Mindfulness-based stress reduction

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Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is an eight-week evidence-based program that offers secular, intensive mindfulness training to assist people with stress, anxiety, depression and pain.[1][2][3] Developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in the 1970s by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, MBSR uses a combination of mindfulness meditation, body awareness, yoga and exploration of patterns of behaviour, thinking, feeling and action.[1][4] Mindfulness can be understood as the non-judgmental acceptance and investigation of present experience, including body sensations, internal mental states, thoughts, emotions, impulses and memories, in order to reduce suffering or distress and to increase well-being.[1][5] Mindfulness meditation is a method by which attention skills are cultivated, emotional regulation is developed, and rumination and worry are significantly reduced.[5][6][1] During the past decades, mindfulness meditation has been the subject of more controlled clinical research, which suggests its potential beneficial effects for mental health,[7][8][9] as well as physical health.[10][11][12] While MBSR has its roots in Buddhist wisdom teachings, the program itself is secular.[1] The MBSR program is described in detail in Kabat-Zinn's 1990 book Full Catastrophe Living.[1]


Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Clinic

In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, and nearly twenty years later the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.[4] Both these institutions supported the growth and implementation of MBSR into hospitals worldwide.[1] Kabat-Zinn described the MBSR program in detail in his bestselling 1990 book Full Catastrophe Living, which was reissued in a revised edition in 2013.[1] In 1993, the MBSR course taught by Jon Kabat-Zinn was featured in Bill Moyer's Healing from Within.[13] In the year 2015, close to 80% of medical schools are reported[14] to offer some element of mindfulness training, and research and education centers dedicated to mindfulness have proliferated.


A meta-analysis described MBSR as "a group program that focuses upon the progressive acquisition of mindful awareness, of mindfulness".[15] The MBSR program is an eight-week workshop taught by certified trainers that entails weekly group meetings (2.5 hour classes) and a one-day retreat (seven-hour mindfulness practice) between sessions six and seven, homework (45 minutes daily), and instruction in three formal techniques: mindfulness meditation, body scanning and simple yoga postures.[1] Group discussions and exploration - of experience of the meditation practice and its application to life - is a central part of the program. Body scanning is the first prolonged formal mindfulness technique taught during the first four weeks of the course, and entails quietly sitting or lying and systematically focusing one's attention on various regions of the body, starting with the toes and moving up slowly to the top of the head.[1][4] MBSR is based on non-judging, non-striving, acceptance, letting go, beginners mind, patience, trust, and non-centering.[16][1]

According to Kabat-Zinn, the basis of MBSR is mindfulness, which he defined as "moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness."[1] During the program, participants are asked to focus on informal practice as well by incorporating mindfulness into their daily routines.[1] Focusing on the present is thought to heighten sensitivity to the environment and one’s own reactions to it, consequently enhancing self-management and coping. It also provides an outlet from ruminating on the past or worrying about the future, breaking the cycle of these maladaptive cognitive processes.[17]

Scientific evidence of the debilitating effects of stress on human body and its evolutionary origins were pinpointed by the work[18] of Robert Sapolsky, and explored for lay readers in the book Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers.[19] Engaging in mindfulness meditation brings about significant reductions in psychological stress,[7][20][21] and appears to prevent the associated physiological changes and biological clinical manifestations that happen as a result of psychological stress.[11][12][10]

Extent of practice[edit]

According to a 2014 article in Time magazine, mindfulness meditation is becoming popular among people who would not normally consider meditation.[22] The curriculum started by Kabat-Zinn at University of Massachusetts Medical Center has produced nearly 1,000 certified MBSR instructors who are in nearly every state in the US and more than 30 countries. Corporations such as General Mills have made MBSR instruction available to their employees or set aside rooms for meditation. Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan published a book in 2012 titled A Mindful Nation and he has helped organize regular group meditation periods on Capitol Hill.[22][23]

Methods of practice[edit]

Mindfulness-based stress reduction classes and programs are offered by various facilities including hospitals, retreat centers, and various yoga facilities.[24] Typically the programs focus on teaching

  • mind and body awareness to reduce the physiological effects of stress, pain or illness
  • experiential exploration of experiences of stress and distress to develop less emotional reactivity
  • equanimity in the face of change and loss that is natural to any human life
  • non-judgmental awareness in daily life
  • promote serenity and clarity in each moment
  • to experience more joyful life and access inner resources for healing and stress management
  • mindfulness meditation

Evaluation of effectiveness[edit]

Mindfulness-based approaches have been found to be beneficial for healthy adults[7][25][26] for adolescents and children,[27][28] as well as for different health-related outcomes including eating disorders,[29][30][31] psychiatric conditions,[32][33][34][35] pain management [36][5][37] sleep disorders,[38][39] cancer care,[40][41] psychological distress, and for coping with health-related conditions.[42][43][44][45] As a major subject of increasing research interest, 52 papers were published in 2003, rising to 477 by 2012.[22] Nearly 100 randomized controlled trials had been published by early 2014.[46]

Research regarding mindfulness-based stress reduction among post-secondary students has been shown to alleviate psychological distress, something commonly found within this particular age group. In one study, the long-term impact of an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) treatment extended to two months after the intervention was completed.[47]

Another group of people the mindfulness-based approach has impacted are those suffering from eating disorders. MBSR treatment has been shown to help some to improve the way they view of their bodies.[48] Interventions, such as mindfulness-based approaches, which focus on effective coping skills and improving one’s relationship with themselves through increased self-compassion can positively impact a person’s body image and contribute to overall well-being.

Research suggests mindfulness training improves focus, attention, and ability to work under stress.[49][50][51] Mindfulness may also have potential benefits for cardiovascular health.[52][53][54] Evidence suggests efficacy of mindfulness meditation in the treatment of substance use disorders.[55][56][57] Mindfulness training may also be beneficial for people with fibromyalgia.[58][59][60]

In addition, recent research has explored the ability of mindfulness-based stress reduction to increase self-compassion and enhance the well-being of those who are caregivers, specifically mothers, for youth struggling with substance use disorders.[61] Mindfulness-based interventions allowed for the mothers to experience a decrease in stress as well as a better relationship with themselves which resulted in improved interpersonal relationships.

The impact of mindfulness-based stress reduction is not limited to struggling individuals, or people involved with struggling individuals, but has been found to have positive effects on healthy people as well. In 2019, a study was conducted in which the minds of healthy participants who underwent an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program were observed.[62] In a study by Roca et al. (2019), five pillars in accordance to MBSR were established, which included mindfulness, compassion, psychological well-being, psychological distress and emotional-cognitive control. Psychological functions were observed in conjunction with the five previously mentioned categories and measured with questionnaires. The ultimate discovery from this study was the connection between the five categories. Overall, mindfulness and well-being were most significant measures being observed.

Mindfulness-based interventions and their impact have become prevalent in every-day life, especially when rooted in an academic setting. After interviewing children, of the average age of 11, it was apparent that mindfulness had contributed to their ability to regulate their emotions.[63] In addition to these findings, these children expressed that the more mindfulness was incorporated by their school and teachers, the easier it was to apply its principles.

Mindfulness-based stress approaches have been shown to increase self-compassion. Higher levels of self-compassion have been found to greatly reduce stress.[64] In addition, as self-compassion increases it seems as though self-awareness increases as well.[64] This finding has been observed to occur during treatment as well as a result at the conclusion, and even after, treatment. Self-compassion is both a result and an informative factor of the effectiveness of mindfulness-based approaches.

MBIs (mindfulness-based intervations) showed a positive effect on mental and somatic health in social when compared to other active treatments in adults. This effects may be gender dependent. However, the effects seemed independent of duration and compliance with these kind of intervention.[65]

See also[edit]


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