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Youth with HIV show reduced viral load after MBSR

Posted 11.16.2017 | by AMRA

Youth living with HIV have to cope not only with the psychological stress of having a chronic disease, but also with the challenges of taking medications regularly and following through with scheduled medical appointments. Successful coping may be particularly difficult for HIV-infected adolescents and young adults who are still developing their self-regulation skills and working through developmental issues regarding identity formation.

Webb et al. [AIDS Care] conducted a randomized, controlled study of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) to see if it could enhance psychological wellbeing, self-regulation, and disease management in youth with HIV.

The researchers randomly assigned 72 youth with HIV (age range = 14-22 years; 53% male) to either MBSR or a health education course. The MBSR intervention adapted its vocabulary (but not its content or structure) to better suit the needs of urban youth. The health education course was structured to match MBSR in terms of the number and length of its sessions, as well as its group structure and size. The course was designed to cover topics such as nutrition, exercise and puberty.

Participants completed self-report measures of mindfulness (the Mindful Attention and Awareness Scale), perceived stress, coping styles, aggression, quality of life, and medication adherence at baseline, post-intervention, and 3-month follow-up. They also completed Stroop-like tasks to assess their ability to regulate attention in the presence of interfering emotionally positive, negative, or neutral stimuli

HIV viral loads (measures of the severity of HIV infection) and CD4 counts (measures of immune system functioning) were obtained from participants’ medical records. Participants were categorized as having either low viral loads (under 100 viral copies per mL) or higher viral loads (over 100 viral copies per mL).

Low […]

November 16th, 2017|News|

Mindful children have more brain flexibility, imaging study shows

Posted 10.27.2017 | by AMRA

Meditation involves the processes of focusing attention, recognizing when the mind has wandered off, and re-establishing focus. Neuropsychologists tell us these processes are associated with three large-scale brain networks: a Default Mode Network (DMN) associated with mind-wandering, a Salience and Emotion Network (SEN) associated with present-centered awareness, and a Central Executive Network (CEN) that helps shift, restore, and maintain focus. When two or more networks change activity in a coordinated manner, they are said to be functionally connected.

Positive functional connectivity occurs when two networks increase or decrease activity in tandem. Negative functional connectivity occurs when increased activity in one network is matched by decreased activity in the other. The degree of functional connectivity between networks is usually averaged over time to yield a single measure. The problem with averaged measures is that they give the illusion that the functional connectivity between networks is static, when in fact, it is ever-changing and dynamic.

Marusak et al. [Behavioral Brain Research] studied both the average and the dynamic functional connectivity between these brain networks in children, as well as how these networks are related to childrens’ self-reported levels of mindfulness and mental health symptoms.

The researchers recruited an economically and racially diverse cohort of 42 children and adolescents (55% female, average age =10 years, age range = 6-17 years). Many of the children were at economic disadvantage and/or at risk for exposure to violence, abuse, and intensive medical treatment.

The participants completed self-report measures of mindfulness (using the Child and Adolescent Mindfulness Measure), anxiety and depression. The majority of participants (65%) exceeded the thresholds on these measures for pathological levels of anxiety and/or depression.

All participants underwent functional magnetic […]

October 27th, 2017|News|

MBRP practice loosens grip of craving on substance use

Posted 10.19.2017 | by AMRA

Roughly half of all substance use program graduates relapse within six months. This has led researchers to seek better ways of reducing the frequency and severity of relapses after treatment. Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) is a program offered after residential or intensive outpatient treatment to prevent relapse.

MBRP teaches mindfulness skills to help substance users cope more effectively with their cravings. Rather than treating cravings as a danger to be avoided, MBRP approaches cravings as transient mental states that can be investigated and tolerated without triggering relapse.

Using data from a previously published MBRP trial, Enkema & Bowen [Drug and Alcohol Dependence] investigated whether MBRP actually weakened the association between craving and substance use. They reasoned that if it did, the link between craving and subsequent use would be weakest for those who practiced mindfulness meditation the most.

The 57 study participants (77% male, 63% Caucasian, average age = 38 years) had been randomly assigned to the MBRP arm of a parent study comparing MBRP to other aftercare programs. The participants had completed either an inpatient or intensive outpatient substance use program before starting MBRP.

In the previously published parent study, MBRP participants showed a 54% reduced risk of drug use and a 59% decreased risk of heavy drinking compared with the participants in comparison treatments.

The present study made use of MBRP participants’ reports of the quantity and frequency of their substance use (if any) during the six-month period following their completion of the program. The participants also indicated the intensity of their cravings and the extent of their formal (e.g. seated meditation) and informal (e.g., using mindfulness to “urge surf” cravings) mindfulness practice within the […]

October 19th, 2017|News|

Heart health – Is meditation more than deep breathing?

Posted 09.26.2017 | by AMRA

Many forms of meditation, including mindfulness meditation, make use of the breath as a point of attentional focus. Research has shown that meditation on the breath reduces respiration rate, heart rate and blood pressure, and increases heart rate variability. Are these physiological changes the result of the cognitive and affective aspects of maintaining a meditative focus, or are they simply the consequences of breathing more slowly?

Bernardi et al. [Psychophysiology] investigated the long- and short-term respiratory and cardiovascular effects of meditation in experienced meditators and controls. In so doing, the researchers hoped to disentangle the physiological effects of slowed breathing from those of a maintained meditative focus.

The researchers recruited 41 participants (22% male, average age = 34 years) with prior meditation experience and 39 meditation-naive (54% male, average age = 25 years) controls. All of the meditators were beginning-to-intermediate yoga practitioners, although some had additional experience with vipassana, mindfulness, transcendental, or mantra meditation.

The researchers instructed participants to lie down quietly on their backs with eyes closed while their heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and arterial, tissue, and brain oxygen levels were monitored under a series of different conditions. The conditions were: 1) baseline measures of normal respiration, 2) two different periods of “paced breathing” during which participants synchronized their breathing to the beats of a metronome to achieve rates of 15 and 6 breaths per minute, 3) two different periods of metronome-paced breathing while silently reciting a mantra, known as “mantra meditation” (also at 15 and 6 breaths per minute), and 4) a five-minute body scan meditation.

The meditators differed from the controls on a variety of measures across all conditions. They tended to […]

September 26th, 2017|News|

Daily meditation practice key to positive emotions

Posted 09.19.2017 | by AMRA

Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) are founded on the assumption that meditative practice increases mindfulness and that mindfulness, in turn, enhances psychological wellbeing. The evidence supporting this assumption is somewhat mixed. While some studies find that the extent and quality of a meditation practice is positively associated with improvement in mindfulness and wellbeing, others have not.

The methodology by which some studies measure a meditation practice may be one reason for these diverse findings. Some studies do not measure practice on a daily basis, but instead ask participants to estimate the quantity and quality of their practice over a period of weeks or months, increasing the likelihood of measurement error.

Lacaille et al. [Journal of Clinical Psychology] investigated the relationship between meditative practice, mindfulness, and wellbeing by having MBI (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction or MBSR) participants complete daily diaries that rated these three variables.

The researchers studied the daily diaries of 117 MBSR participants (80% female, 86% Caucasian, 64% between 30-50 years of age) collected over a 49-day period. The MBSR program differed from the standard MBSR protocol by shortening at-home and in-class mindfulness meditation practice periods from 45-60 minutes to 20-30 minutes.

Participants were sent daily text messages reminding them to complete online diaries. If participants failed to complete a diary entry that night, they were text messaged again the following morning. If they failed to respond to the second message within 8 hours, they could no longer make an entry for that day.

In their diaries, participants indicated whether or not they had practiced, how long they had practiced, and the degree to which they had adhered to the practice instructions. They also responded to questions designed to […]

September 19th, 2017|News|

Elderly taking MBSR improve verbal recall and mental health

Posted 08.24.2017 | by AMRA

Elderly anxiety and depression sufferers often report subjective problems with memory and cognition. They also perform more poorly on objective measures of short-term memory, verbal fluency, and the ability to ignore irrelevant cues while focusing on a task. Stress can play an important role in worsening anxiety and depression and also in degrading cognitive function.

There is evidence that cortisol, a hormone secreted during stress, can have a harmful effect on brain cells in the hippocampus, which may in turn negatively affect memory and cognition. Reducing stress may therefore yield a double benefit: reducing anxiety and depression, and improving memory and cognition.

Wetherell et al. [Journal of Clinical Psychiatry] explored whether Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) could improve clinical symptoms and cognitive functioning better than a control group in elderly people suffering from anxiety and/or depression who also experience subjective cognitive difficulties.

The researchers randomly assigned 103 elderly patients (average age = 72 years; 75% Female; 83% Caucasian) with clinical diagnoses of anxiety and/or depressive disorders and with subjective cognitive complaints to either an 8-week group MBSR intervention or an 8-week Health Education control intervention. The Health Education groups met for the same frequency and duration as the MBSR groups, but focused on understanding and managing anxiety and depression, eating well, managing medications, and communicating with one’s heath care providers.

Patients were assessed at baseline, at the end of the intervention, and at 3-and-6-month follow-ups. Outcomes were assessed on measures of psychiatric symptoms, verbal memory, verbal fluency, the ability to ignore distracting cues and stay focused on a task, mindfulness (as measured by the Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale-Revised), and average peak salivary cortisol.

Despite randomization, the health […]

August 24th, 2017|News|

Mindful teachers report closer relationships with preschoolers

Posted 08.16.2017 | by AMRA

Being a good preschool teacher is no easy matter. Good teachers are both self-aware and socially aware. They are sensitive to children’s developmental levels, learning styles, familial and cultural contexts, and social and emotional competencies. Good teachers must simultaneously self-regulate their inner emotional states and vigilantly monitor the complexities of classroom process while maintaining a focus on educational goals.

All of this is important because teacher’s social and emotional competencies play a crucial role in facilitating preschoolers’ personal and academic growth. This raises the question of how to help teachers develop the personal qualities they need to foster optimum teacher-pupil relationships.

One way might be to help teachers develop higher levels of dispositional mindfulness, or nonjudgmental moment-by-moment attentiveness. This may be especially important when workplace stress—the combined effect of high job difficulty, low perceived support, and low sense of control—makes preschool teaching even harder.

Becker et al. [Journal of School Psychology] analyzed data from an online survey of preschool teachers to test the relationships between teachers’ dispositional mindfulness, their perception of their degree of closeness and conflict with their pupils, and their levels of depression and perceived workplace stress.

The researchers explored data from an online staff wellness survey of 1,001 preschool teachers (98% female; 89% Caucasian; 51% college graduates) working for Head Start in Pennsylvania. The teachers completed self-report measures of the perceived quality of their relationships with their students (closeness vs. conflict), dispositional mindfulness (as measured by the Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale-Revised), depressive symptoms, and perceived workplace stress.

Results showed that higher levels of dispositional mindfulness were significantly associated with higher levels of perceived closeness with students (r = .20) and negatively associated with […]

August 16th, 2017|News|

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|