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Daily brief meditation takes more than four weeks to boost mood

Posted 09.27.2018 | by AMRA

Meditation practice reliably demonstrates beneficial effects for memory, attention, mood, and emotional regulation. It is unclear, however, whether there is a minimum dosage necessary to attain these benefits.

Basso et al. [Behavioural Brain Research] measured the benefits of meditation in a group of meditation-naïve participants by assigning them to either daily brief guided meditations or to a control group, and measuring their changes in mood and cognition over time.

The researchers randomly assigned 72 meditation-naïve participants to either a meditation audio or a podcast audio. The meditation group listened to 13-minute guided meditations daily for 8 weeks. The meditations included breath-focused exercises and a body scan practice. The podcast group listened to 13-minute excerpts from NPR’s Radiolab podcast daily for 8 weeks.

Participants underwent neuropsychological and psychological evaluations and salivary cortisol (a stress hormone) assessments at baseline, 4 weeks, and 8 weeks. Computer-administered neuropsychological tests included measures of attention, working and recognition memory, and response inhibition. The psychological tests measured mindfulness (Mindful Attention Awareness Scale or MAAS), mood, stress, depression, anxiety, rumination, sleep quality, fatigue, quality of life, self-esteem, and life satisfaction.

Following the final assessments, participants were subjected to a stress-inducing task. They were told to prepare for a job interview and deliver a five-minute presentation on why they should be hired in front of two stone-faced judges. They were then told to perform a difficult serial subtraction problem. Whenever they made an arithmetic mistake, they were instructed to start the problem over from the beginning.

Subjective measures of anxiety were taken at baseline, immediately after, and at 10, 20, and 30-minute intervals after the stress-inducing tasks. Salivary cortisol levels were also assessed at each of […]

September 27th, 2018|News|

MBCT helps patients with treatment-resistant depression

Posted 09.20.2018 | by AMRA

About one-in-five major depressive episodes are not responsive to either medication or psychotherapy and go on to become chronic illnesses. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) has been shown to be useful as an adjunctive treatment in acute depressions and the prevention of depressive relapse in patents with a history of multiple depressive episodes. Its effectiveness in chronic treatment-resistant depressions has not yet been established.

Cladder-Micus et al. [Depression and Anxiety] compared the effectiveness of MBCT as an adjunctive treatment to treatment-as-usual in patients with treatment-resistant chronic depression.

The researchers randomly assigned 106 patients with treatment-resistant chronic depression (female = 62%; mean age = 47 years; mean length of depressive episode = 70 months; mean number of previous episodes = 2.7) to either treatment-as-usual (TAU) or TAU combined with adjunctive MBCT. MBCT was offered in the standard 8-week group format. TAU consisted of medication, psychological treatment, psychiatric nursing support, and day hospitalization as needed. There was no difference between conditions as to the type and amount of TAU received.

Participants were assessed at baseline and post-treatment on symptom severity, remission of illness (no symptoms for two weeks), quality of life, rumination, self-compassion, and mindfulness (using the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire).

The MBCT attrition rate was 24.5%, with participants dropping out due to physical complaints, trouble awakening in the morning, and practical considerations (e.g., moving away from the area). Completers did not differ from non-completers in terms of baseline depressive symptoms.

The main analyses were performed using an intention-to-treat (ITT) protocol using data from all participants available for post-testing, whether or not they successfully completed the MBCT program. Secondary analyses were conducted using only those MBCT participants who completed 4 […]

September 20th, 2018|News|

Brain connectivity differs for short- and long-term meditators

Posted 08.28.2018 | by AMRA

Mindfulness-based interventions can enhance emotional regulation and improve mood, but we are only just beginning to understand the brain mechanisms responsible for these benefits. Kral et al. [Neuroimage] compared the brain activity of long-term meditators, short-term meditators, and non-meditators in response to emotionally positive, negative, and neutral images. The researchers sought to discover whether or not the amount of an individual’s meditation practice correlated with their response to emotional stimuli.

The researchers recruited a sample of 31 long-term Vipassana mediators (average age = 50 years, 55% female, average meditation practice = 9,000 hours) and compared them to a sample of 127 meditation-naive recruits. Following initial data collection, 86 of the meditation-naïve recruits (average age = 48, 63% female) were randomly assigned to a standard 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program or a Health Enhancement program (HEP) which served as a time-and-attention control.

The long-term mediators and the meditation-naive participants spent a day in the laboratory prior to the meditation-naive group’s random assignment to intervention. Following intervention, the meditation-naive group returned to the laboratory for re-assessment.

In the laboratory, participants were shown emotionally positive, negative, and neutral images while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a procedure that measures metabolic activity in different regions of the brain. The researchers measured fMRI activity in two specific brain regions: the amygdala, which plays a role in generating emotion, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC), which plays a role in regulating emotion. Participants also completed a self-report measure of mindfulness, the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ).

Results from the pre-intervention data showed that meditation-naive participants had significantly greater right amygdala activity in response to positive images than long-term meditators. While […]

August 28th, 2018|News|

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|