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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|

Insomnia relieved by mindfulness program for breast cancer survivors

Posted 06.25.2020 | by AMRA

The diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer is a major stressor, and many breast cancer survivors (24-46%) suffer from insomnia with persistent difficulty in falling and staying asleep. Mindfulness training may help insomnia by promoting relaxation and by enhancing present-moment focusing, which can reduce sleep-interfering thoughts and emotions.

Mindfulness-Based Therapy for Insomnia (MBTI) is an integrated therapeutic intervention that offers mindfulness training along with cognitive-behavioral strategies for stress management and sleep hygiene. Zhao et al. [European Journal of Cancer Care] tested the effectiveness of MBTI compared to a wait-list control for improving sleep quality in a large sample of breast cancer survivors.

The researchers randomly assigned 136 Chinese women (average age = 53 years) diagnosed with breast cancer who had completed surgery, adjuvant chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and who met the American Academy of Sleep Medicine criteria for insomnia to an MBTI program or a wait-list control.

The six-week MBTI program was delivered in weekly, 90-minute group sessions, with instructions for 20-40 minutes of daily home mindfulness practice. Seventy percent of group session time was devoted to meditation practice using the body scan, yoga, sitting and walking meditations. The remainder of the time involved didactic material on stress management, sleep hygiene, and cognitive strategies to change one’s thinking.

Participants kept sleep diaries and meditation practice logs and were assessed at baseline, post intervention, and at 3- and 6-month follow-up on self-report measures of insomnia and mindfulness using the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire.

They also donned wrist-worn actigraphs for three consecutive nights during each of the four assessment periods to measure their nighttime movement activity. Actigraphic data yielded measures of sleep latency, sleep awakenings, total time asleep, and […]

June 25th, 2020|News|

Mindfulness vs. cognitive training ups processing speed for MS

Posted 06.17.2020 | by AMRA

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system affecting around one million Americans. Depending on the areas in the brain and spinal cord involved, MS can cause alterations in sensation, balance, muscle strength, coordination, autonomic nervous system activity, mood, and cognition.

Cognitive symptoms may include impairments in attention, processing speed, working memory, and executive function. Computerized cognitive training is often employed in MS rehabilitation programs, but the results for improved cognitive function have been variable.

Mindfulness-based interventions offer potential promise in MS rehabilitation because of their proven effects on brain areas involved in attention and executive function. Manglani et al. [Neuropsychology] tested the efficacy of mindfulness training compared to computerized cognitive training and a wait-list control on improving working memory and processing speed among persons with MS.

The researchers randomly assigned 61 persons with MS (77% female; 72% Caucasian; average age = 46 years) to mindfulness training, computerized cognitive training, or a wait-list control. The four-week mindfulness training was an abbreviated version of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program involving the body scan, breath awareness, awareness of sensations, thoughts and emotions, and choiceless awareness. Patients met weekly in groups for two hours, and were encouraged to engage in 40 minutes of daily home mindfulness practice.

The computerized cognitive training group also met in groups every week for two hours over the course of four weeks. The first hour of each group was devoted to didactic material on cognitive deficits and allowed for group sharing of experiences. The second hour consisted of computer game playing designed to maximize working memory and processing speed. The games required increasing degrees of attention, identification of stimuli, […]

June 17th, 2020|News|

MBSR boosts therapy for parents of children with autism

Posted 05.26.2020 | by AMRA

About 2% of American children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Parents of children with autism must navigate their child’s impairments in social relatedness, communication, and cognition, as well as their behavioral difficulties. Therapists often train parents to engage in play and joint activities with their children to help foster language, social, and cognitive skills. Parents, however, are often distressed by their child’s condition, limiting their effectiveness in optimally fostering their child’s development.

Weitlauf et al. [Pediatrics] tested whether Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), when combined with a program that coaches parents on how to help their child with autism, could effectively reduce parental distress.

The researchers randomly assigned 61 parents (average age = 33 years; 89% female; 90% Caucasian) of preschool children diagnosed with autism to a 12-week training in a Parent-delivered Early Start Denver Model (PESDM) intervention or PEDSM plus MBSR. PESDM consisted of 12 hour-long weekly clinic-based sessions facilitated by therapists. Parents were coached on how to interact with their children to foster skill development.

Parents in the PESDM+MBSR group met with a mindfulness trainer for six additional hour-long individual MBSR sessions. Mindfulness training sessions focused on cultivating present-moment awareness, gratitude, and stress management skills.

Parents were assessed at baseline, mid-intervention, intervention end, and at 1, 3, and 6 months follow-up on measures of parental stress, depression, anxiety, life satisfaction, and mindfulness (using the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire). Children were assessed on a number of dimensions including parental ratings of the severity of their behavioral problems.

The results showed that parents in both study groups reported significantly decreased parental stress, depression, and anxiety during the study intervention period. During the 6-month follow-up period, improvements […]

May 26th, 2020|News|

More charitable giving after brief mindfulness meditation

Posted 05.21.2020 | by AMRA

Human altruism is affected by various contextual and social cues as well as biological factors. Levels of altruism are associated with activity in brain regions that play a role in empathy and emotional regulation, for example, the insula, amygdala, and anterior cingulate cortex. Interestingly, these are also brain regions whose functions and structures are affected by mindfulness meditation.

Iwamoto et al. [Scientific Reports] tested whether a very brief, video-guided, mindfulness meditation increases altruism as assessed by charitable giving behavior compared to an inactive control intervention.

The researchers randomly assigned 326 employees from a large company (66% male; 73% Caucasian; average age = 33 years) to either a mindfulness exposure or a control group. Participants in the mindfulness group watched a 5.5-minute guided breath meditation video produced by the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center. Control participants watched a 4.5-minute video that demonstrated how to draw a cartoon character.

After watching the videos and providing basic demographic data, participants were told they would be paid for their participation. They were then given the opportunity to donate all, some, or none of their participation payment to a popular charity organization, the United Way.

The results showed that participants in the mindfulness group donated a greater average percentage of their compensation (11%) than the control group (6%), and also donated significantly more frequently (2.6 times as often) than controls.

Mindfulness meditation had a significantly larger effect on employees under 25 years of age and employees without a college education. Furthermore, younger and less educated control participants donated very little but were significantly more generous in the mindfulness meditation group.

Ethnicity and country of residence also helped determine the level of charitable giving, […]

May 21st, 2020|News|

Extended MBSR curbs headache frequency in chronic migraineurs

Posted 04.28.2020 | by AMRA

Migraines, marked by intense, throbbing headaches, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, affect 13% of the adult population and are the sixth most frequent cause of disability. Migraines are known to be accompanied by changes in brain structures involved with cognitive aspects of pain processing including the insula, cingulate, and prefrontal cortices. This is an area of interest because mindfulness training is thought to work, in part, by altering one’s thoughts and attitudes towards pain.

Seminowicz et al. [Pain] conducted a randomized controlled trial to test if mindfulness training reduces migraines and determine whether it alters brain structure and function in regions related to cognitive aspects of pain processing.

The researchers randomly assigned 98 migraineurs (average age = 36 years; 72% Caucasian; 91% female) who had experienced 4-14 days of headache in the past month to either enhanced Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or a stress management program. Both programs met in 2-hour weekly groups for the first 8 weeks, and biweekly for the following 8 weeks. MBSR differed from the conventional standard in its addition of four group sessions after the initial 8 weeks. These additional sessions emphasized developing qualities of self-compassion, gratitude, equanimity, and sympathetic joy, and applying mindfulness skills before, during, and after migraines.

The stress management control offered didactic content focused on understanding stress, triggers, pain, sleep hygiene, and medications along with group support and muscle stretching exercises. Attendance to all scheduled groups sessions and/or individual make-up sessions was high (86% in MBSR and 83% in the control group).

All participants completed headache questionnaires at baseline and at week 10, 20, and 52. In addition, they completed fMRI brain scans at baseline and […]

April 28th, 2020|News|

MBCT reduces negative attentional bias and depressive symptoms

Posted 04.15.2020 | by AMRA

People with major depressive disorder (MDD) show an attentional bias in which they over-attend to negative information while often ignoring positive information. This attentional bias feeds, reinforces, and prolongs depressive thought patterns, and serves as an underlying risk factor for depressive symptom onset and relapse.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is an approach to psychotherapy that combines features of mindfulness meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy. The program has been shown to effectively reduce the odds of depressive relapse among people with MDD. Less is known about the efficacy of the program for alleviating current depressive symptoms.

Holas et al. [Mindfulness] conducted a randomized controlled trial to test if MBCT reduces attentional bias and depressive symptoms in patients with current MDD.

The researchers randomly assigned 53 adults with untreated current major depressive episodes (100% Polish Caucasian; 74% female; average age = 35 years) to an 8-week MBCT program or a wait-list control. Participants completed a self-report measure of depressive symptoms (CESD) and were assessed on an eye movement tracking task, measuring attentional bias immediately before and after the intervention period.

In that task, participants viewed slides with sad, angry, happy, and neutral faces in each of the four quadrants of the slide while their eye movements and fixations were recorded in milliseconds. This enabled researchers to calculate the relative amount of time participants spent gazing at each of the different faces.

The results showed that MBCT affected how long participants gazed at the various faces. Participants in the MBCT group significantly increased the amount of time they gazed at happy faces from pretest to posttest (ηp2=.23) and decreased their gaze at sad (ηp2=.09) and angry (ηp2=.14 ) faces, whereas […]

April 15th, 2020|News|

MBCT shows cost savings of $2,225 per patient with MDD

Posted 03.25.2020 | by AMRA

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is a severe recurrent mood disorder that affects 4-5% of the North American population at any given point in time. The average patient with MDD suffers 5-9 episodes over the course of a lifetime, and the personal, familial, and social costs of severe depression make relapse prevention a priority. Previous research shows Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) to be roughly as effective as antidepressant medication maintenance in preventing MDD relapse.

While antidepressant medication maintenance is effective, many patients have difficulty tolerating medication side-effects including insomnia, dizziness, drowsiness, dry mouth, nausea, loss of libido and might prefer a non-drug intervention.

Pahlevan et al. [Canadian Journal of Psychology] used already extant data sets to calculate the efficacy, utility, and cost effectiveness of MBCT vs. antidepressant medication maintenance for preventing relapse over 24-months in patients with recurrent MDD treated within the Canadian healthcare system.

The data were drawn from previously published studies comparing the efficacy of MBCT and antidepressant medication. MBCT is an 8-week group-based intervention combining elements of MBSR and cognitive therapy to prevent MDD relapse. Antidepressant medication maintenance uses antidepressant medication to prevent relapse.

Estimated parameters for adherence, relapse, and quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) were drawn from 11 Canadian randomized controlled trials. MBCT patients who attended at least 4 MBCT classes, and antidepressant medication patients who took their medication (venlafaxine, 375 mgs. daily) regularly, according to prescription refill and self-report data, were considered treatment compliant. Outcomes for treatment compliant and non-compliant patients were assessed at 12 and 24 months (only one of the 11 studies followed patients for 24 months).

Data on the estimated costs of MBCT, antidepressant medication, and relapse treatment were drawn from […]

March 25th, 2020|News|