteers (average age = 50 years, 76% female, 85% white, 77% college educated) and randomly assigned them to a MBSR, exercise, or non-active control group. The MBSR and exercise interventions were matched on group size, program length, session frequency, and the amount of home practice (20-45 minutes).

The interventions were conducted in the fall, and participants were monitored for colds and flu from fall through spring. During this time, participants completed weekly health reports. If participants developed an infection, they completed daily reports until symptoms abated.

Additionally, they provided oral and nasal swabs to assess their immune response and identify viruses. Participants completed a variety of mental health and personality measures at baseline and at various points along the study timeline. Absenteeism, the number of respiratory infection-related medical appointments, and illness related costs were also assessed.

The study found that the MBSR and exercise groups both reduced acute respiratory infection incidence, duration, and severity. Compared to controls, the MBSR group showed a 16%, reduction in incidence, a 14% reduction in duration, and a 21% reduction in severity. Compared to controls, […]

July 17th, 2018|News|

Mindful people transition more frequently between brain states

Posted 06.21.2018 | by AMRA

Mindful people have the generalized tendency to be aware of the present moment with an attitude of openness in day-to-day life. Researchers are interested in discovering whether mindful people exhibit a unique pattern of brain activity.

Lim et al. [NeuroImage] used brain imaging to explore the dynamic functional connectivity within and between brain networks of people with high versus low mindfulness levels. Functional connectivity is a measure of the degree to which different brain regions vary their activity together in synchrony. The researchers measured how the functional connections between different brain networks varied over time.

The researchers selected participants from a pool of 125 people who had previously completed a breath-counting task. For this task, participants counted their breaths from 1 to 9 repeatedly for twenty minutes while the researchers tracked how often they lost count. Participants who performed in the top third on this task were identified as highly mindful, while those in the lower third were designated as less mindful.

The high and low mindfulness participants were then invited back to the lab for functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) scans while in a resting state. Data were obtained for 21 high (average age=24 years; 38% male) and 18 low mindfulness participants (average age = 22 years; 28% male). Participants also completed the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire, or FFMQ. The researchers studied three fMRI scan variables: the total time spent in different brain states, the number of transitions between states, and the average dwell time within each state.

There are two types of brain connectivity: within- and between-network connectivity. Within-network connectivity is the degree to which the components of a network synchronize their activity, while between-network […]

June 21st, 2018|News|

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|