July 3, 2014
Even Brief Moments Of Mindfulness Meditation Can Help Alleviate Stress
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
As people become more aware of how stress affects their lives in almost every area, mindfulness meditation has risen in popularity as a way to improve both mental and physical health. Researchers have investigated the usefulness of mindfulness on everything from gene expression to cancer treatment, but most of these studies focus on lengthy, weeks-long training programs.
Carnegie Mellon University researchers took a different direction in their investigation into the benefits of mindfulness meditation practice. The researchers investigated the effects of brief mindfulness meditation on the ability to be resilient under stress. Their findings, published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, reveal that brief mindfulness meditation practice — 25 minutes a day for three consecutive days — alleviates psychological stress.
"More and more people report using meditation practices for stress reduction, but we know very little about how much you need to do for stress reduction and health benefits," said J. David Creswell, associate professor of psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
The research team recruited 66 healthy individuals between the ages of 18 and 30 years of age for the three day experiment. The recruits were divided into two groups. The first group went through a brief, three day mindfulness meditation program. For 25 minutes a day, the participants were given breathing exercises to help them monitor their breath and learn to focus on the present moment. The remaining participants completed a matched three-day cognitive training program. During this program, they were asked to critically analyze poetry in an effort to enhance problem-solving skills.
After finishing their final exercises, both groups completed stressful math and speech tasks in front of stern-faced evaluators. The participants self-reported their stress levels during the tasks, then provided saliva samples for cortisol measurements. Cortisol is commonly called the “stress hormone.”
Reduced stress perceptions were reported by the participants who received the brief mindfulness meditation training. This suggests that the mindfulness practice fostered psychological stress resilience. The mindfulness participants also showed a greater cortisol reactivity than the critical thinking participants.
"When you initially learn mindfulness mediation practices, you have to cognitively work at it – especially during a stressful task," Creswell said in a recent statement. "And, these active cognitive efforts may result in the task feeling less stressful, but they may also have physiological costs with higher cortisol production."
The researchers are focusing their investigations on the possibility that mindfulness can become more automatic and easy to use with long-term mindfulness training. They believe that this will result in reduced cortisol reactivity.