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Online mindfulness program boosts employee wellness, not productivity

Posted 04.25.2016 | by AMRA

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Jobs can be a major source of stress. Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) can reduce stress, but employers may be reluctant to offer them due to time and cost concerns. Web-based MBIs may help to address such concerns, but research suggests participant engagement in online programs tends to be low. Allexandre, et al. [Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine] randomly assigned employees to a web-based MBI with and without group and clinical expert support in an effort to discover how to best improve web-based MBI engagement and outcomes for workers.

The researchers recruited 161 predominantly Caucasian (77%), female (83%) (average age = 40) debt collectors, customer service representatives, and fraud representatives from a pool of 900 employees working at a corporate call center in Ohio. These employees reported greater levels of stress and exhaustion than average American workers.

The employees were randomly assigned to one of four experimental conditions: 1) a web-based MBI, 2) a web-based MBI with group support, 3) a web-based MBI with both group and clinician support, and 4) a wait-list control. All three intervention conditions ran for 8 weeks and participants had access to both weekly online and weekly CD/MP3-delivered mindfulness lectures and guided meditations including a body scan, sitting, and lovingkindness meditation.

Group support consisted of small-to-medium sized practice-and-discussion groups which met weekly for one hour. All groups were employee-led, but the groups with clinician support met on three occasions with a licensed social worker or counselor who did not serve as a “mindfulness teacher” but discussed topics such as letting go, acceptance, non-judging, and compassion from a cognitive-behavioral perspective.

Participants were assessed on self-report measures of emotional wellbeing, vitality, stress, burnout, exhaustion, […]

April 25th, 2016|News|

Brain imaging study of adolescents links cortical changes and mindfulness

Posted 08.25.2015 | by AMRA

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Adolescence is a time of rapid growth in young people’s capacity to self-regulate their emotions and maintain focus on goals, as well as a time of rapid brain development. In a longitudinal study, Friedel et al. [Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience] explored the relationship between changes in brain areas previously linked to mindfulness and the development of a tendency to be mindful of experience (dispositional mindfulness) in adolescents.

The brain regions of interest included the prefrontal cortex (an area involved in goal directed behavior and emotional regulation) and the insula (an area involved in the awareness of internal bodily states). As adolescents mature, the gray matter in their cerebral cortexes tends to thin out as neurons are selectively pruned and circuits become more efficient. The researchers predicted that a higher degree of cortical thinning would correlate with higher levels of dispositional mindfulness.

The researchers analyzed the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of 82 male and female adolescents who, as part of a larger study, underwent repeated scans at ages 16 and 19, and completed the Mindfulness Attention and Awareness Scale (MAAS) at age 19. The participants were also assessed on measures of temperament, emotional regulation, and intelligence.

Dispositional mindfulness was positively correlated with self-report measures of cognitive reappraisal, attention, and inhibitory control, and negatively correlated with measures of frustration, aggression, and depressed mood. The researchers analyzed possible relationships between cortical thinning and dispositional mindfulness in twenty different regions of the prefrontal and insular cortex. Contrary to expectation, prefrontal cortical thinning was unrelated to dispositional mindfulness — although prefrontal thinning was related to IQ.

There was, however, a significant correlation between a lesser degree of left anterior insular […]

August 25th, 2015|News|

High mindfulness linked to heart health

Posted: 11.12.2014 | by AMRA

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The American Heart Association has identified several factors that protect against cardiovascular disease (CVD). Some of these CVD factors (smoking, diet, exercise) are behaviorally modifiable, but change requires a heightened degree of self-monitoring and self-control.

In an effort to discover whether mindfulness may support better cardiovascular health by its potential to enhance self-monitoring and self-control, Loucks et al. [International Journal of Behavioral Medicine] investigated whether CVD protective factors, as measured by blood tests (glucose and cholesterol), blood pressure cuff, and self-report measures, were associated with levels of dispositional mindfulness (as measured by the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale, MAAS).

Data were collected from 382 participants (66% Caucasian, 57% female, average age = 47 years) in the New England Family Study, a large longitudinal study of the causes of neuropsychiatric and cardiovascular disease. The researchers examined the associations between mindfulness and “good” and “bad” cardiovascular health (“good” defined as 4 or more protective factors against cardiovascular disease; “bad” as fewer than 4).

Highly mindful participants were almost twice as likely (prevalence ratio=1.86) to have “good” cardiovascular health profiles as compared to less mindful participants. Highly mindful participants were significantly more likely to be nonsmokers, have untreated fasting blood glucose below 100 mg/dL, have BMIs under the cutoff for “normal,” be physically active, have stronger feelings of personal mastery, and have fewer depressive symptoms.

The relationship between mindfulness and cardiovascular health was mediated, to a large degree, through its association with fewer depressive symptoms and a higher sense of mastery.

Although the implications of these findings are limited by data collected from one point in time, this study suggests that people with high levels of mindfulness in daily life […]

November 21st, 2014|News|

Thalamus important to reported level of mindfulness

Posted: 09.04.2014 | by AMRA

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The Default Mode Network (DMN) is a functional network of interconnected anatomical brain structures. DMN interconnected structures are typically activated during mind-wandering and deactivated during periods of mindful awareness. Prior research has shown that meditators often have increased DMN gray matter density and decreased DMN connectivity compared to non-meditators. “Connectivity” is the degree to which the different DMN regions work together in concert.

Wang et al. [Neuroscience] explored the relationship between DMN connectivity while undergoing functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and trait mindfulness as measured by the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale in 245 Beijing college students. Participants were asked to relax with eyes closed and remain still while undergoing the fMRI scan, which is a mundane procedure that usually evokes mind-wandering and DMN activity.

The researchers found that greater connectivity between the thalamus and the posterior cingulate cortex — two important DMN-connected anatomical structures — was associated with lower mindfulness. The thalamus appeared to be the key structure driving this relationship. This makes sense, as the thalamus is a crucial structure in both the DMN and the ascending reticular activating system (ARAS) — a competing brain network that plays an important role in wakefulness, attention, and vigilance.

The authors suggest that one can think of the thalamus as a switch that shifts the brain back and forth between mindfulness and mind-wandering. The greater the interconnectivity between the thalamus and the other DMN structures, however, the harder it may be to achieve mindful focus on the present moment. The thalamus is itself a complex structure containing multiple nuclei, and future research is needed to specify which regions are most involved.

Reference:

Wang, X., Xu, M., Song, Y., […]

October 24th, 2014|News|

Worker safety practices accounted for by mindfulness

Posted: 08.04.2014 | by AMRA

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Food service industry workers (e.g., cooks, waiters, and busboys) are expected to keep their productivity high and their customers happy under trying circumstances. Maintaining awareness of food safety to prevent the spread of foodborne disease is a central worker role.

In day-to-day operations, workers are expected to be aware of and reject previously thawed deliveries, heat foods to their proper temperature, and maintain hygiene through proper hand washing and food handling. Food service workers do not always follow safety protocols, however, and sometimes get distracted or misjudge priorities.

Betts & Hinsz [Current Psychology] explored the degree to which dispositional mindfulness (as measured by the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale) might contribute to employees’ attention to safety. Study measures included the dispositional mindfulness, food safety knowledge, and self-reported safety practices of 428 university students who worked at least part-time in the food service industry.

Results from the study showed that knowledge of food safety protocols alone accounted for only 3% of the actual variance in employees’ food safety practices. When dispositional mindfulness and its differential relationship with differing levels of food safety knowledge were taken into consideration, however, about 15% of the variance in food safety was explained. Mindfulness was positively correlated (r = 0.35) with food service safety practice. Especially important was that the less workers actually knew about food safety, the more mindfulness contributed to safety practice.

The study suggests that level of dispositional mindfulness is an important variable in determining the extent to which food service workers safely carry out their work responsibilities, but the study is limited by its reliance on self-report measures and its failure to rule out the impact of social desirability […]

August 4th, 2014|News|

MBSR’s Impact on Ulcerative Colitis Flare-Ups

Posted: 03.27.2014 | by AMRA

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Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease that is a chronic autoimmune disorder of the colon. Despite the best medical management, ulcerative colitis patients often experience episodic flare-ups with symptoms that include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and rectal bleeding. Flare-ups are sometimes triggered by stress, and there is a great deal of interest in stress-reduction interventions that might improve quality of life and reduce flare-ups, and defining those ulcerative colitis subpopulations that might benefit most from such techniques.

Jedel et al. [Digestion] studied MBSR’s effectiveness in preventing ulcerative colitis flare-ups in a randomized, double-blind study. Fifty-five moderately severe ulcerative colitis patients in remission were assigned to either MBSR or a placebo (lectures and videos on mind/body medicine). Moderate severity of disease status was defined by a Mayo Ulcerative Colitis Disease Activity Index of 6–12. Measures taken at baseline, post-treatment, and 6 and 12-month follow-up included inflammation markers (calprotectin, C-reactive protein, and cytokines), stress markers (ACTH, cortisol), measures of perceived stress and IBD quality of life, and measures of mood and mindfulness (MAAS).

There was no difference in the number or severity of flare-ups or the length of the inflammation-free interval prior to flare-ups between groups, but MBSR participants who flared had significantly better quality of life and lower perceived stress than control subjects who flared (quality of life was also higher for MBSR participants regardless of whether or not they flared). There were no group differences on measures of mood or mindfulness, possibly due to a ceiling effect in this mentally healthy cohort.

MBSR participants with the highest number of gastrointestinal symptoms at baseline benefited the most. MBSR participants with the highest perceived stress and/or […]

March 27th, 2014|News|

CALM Pregnancy Program Targets Perinatal Anxiety

Posted: 02.07.2014 | by AMRA

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Between 10-40% of women develop significant anxiety during pregnancy, an unsurprising fact given the associated physiological, hormonal, and lifestyle changes, and concerns about the impending responsibilities of parenthood. Perinatal anxiety is a risk factor for obstetrical complications and postpartum depression, and pharmacologic interventions are often contra-indicated. This underscores the need for effective behavioral treatments. Goodman et al. [Archives of Women’s Mental Health] designed an MBCT-derived intervention called CALM (Coping with Anxiety through Living Mindfully) Pregnancy to treat perinatal anxiety. A sample of 24 pregnant women with either generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or significant GAD symptoms (as assessed through structured clinical interview) were enrolled in the program. Attendance and compliance were good, with 23 women (96%) successfully completing the 8-week group-based program.

Participants reported large and significant reductions in anxiety, worry and depression, and large and significant increases in self-compassion and dispositional mindfulness (as measured by the MAAS). Of the 16 participants who met the full diagnostic criteria for GAD at baseline, only 1 met the criteria at program completion. Similarly, the two women who met the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder at baseline no longer met the criteria at program completion. In an open-ended interview about what they had found most helpful, participants mentioned skill building, connection, universality, acceptance and self-kindness, decreased reactivity, cognitive changes, and insight.

This pilot study demonstrates the feasibility, acceptability, and potential effectiveness of the CALM Pregnancy program, at least for a population of mostly Caucasian, middle class, well-educated women. Future studies using randomly assigned controls will be needed to confirm the early promise of these findings in this and more diverse groups of women.

Reference:

Goodman, J. H., Guarino, A., […]

February 7th, 2014|News|

10-day Vipassana Retreat Improves Wellness

Posted from archive: 07.04.2013 | by AMRA

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Krygier et al. [International Journal of Psychophysiology] studied the effects of a 10-day Goenka Vipassana retreat on heart rate variability (HRV) in 36 first-time retreat participants. HRV is a measure of parasympathetic activity that is also a biomarker for subjective well-being, cardiovascular health, and reduced all-cause mortality. Retreat participants completed pre- and post- self-report measures of psychological well-being as well as HRV during mindful attention to their breathing and during a resting baseline.

HRV measures included absolute, normalized, and log transformed measures of high frequency power, along with a measure of low frequency Traube-Hering-Meyer wave (THM) power. High frequency power reflects vagal tone, whereas low frequency THM power reflects baroreceptor activity.

Participants reported significant improvements in satisfaction with life, mindfulness (as measured by the MAAS), and positive affect, and significantly decreased depression, stress and negative affect from pretest to posttest. Effect sizes were all moderate to large. Participants with greater HRV high frequency power had less negative affect, and those with lower THM power had less negative affect, stress, and depression. Absolute high frequency power was greater during meditation than while at rest, but there was no effect of meditation on either normalized high frequency power or THM power.

The Vipassana retreat had a complicated interaction effect on the difference between HRV during meditation and while at rest. Log transformed High Frequency power was higher during meditation than at rest before the retreat, but not after. Conversely, THM power was lower (and normalized high frequency power higher) during meditation compared to at rest after the retreat, but not before. A profound loss in THM power during post-retreat meditation accounts for this, and probably reflects […]

January 5th, 2014|News|