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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|

Parental mindfulness and stress response in mother-infant pairs

Posted 01.25.2017 | by AMRA

Dispositional mindfulness is the generalized tendency to be mindful in daily life, but mindfulness levels can also be situational. Parenting-specific mindfulness, for example, is mindfulness occurring within the context of parenting. It’s the tendency to be nonjudgmental, accepting and emotionally aware of and compassionate toward oneself and one’s child, and to be able to listen to one’s child with full attention. Parenting-specific mindfulness may benefit the parent-child relationship by helping parents and children cope with stress within the family relationship.

Laurent et al. [Developmental Psychology] tested this hypothesis by measuring the impact of both maternal dispositional mindfulness and parenting-specific mindfulness on maternal and infant stress hormone (cortisol) levels during and after exposure to a stressor.

The researchers recruited 73 low-income mother-infant pairs (77% Caucasian; average maternal age = 27; 51% married; median income=$10,000-$19,000) who were part of a larger longitudinal study. At 3 months postpartum, the mothers completed self-report measures of dispositional mindfulness (the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire), parenting-specific mindfulness (Interpersonal Mindfulness in Parenting-Infant Version) and the degree of life stress during the prior three months.

At 6 months postpartum, the mother-infant pairs participated in a “still face” task in which the mother maintained an unwavering neutral facial expression while face-to-face with her infant for two full minutes. The mother’s failure to react to the infant’s attention-getting bids during this task is stressful for the infant, who striving to regain the mother’s attention and failing to do so, may start to whine or cry in response to not receiving attention.

Samples of maternal and infant saliva were obtained prior to, immediately after, and 15 and 45 minutes after the still face task. The saliva was assayed […]

January 25th, 2017|News|

Mindfulness training reduces smoking, brain mechanism uncovered

Posted 11.14.2016 | by AMRA

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Life expectancy of tobacco smokers is cut by 10 years, and smoking is responsible for nearly a half-million deaths in the United States each year. The vast majority of smokers want to quit, but unassisted attempts usually fail, and those that succeed often end in relapse. Studies show that acute stress increases both the likelihood of smoking and the risk of relapse. That is the reason why stress reduction techniques are often offered as a key component in smoking cessation programs.

Kober et al. [Neuroimage] investigated differences in the brain’s response to stress in cigarette smokers participating in one of two smoking cessation interventions: mindfulness training for smoking (MT) or the American Lung Association’s Freedom from Smoking (FFS) program.

The study reported on 23 adult smokers (average age = 48, 70% male, 58% Caucasian) who volunteered for a smoking cessation intervention. The participants were randomly assigned to either MT or FFS, and the relative success of these interventions was reported on in a separate publication (both interventions were effective, with MT participants demonstrating a greater improvement in smoking reduction). Both group interventions met twice a week over a four-week period. The MT program emphasized present-moment awareness and acceptance as strategies for coping with negative emotions and cravings and utilized mindfulness and loving-kindness meditations. The FFS program emphasized self-monitoring, identifying triggers, developing individualized quitting plans, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and cognitive-behavioral coping strategies.

The participants underwent functional magnetic resonance brain imaging (fMRI) immediately after smoking cessation treatment. The participants listened to recordings of individualized stressful and neutral scenarios during their brain scans. The individualized scenarios were developed based on actual stressful life events the participants had […]

November 14th, 2016|News|

Present-moment awareness during stress promotes confidence to cope

Posted 10.12.2016 | by AMRA

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Our everyday hassles — traffic jams, minor arguments with coworkers— can add up to significantly affect our overall sense of well-being. It’s possible that mindfulness may increase our resilience to the impact of these daily stressors. It may be that the more one is mindful during negative events, the greater one’s odds of responding wisely to them rather than merely reacting out of habit and emotion.

Donald et al. [Journal of Research in Personality] tested whether increased levels of present-moment awareness—one component of mindfulness—increased the likelihood of acting in accordance with one’s values and one’s sense of efficacy during stressful events. They measured these variables through self-ratings in the participants’ daily diaries.

The authors recruited 143 Australian university students and staff (average age = 34, 76% female, 74% Caucasian) to participate in the study, which was part of a larger study involving a mindfulness-based intervention (the interventional part of the study was not relevant to the results reported here.) Participants of both the intervention and wait-list control groups completed 20 daily diaries over a four-week period in which they selected the most challenging or stressful event of each day to report on.

They then rated six variables: 1) the degree of threat posed by the event, 2) the degree of their present-moment awareness during the event, 3) their confidence in being able to effectively handle the event, 4) the degree to which their response to the event was consistent with their values, 5) the degree to which they relied on distraction to take their mind off the event during the day, and 6) the extent of their negative emotions during the day. The researchers then […]

October 12th, 2016|News|

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|

Brief guided mindfulness meditation aids heart health

Posted 03.23.2016 | by AMRA

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Heart disease is the largest cause of death among men and women in the United States. Lifestyle changes in smoking, diet, and exercise can help lower heart disease risk. Further, mindfulness has proposed stress-reducing effects and thus may have its own role to play in heart health.

In two separate studies, May et al. [Stress] examined the association between trait mindfulness and markers of cardiovascular health and state mindfulness and fluctuations in heart rhythm and blood pressure, which are modulated by the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is the part of the nervous system responsible for the “fight-or-flight” stress response.

The studies employed two samples of predominantly female, Caucasian undergraduate students. All participants were assessed for self-reported trait mindfulness using the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale. In the first study, 185 participants had their cardiovascular functioning assessed by a computer-assisted method of estimating central blood pressure from peripheral arterial activity. The researchers used an estimate of central blood pressure because it is a better indicator of cardiovascular risk than the usual peripheral blood pressure measures obtained using a blood pressure cuff. This method also provided estimates of how hard the heart was working, how much oxygen it consumed, and how much blood it received through the cardiac arteries.

The first study found that while trait mindfulness wasn’t associated with blood pressure and heart rate, it was significantly associated with improved hemodynamic functioning in terms of decreased cardiac oxygen consumption and left ventricular workload. Simply put, the heart didn’t have to work as hard for those with higher levels of trait mindfulness.

In the second study, 124 participants were randomly assigned to either a mindfulness or […]

March 23rd, 2016|News|

Adding mindfulness to diet-exercise program helps people eat for the right reasons

Posted 03.18.2016 | by AMRA

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Adults who lose weight in diet-and-exercise lifestyle change programs usually regain weight after the program. This is often blamed on the ready availability of good tasting high calorie food along with stress and individual tendencies toward reward-driven eating. Reward-driven eating is eating that meets emotional rather than nutritional needs; it’s often accompanied by food cravings and preoccupations, poor control of eating despite motivation to lose weight, and insensitivity to sensations of fullness.

Mason et al. [Appetite] investigated the degree to which reward-driven eating and stress impacted weight loss in 158 obese participants (82% female, 59% White, average age = 47, average BMI = 35) who were randomly assigned to one of two diet and exercise interventions — one of which included mindfulness training and the other of which included progressive muscle relaxation and cognitive-behavioral skill training.

Both interventions met in groups for 17 sessions spaced over the course of 6 months. Both interventions used the same diet-and-exercise regimen: participants reduced their daily intake by 500 calories, engaged in structured aerobic and anaerobic exercise, and increased their daily general activity.

The mindfulness intervention taught sitting, walking, and lovingkindness meditation and mindful yoga, and promoted awareness of hunger, fullness, taste, food cravings, and eating triggers. The comparison intervention taught progressive muscle relaxation and cognitive-behavioral skills as well as provided additional didactic instruction on nutrition and exercise.

Participants were weighed and assessed on self-reported reward-driven eating and perceived stress at baseline and 6, 12, and 18 months after baseline. The mindfulness group lost approximately 4.4 pounds more than the comparison group, but that difference didn’t reach statistical significance.

The mindfulness group experienced a significantly greater decrease in reward-driven eating than the […]

March 18th, 2016|News|

Higher mindfulness helps couples recover from stress during conflict

Posted 02.15.2016 | by AMRA

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All romantic relationships have conflicts, and resolving them requires couples to remain calm and open as they explore their differences. This is easier said than done when couples are stressed and not always on their best behavior. Can mindfulness protect us from the stress resulting from negative behaviors during disagreements? Laurent, et al. [Hormones and Behavior] investigated the relationship between state mindfulness, the stress hormone cortisol, and negative conflict behavior in couples who were discussing their differences.

The researchers recruited 88 heterosexual couples (predominantly Caucasian, average age = 21) who were in a relationship for at least 2 months, and had them engage in a 1hour 45 minute long discussion of an unresolved relationship conflict. The researchers wanted a sample of the couples’ behaviors so that the hormonal and attitudinal correlates of those behaviors could be studied. The discussions were taped and coded for control, coerciveness, anger, negativity/conflict, verbal aggression, and emotional withdrawal.

After the discussion, partners completed the Toronto Mindfulness Scale, a measure of state mindfulness comprised of Curiosity (an attitude of openness towards experience) and Decentering (dis-identifying with experience). The researchers also drew five salivary cortisol samples at fixed time intervals before and after the relationship conflict discussions. Cortisol data was analyzed in terms of overall reactivity (a measure of stress intensity) and slope of recovery (a measure of how long it takes to return to normal after stress).

When women were confronted with partner attempts at control, coercion, and negativity/conflict, their cortisol levels took significantly longer to return to normal if they reported low levels of Curiosity. The less they adopted a stance of friendly curiosity towards their experience, the longer their […]

February 15th, 2016|News|

SMART mindfulness program reduces teacher occupational stress up to four months

Posted 08.17.2015 | by AMRA

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The high emotional demands of public school teaching can contribute to impaired teacher morale and professional burnout. Given the stressful nature of the profession, it’s no small wonder that 40-50% of teachers quit teaching within their first five years on the job. Prior research supports the efficacy of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) in improving teacher well-being and reducing burnout, but what are the psychological and interpersonal processes underlying their effectiveness?

In a randomized, controlled trial, Taylor et al. [Mindfulness] tested how a MBI affected teachers’ emotional regulation, forgiveness, and compassion, and how changes in these domains contributed to stress reduction.

The researchers randomly assigned a predominantly female cohort of 59 Canadian elementary and secondary school teachers to either a Stress Management and Relaxation Training (SMART) program or a wait-list control. The 9-week SMART program shared components with MBSR (the body scan, sitting, walking, movement and eating meditations) and included specific training in emotional regulation, forgiveness and loving-kindness. Participants completed self-report measures before and after training and at four-month follow-up. Participants were also interviewed after the SMART program about job stress and attitudes towards challenging students and colleagues.

The teachers found the SMART program “quite helpful,” stating they derived a “moderate” to a “great deal” of benefit from it. At the end of training, SMART program teachers showed significant and large (Cohen’s d =.90) declines in occupational stress compared to controls, a difference that remained marginally significant at four month follow-up.

In post-training interviews, SMART participants used significantly fewer negative emotional words than controls when discussing work stressors, and used significantly more positive emotional words than controls when describing challenging students. SMART participants also showed significant and […]

August 17th, 2015|News|

Does mindfulness reduce stress by altering brain function?

Posted 07.21.2015 | by AMRA

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Does mindfulness reduce stress by altering brain function? The amygdala—a small, almond-shaped structure located in the brain’s limbic system—is known to play a key role in the stress response. Previous research has shown that increased connectivity (a measure of the degree to which brain structures inter-coordinate) between the amygdala and other limbic and cortical structures is associated with greater stress levels.

In two separate studies, Taren et al. [Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience] investigated how the amygdala’s resting connectivity with nearby brain structures correlates with stress, and whether that connectivity changed in response to a mindfulness-based intervention (MBI). In doing so, the researchers aimed to identify one of the main brain pathways underlying the effect of mindfulness practice on stress levels. In an initial study, 130 healthy men and women self-reported perceived stress levels and participated in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess the resting functional connectivity between the amygdala and nearby brain structures.

In a second randomized, single-blind study using an active control group, 35 unemployed adults with moderate-to-high levels of perceived stress were assigned to either a three-day intensive residential mindfulness retreat modeled after MBSR which included the body scan, sitting and walking meditation, and mindful eating and yoga, or a three day intensive relaxation retreat which included walking, stretching, and didactics emphasizing relaxation rather than mindfulness.

Amygdala connectivity was assessed by fMRI before and after each intervention. Four months later, hair samples were taken and assayed for stress hormone (cortisone and cortisol) levels over the post-intervention period. This study demonstrated that participants with higher levels of perceived stress had significantly greater degrees of connectivity between the right side of the […]

July 21st, 2015|News|