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MBCT reduces symptoms of children hospitalized with cancer

Posted 11.30.2020 | by AMRA

Children with cancer often have significant cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and academic problems. These result not only from the illness itself, but also the anxieties associated with diagnosis and prognosis, the negative side-effects of oncology treatments, and the lengthy separations from familiar settings and social supports entailed by hospitalization. Psychosocial interventions are needed that can more effectively bolster children’s resilience over the course of arduous treatment.

Abedini et al. [Mindfulness] assessed the value of a modified version of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Children (MBCT-C) in reducing internalizing psychological problems (anxiety, depression, and somatization) and attentional problems in school-age children undergoing hospitalization for cancer.

The researchers randomly assigned 40 Iranian children hospitalized for cancer (age range = 11-13 years; 53% male) who met the diagnostic criteria for acute stress disorder and showed elevated internalizing and attentional problems to a modified version of MBCT-C or to treatment as usual. The children were continuously hospitalized throughout the length of the intervention.

MBCT-C was delivered in the Farsi language to small groups of 2-4 participants meeting 5 times a week. The standard MBCT-C protocol was modified to meet the children’s physical, motivational, and attentional needs and the demands of the hospital schedule. Group sessions were shortened to 45 minutes each, delivered over a shortened 4-week time-course, and without the usual raisin, yoga, and mindful movement meditations.

Treatment as usual included limited medical social worker support and a playroom available for 2 hours daily. Children were assessed before and after treatment and at 2-month follow-up for internalizing behavioral problems and attentional difficulties using a parent-completed behavioral checklist, and a child-completed self-report inventory.

The results showed significantly greater reductions in parent-rated (η2=.53) and […]

November 30th, 2020|News|

Mindfulness app sustains attention after cold temperature stressor

Posted 11.17.2020 | by AMRA

Many critical tasks in daily life require sustained attention under stressful circumstances (e.g., air traffic control, combat, and emergency medical response) despite the fact that stress can deplete attention by overtaxing cognitive resources. Lapses of attention increase under conditions of acute stress.

Mindfulness training can have beneficial effects on attention and stress, and researchers are interested in knowing the degree to which it can prevent stress-induced attentional impairment. Piil et al. [Journal of Cognitive Enhancement] tested the effects of mindfulness training compared to cognitive performance training on sustained attention following a stressor.

The researchers randomly assigned 48 Danish university students and staff members (average age = 38 years; 58% female) to either 30 days of mindfulness training using the Headspace app, or 30 days of cognitive training using the NeuroNation app. Headspace is a meditation application that teaches core mindfulness skills through guided audio meditations that include mindful breathing, open monitoring, and body scanning. NeuroNation is a cognitive training application consisting of short games intended to strengthen working memory, perceptual accuracy, verbal and arithmetic skills, and logical reasoning.

Participants were instructed to use the apps 10 minutes daily for 10 days, 15 minutes daily for the next 10 days, and 20 minutes daily for the final 10 days.

At baseline and after completing one month of training, participants were exposed to a cold pressor stress task and then immediately asked to perform a sustained attention task. The cold pressor task in known to increase stress as measured by increases in sympathetic nervous system arousal (heart rate, blood pressure, stress hormones). Participants were instructed to put their non-dominant hand in a tank of circulating ice water […]

November 17th, 2020|News|

Autonomic activity while meditating linked to less opioid use

Posted 10.28.2020 | by AMRA

The over-prescription of opioids for chronic pain is a significant risk factor for drug abuse and addiction. About one-fifth of chronic pain patients double their opioid dosage over the course of two years, and so primary care psychological interventions are needed to reduce the risk of eventual misuse and dependence.

In a previous clinical trial, a mindfulness training program for opioid users reduced pain and opioid dosage in chronic pain patients. Garland et al. [American Psychologist] conducted a secondary analysis of that clinical trial, now examining whether physiological changes in heart rate variability (HRV) predict opioid dose reduction. HRV is the variation of time between each heartbeat and serves as a biomarker for increased autonomic nervous system self-regulation. Greater HRV is associated with relaxation and greater emotional and behavioral self-control.

The researchers randomly assigned 95 primary care patients who were prescribed opioids for the management of chronic musculoskeletal pain (66% female; 90% Caucasian; average age = 57 years) to Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE) or a support group. Both MORE and support groups were delivered once weekly for 2 hours across 8 weeks.

MORE included didactics and practice in mindfulness, cognitive reappraisal, and savoring naturally occurring rewards that included 15 minutes a day of home practice in these skills. Emphasis was placed on making the skills relevant to substance abuse, pain, stress reduction and self-regulation. The support group included nondirective counseling, social support, home journaling, and discussions of chronic pain, stigma, and stress.

Daily opioid dosage before and after intervention was assessed using retrospective self-report and prescription data from the medical record. After intervention, HRV was measured via electrocardiogram during a 5-minute baseline recording and a […]

October 28th, 2020|News|

School-based mindfulness aids child attention, brain connectivity

Posted 10.22.2020 | by AMRA

Children who have a greater cognitive capacity to sustain attention often perform better in school. Cognitive capacities such as increased attentional control can result from mindfulness training, as shown previously in samples of children. Little is known about the brain activity that links such training to sustained attention in children.

A promising mechanism to test is the functional relationship between areas of the brain that support sustained attention (the Central Executive Network, CEN) and mind wandering (the Default Mode Network, DMN). The activity of these two networks is positively correlated in very young children, and becomes increasingly anticorrelated as children develop the capacity to sustain attention and mature into adulthood.

Bauer et al. [Human Brain Mapping] tested the effects of an in-school mindfulness training on sustained attention performance as well as CEN and DMN brain activity in school children.

The researchers randomly assigned 99 sixth-graders (70% female; 53% Caucasian; average age = 12 years) to in-school mindfulness or computer coding training. Mindfulness classes incorporated 5-15 minutes of mindfulness practice per class, involving attention to breathing, body sensations, sounds, thoughts and emotions. The classes also included didactic mindfulness instruction, group discussion, and instructor feedback.

The coding intervention taught children to use a novel programming language and was designed to train creative thinking, systematic reasoning, and collaborative group work. Both interventions took place 4 times per week in 45-minute sessions across 8 weeks.

All children completed a 15-minute sustained attention task before and after intervention that required them to press a button whenever a digit appeared on a computer screen, except when the digit was the number three. A subsample of 40 children had parental permission for brain […]

October 22nd, 2020|News|

Brain gray and white matter reorganize with focused meditation

Posted 09.23.2020 | by AMRA

Meditation practice reportedly affects the gray (cell bodies) and white matter (axons) of the brain. However, cross-sectional studies comparing meditators to non-meditators are inconclusive, while many longitudinal studies employ multiple meditation techniques. This makes it difficult to pinpoint the meditation practices responsible for specific brain changes.

Lenhart et al. [Behavior Brain Research] tested for brain changes in gray and white matter in meditation-naïve adults who completed a seven-week focused-attention meditation training.

The researchers studied 27 meditation-naïve adult Austrian participants (63% female; average age=43 years) who attended all fourteen 45-minute sessions of a seven-week focused-attention meditation training program. The program taught a breath-body-mind centered raja yoga method that involved elements of focused attention to breathing (pranayama) and retraction of the senses (pratyahara). The training also required 15-30 minutes of daily home practice.

Participants underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) before and after the training program. They also completed a pre- and post-training self-report assessment of anxiety symptoms. Gray matter volume changes were assessed using whole-brain voxel-based morphometry, and white matter integrity changes were assessed using fractional anisotropy.

Results showed significant gray matter volume increases in the anterior insula, inferior frontal gyrus, superior frontal gyrus, caudate nucleus, and right cerebellum after the intervention. Significant gray matter volume decreases were detected in inferior parietal lobe, superior and middle temporal gyri, inferior frontal gyrus, medial prefrontal cortex, parahippocampal gyrus, and posterior cingulate cortex.

White matter showed increased integrity in the right basal ganglia, right hippocampus, and supraventricular region after the intervention.

The sample had a significant decrease in anxiety after the intervention, and decreases in anxiety were significantly associated with gray matter volume changes in the right-mid cingulate cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, […]

September 23rd, 2020|News|

MBCT supports vocational competencies in couseling trainees

Posted 09.14.2020 | by AMRA

Psychological counseling as a profession can be emotionally taxing, and counseling trainees may experience compassion fatigue and elevated stress. Counseling training programs focus on teaching counseling skills, yet they often are insufficient to support trainee self-care and wellness.

Teaching trainees mindfulness may enhance their professional growth and increase their resistance to vocational stressors.

Chan et al. [Patient Education and Counseling] conducted a randomized crossover study to test the effects of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) on wellness and perceived vocational competencies among undergraduate counseling trainees.

The researchers randomly assigned 50 undergraduate counseling trainees (60% female; age range 18-23 years) at a Hong Kong university to either MBCT or a wait-list control. MBCT was delivered once per week for 8 weeks in 2-hour group sessions.

Trainees were assessed at baseline and 3 months on self-report measures of empathy, self-compassion, psychological distress, counseling self-efficacy, and mindfulness (Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire). Self-efficacy assessed trainee self-confidence in applying helping skills (e.g., being attentive, listening, reflecting feelings, asking open-ended questions) and managing boundaries and problematic client behaviors.

Brain activity and physiology were also assessed. Trainees had their brain EEG frontal midline theta-wave activity (a measure of internal attention), and their respiration rate and skin conductance (measures of autonomic arousal) measured while resting listening to either classical music or a guided meditation audiotape.

At baseline both groups listened to classical music, and at 3- month assessment the MBCT group listened to the meditation audiotape while the control group listened to classical music. After the 3-month assessment, the wait-list controls then completed MBCT as part of the crossover design.

Both groups were then reassessed on all measures at 6 months after baseline. At the 6-months, both groups […]

September 14th, 2020|News|

Post-chemo cancer survivors have less cognitive impairment after mindfulness training

Posted 08.26.2020 | by AMRA

Up to 78% of women undergoing chemotherapy for cancer report impairment in cognitive functioning, commonly referred to as “chemo fog.” These complaints are accompanied by functional connectivity changes in regions of the brain involved in attention and executive functioning. Functional connectivity is a measure of the degree to which different brain regions act in tandem. While the efficacy of mindfulness training for cancer-related emotional difficulties is supported, the effect on cognitive impairment remains unknown.

Gucht et al. [Cancer] tested mindfulness training against a wait-list control on cancer survivors’ subjective and objective cognitive impairment, psychological symptoms, and brain connectivity.

The researchers randomly assigned 33 Belgian female breast cancer survivors (average age = 45 years) with self-reported subjective cognitive impairment to either mindfulness training or a wait-list control. Mindfulness training was based on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), and delivered in four group-based sessions, each lasting three hours. Home practice was encouraged and brief between-session telephone calls for encouragement and support were offered over an 8-week period.

Participants were assessed at baseline, one week after the intervention, and at 3 months after on a subjective measure of cognitive functioning and an objective battery of attention, concentration, memory, executive functioning, and processing speed. Other subjective measures were used to assess emotional distress, fatigue, and mindfulness (Comprehensive Inventory of Mindfulness Experiences).

Participants also underwent resting-state fMRI brain scans at all three assessment points. Six mindfulness participants and one control did not complete the study.

Results showed the mindfulness training group had significantly greater improvement in subjective cognitive impairment at post-treatment (Hedge’s g=0.99) and follow-up (g=0.95) than controls. The mindfulness group also had significantly greater decreases in […]

August 26th, 2020|News|

MBSR impacts hippocampus size and connectivity, linked with anxiety

Posted 08.19.2020 | by AMRA

Mindfulness training can reduce anxiety for some people, yet it is not fully clear how it operates. At the neural level, the brain’s hippocampus is one possible target given its involvement in learning to be afraid when in danger, and unlearning fear once danger is gone. Mindfulness-induced hippocampal changes may play a critical role in anxiety reduction.

Sevinc et al. [Brain and Behavior] tested mindfulness training against a stress management intervention on hippocampal volume and hippocampal connectivity to other brain regions during fear conditioning and extinction.

The researchers randomly assigned 89 participants (female=64%; average age=32 years) to either Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or Stress Management Education as a control group. The control group consisted of didactic presentation and discussion of nutrition, exercise, sleep hygiene, coping skills, and humor. Both 8-week interventions were delivered in weekly 2-hour group sessions, and both were assigned 40-minutes of daily homework (strength training and aerobic exercise for the control group) and a 4-hour intensive session in week six.

Before and after the intervention, all participants underwent fMRI scanning on two consecutive days. On the first day, the researchers induced a classically conditioned fear response by exposing participants to three neutral stimuli (pictures of different colored lamps) and pairing two of them with an annoying electrical shock delivered to their fingers. On the second day, one of the conditioned fear responses was extinguished by exposing participants to the same colored lamp stimuli, but only pairing one color with the electrical shock.

While participants underwent the fear conditioning and extinction activities, the researchers measured their hippocampal volumes and hippocampal connectivity with other brain regions. Participants also […]

August 18th, 2020|News|

MBRP aftercare program aids smoking cessation

Posted 07.29.2020 | by AMRA

Cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable mortality in the world. While smoking cessation programs are often initially effective, they tend to lose efficacy over time with 40%-70% of former smokers eventually relapsing. Smoking cessation maintenance programs aim to address the problems of urges to smoke and a decreased capacity for experiencing pleasure after quitting.

Mindfulness-based approaches focused on relapse prevention use meditation practices to help users experience urges without reaction and increase attentiveness to pleasurable experiences. Weiss de Souza et al. [Nicotine and Tobacco Research] tested whether an add-on Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) program increases the efficacy of a standard relapse prevention program in preventing smoking relapse.

The researchers randomized 86 Brazilian smokers (80% female; average age = 50 years) to standard relapse prevention treatment plus MBRP, or to the standard treatment alone. Both groups received four weeks of standard treatment, then half the group went on to receive an additional 8 weeks of MBRP. Standard treatment consisted of four 90-minute weekly group sessions and six maintenance sessions in weeks 6, 8, 10, 12, and 24. MBRP groups were conducted concurrently with the standard treatment maintenance groups.

Standard treatment focused on cognitive-behavioral strategies for coping with thoughts and situations that trigger relapse. Medication to reduce cravings (nicotine patches or gum, bupropion) was also provided. The 8-week MBRP program met for 2-hour weekly group sessions that included guided meditations, discussion, homework review, and encouragement for daily home practice.

Participants were assessed at baseline and at 1-month (after standard treatment), 3-month (after MBSR), and 6-month follow-ups for smoking abstinence assessed by exhaled carbon monoxide as well as self-report of cravings, mood, anxiety, depression, and mindfulness (Five Facet […]

July 29th, 2020|News|

Delivering MBSR in nature setting boosts feeling of connection

Posted 07.27.2020 | by AMRA

Natural environments such as woodlands, seashores, and meadows often have a restorative effect on human well-being. These settings allow for distancing from everyday causes of stress and worry, and allow for unique emotional experiences such as beauty, awe, and connection to something profound. Research shows that people who live adjacent to green spaces show lower levels of stress, and people who report a greater connection to nature describe their lives as happier and more meaningful.

Studies rarely investigate whether natural settings can bolster the effects of behavioral interventions. Choe et al. [Landscapes and Urban Planning] investigated whether offering Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in nature, as compared to built environments, enhances human well-being.

The researchers randomly assigned 99 British participants (62% female; average age = 36 years) to MBSR offered in three different environments: a public park with trees, shrubs, flower beds, a lawn, and a lake (i.e., nature), a concrete-and-brick courtyard (i.e., the built outdoors), and a windowless seminar room (i.e., the built indoors). All participants attended 6-week versions of MBSR offered in weekly 1-hour group sessions.

Participants completed self-report measures of mindfulness (Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire), relatedness to nature, mood, depression, anxiety, stress, reflection (curiosity-motivated cognition) and rumination (anxiety-motivated cognition) at baseline, midway through MBSR, and at one week and one month following MBSR completion.

The results showed that all three groups had significant improvements in mindfulness (η2=.09), positive affect (η2=.08), depression (η2=.20), anxiety (η2=.19), and negative affect (η2=.25). There were no significant between-group differences on these measures.

The natural environment group showed a relative significant increase in connectedness to nature (η2=.27) and reflection (η2=.19), and decrease in stress (η2=.94). All three groups showed significant […]

July 27th, 2020|News|