The practice of mindfulness is linked to wide-ranging health benefits and has gained tremendous popularity in recent years as a strategy for self-care.
What is mindfulness? UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center defines mindful awareness as “paying attention to present moment experiences with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is . . . It invites us to stop, breathe, observe, and connect with one’s inner experience.” Mindfulness meditation is a specific technique used to help develop the capacity for mindfulness.
A great deal of research has documented physical health benefits of mindfulness, such as an improved immune system, lower blood pressure, and better sleep. Mindfulness has also been linked to mental health benefits, such as reduced stress and anxiety, and improved concentration and focus, less emotional reactivity.
How Mindful are You?
(from Greater Good Science Center at University of California Berkley)
Mindfulness-based approaches are also increasingly being explored and used along with other therapies to treat a variety of mental health conditions.
Below are a few examples of mindfulness-based approaches being used to help treat mental disorders. Each typically involves group training in mindfulness techniques, daily practice assignments, and follow-up.
Preventing Depression Relapse
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is being used to help prevent relapse in depression. It combines cognitive behavior techniques with mindfulness techniques like meditation, breathing exercises and stretching to help change the cycle of negative thoughts common with recurrent depressions. MBCT typically involve eight weekly, two-hour group training sessions, daily homework assignments, and follow-up meetings. Home assignments may include awareness exercises and practice integrating awareness skills into daily life. A recent meta-analysis looking at mindfulness-based cognitive therapy used to help prevent depression relapse found it effective, particularly for patients with more severe depression.
Treating Substance Use Disorder
Mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP) was designed to treat substance use disorder. It integrates mindfulness meditation and cognitive-behavior skills specifically focused on helping patients learn to choose a reaction instead of automatically turning to an addictive substance. Similar to other mindfulness programs, it involves eight weekly, two-hour group training sessions, daily home exercises, and follow-up. It involves both formal practices, such as sitting meditation, and briefer informal mindfulness practices to increase awareness and flexibility in daily life.
Research comparing mindfulness-based relapse prevention with other treatment for aftercare found it to be effective and particularly useful in supporting longer-term benefits of treatment. In the study patients with mindfulness-based relapse prevention treatment had significantly less drug use and a lower probability of any heavy drinking at a 12-month follow-up than those undergoing other treatments.
Treating Anxiety Symptoms, Psychosis, ADHD
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy may also be useful for treating symptoms of anxiety, according to research published recently in the British Journal of Psychiatry. Researchers looked at changes in anxiety levels among patients with generalized anxiety disorder using different treatments. They found that MBCT and cognitive-behavioral therapy-based psychoeducation were both effective in reducing anxiety symptoms.
Mindfulness and acceptance-based interventions have also been found to be useful additions for improving symptoms and reducing hospitalization among people with psychosis. Some research shows that for people with ADHD, mindfulness training may be a helpful supplement to medication in addressing remaining symptoms of inattention. Meditation programs are being used to help reduce PTSD severity in veterans.
Other research has looked broadly at use of mindfulness-based group therapy compared to individual cognitive-behavioral therapy for patients with various conditions including depression, anxiety and stress and adjustment disorders. They found that the mindfulness group therapy as effective as the individual therapy.
If you are curious and haven’t yet given mindfulness a try, there are numerous online resources and apps to help you get started, such as Mindfulness Coach developed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. You may find yourself a little less stressed and more relaxed!