Reflections on being mindful about mindfulness studies

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November 17th, 2015

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So having spotted one newspaper article about mindfulness that triggered my last blog, I now seem unable to pick up a newspaper without more articles coming to my attention. Even Ladybird’s soon to be published tongue-in-cheek titles include “Mindfulness” (along with The Shed, The Wife, The Husband, The Hangover, Dating and The Hipster). Does this deluge suggest we are in danger of what Grace Dent described in a review of the Ladybird books as “the growing cult-like belief that all of life’s woes can be assuaged by 10 minutes a day of mindful breathing and living in the moment”? I’d certainly concluded my last blog with “keep practising such techniques for even a short amount of time each day and enjoy the psychological wellbeing benefits”.

Back to some research studies to check my conclusions …

A recent paper¹ averaging nearly 29 studies with over 2600 healthy participants concluded that Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) leads to significant reductions in stress, along with depression and burnout. However a typical MBSR programme is 8 weeks long often with 20-30 hours of group time as well as home practice.

Another recent paper² averaging 39 studies of healthy participants found MBSR had different outcomes to courses that focused purely on mindfulness meditation. So it may be that MBSR is effective due to factors in addition to, or even different from mindfulness, such as the group study of mental-health, or participants expecting a ‘stress reduction’ course to reduce stress. That is not to downplay the positive benefits that mindfulness meditation alone can bring (such as reduction in anxiety and negative emotions), and a number of studies³ show that mindfulness is more than simple relaxation.

So how much do you need to practice mindfulness to reap such benefits? Sadly there are, as yet, very few published studies of short courses or self-guided apps. One recent very small study4 assigned participants to 10 to 15 minutes of home-based mindfulness exercises (a diary, meditation and body scan), every other day over three weeks and found improvements in stress, depression and happiness over the three weeks.

More studies are needed of short mindfulness exercises undertaken by adults grappling with life’s complexities before we can definitely conclude 10 minutes a day makes a positive and long-lasting difference to our psychological wellbeing. But early evidence is encouraging.

 

 

 

  1. Khoury et al (2015). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for healthy individuals: a meta-analysis
  2. Eberth & Sedlmeier (2012). The effects of mindfulness meditation: A meta-analysis
  3. Sedlmeier et al (2012). The psychological effects of meditation: A meta-analysis
  4. O’Leary & Dockray (2015). The effects of two novel gratitude and mindfulness interventions on well-being