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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|

Accessing unconscious motives with the body scan

Posted 04.14.2017 | by AMRA

People tend to be happiest when their career and relationship goals align with their motivations. The problem is that people often have relatively little awareness of their unconscious motives. We can infer the existence of unconscious motives based on how a person behaves, but people are rarely able to recognize or describe these motives.

Unconcious motives are formed early in life and tend to be poorly integrated with higher mental processes. Prior research suggests, however, that people who are highly aware of their internal body sensations are also more likely to be aware of their unconscious motives. Could then a mindfulness exercise that increases body awareness also increase awareness of unconscious motives?

Strick & Papies [Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin] tested this possibility by first assessing people’s unconscious motives, and then having them select and rate a set of goals after engaging in either a mindfulness practice called the body scan or a control activity.

Sixty college students (mean age = 22; 75% female) attended a series of three experimental sessions. In the first session, participants made up stories in response to pictures depicting social situations. The content of their stories was then rated by the researchers for the presence of implicit wishes for affiliation (the wish to pursue and maintain relationships) and power (the wish to control and influence others). The participants also rated their conscious desires for affiliation and power using a self-report measure.

In the second session, participants were randomly assigned to either a body scan or control activity. Body scan participants listened to a brief (12-14 minutes) digitally recorded guided body scan in which they were instructed to mindfully attend to body […]

April 14th, 2017|News|

MBSR participants with generalized anxiety disorder miss less work

Posted 03.21.2017 | by AMRA

People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) suffer from excessive and uncontrollable worry concerning a broad array of everyday matters (work, money, health, relationships, etc.) along with a range of physical symptoms (headache, fatigue, muscle tension, etc.) associated with stress. As a result, people with GAD often miss days at work and tend to use medical and mental health services at a higher rate than the average person.

GAD is often treated with medication and psychotherapy, and in recent years, mindfulness-based interventions have been added as an additional treatment alongside more traditional approaches.

In a secondary analysis of a previously published randomized, controlled clinical trial, Hoge et al. [Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine] investigated whether Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) reduced the number of GAD sufferers’ missed days at work and the number of their visits to primary care and mental health care professionals to a greater degree than a stress management education (SME) control.

The 57 individuals with GAD (mean age = 39; 56% female; 83% Caucasian) whose data were analyzed in this study were a subset of a larger cohort of individuals with GAD who were randomly assigned to either a standard 8-week MBSR program or an 8-week SME program. The SME program covered topics relevant to stress including time management, nutrition, exercise, and sleep.

The subgroup of patients whose data was included in this analysis completed the World Health Organization Health Performance and Work Questionnaire (HPQ) at baseline, after intervention, and at 24-week follow-up. The HPQ is a self-report measure of illness-related absences from work and visits to primary care and mental health professionals.

At immediate post-intervention, the MBSR group had significantly decreased the number of partial […]

March 21st, 2017|News|

Mindfulness practice as good as prescribed pain meds for migraine

Posted 03.14.2017 | by AMRA

Migraines are disabling headaches lasting from several hours to several days that are characterized by severe, pulsating pain usually localized to one side of the head. Migraine sufferers may also experience nausea and sensitivity to light, sound or smell. Their headaches may also be preceded by visual disturbances (e.g., blind spots and zigzag patterns) that signal their impending onset.

Migraines are considered “chronic” when they occur more than 15 days a month over a period of three months. Chronic migraines are often complicated by medication overuse, which tends to make migraines worse and harder to manage. The treatment of chronic migraine complicated by medication overuse is complex, and physicians are interested in behavioral approaches that can either supplement or be used instead of medications.

Grazzi et al. [Journal of Headache and Pain] conducted a non-randomized exploratory clinical trial of a mindfulness-based intervention compared to prescribed medications intended to prevent headache onset for patients with combined chronic migraine and medication overuse.

Patients with chronic migraine and medication overuse who were being treated at a neurology clinic were withdrawn from their medication in a structured day treatment program. At the end of the program, they were invited to participate in a clinical trial of either mindfulness training (MT) or prophylactic medication (MED).

A total of 44 patients (average age = 45) were enrolled in the study, and assignment to treatment was self-selected. The MT intervention, based on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, involved six weekly 45-minute small group sessions. MT participants practiced maintaining a non-judgmental, present-moment focus during sitting meditation.

Patients in the MED condition were prescribed medications to take before their headaches began including valproate, botulinum toxin, pizotifen, amitriptyline, and […]

March 14th, 2017|News|