News Stressing You Out? Try Mindfulness Meditation

Article by Cody Fenwick | Found on Patch.com

Reading the news can be a stressful ordeal: Deaths, wars and political turmoil fill the pages of the press, even when we live in relatively peaceful times. But it’s important to stay informed, even if it makes us anxious.

How do you find a balance between keeping up-to-date and staying calm? New studies point to benefits of “mindfulness,” an increasingly popular form of anxiety-reduction habits and practices that get people to focus on the present moment, warding off future- and past-directed stressors.

One study, from Georgetown University Medical Center and funded by the National Institutes of Health, took a clinical approach to systematically testing the practice. Led by Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, an associate professor at the university, the research team divided a group of 89 patients with generalized anxiety disorder into two groups: one focused on mindfulness meditation and the other on generic stress management techniques.

This kind of meditation directs participants to focus on their present sensations, emotions, thoughts and feelings, and to accept them as they are.

The findings are impressive: “Anxiety disorder patients had sharply reduced stress-hormone and inflammatory responses to a stressful situation after taking a mindfulness meditation course — whereas patients who took a non-meditation stress management course had worsened responses,” a press release for the study notes.

“Mindfulness meditation training is a relatively inexpensive and low-stigma treatment approach, and these findings strengthen the case that it can improve resilience to stress,” said Hoge.

This type of study improves upon much of the existing mindfulness literature, because it compares patients engaging in mindfulness meditation to those receiving a similar form of treatment; most other studies use a control group who receives no treatment.

“The FDA would never approve a drug based on such a clinical trial design,” said Hoge.

Using the Trier Social Stress Test, which assesses biochemical indicators of stress the patients experience when asked to participate in anxiety-including tasks, like giving a public speech, the researchers found that patients who received mindfulness performed better by this measure.

This is a relatively small study, but it is some of the strongest evidence we have on the matter. And while it’s not certain that the treatment equally affects people without anxiety disorders, it is not a big leap to believe that stress-reducing techniques work similarly for most people. And prior studies have shown the mindfulness practice reduces neurological signs of stress on other populations.

Another study, published in the journal Mindfulness, also found that people who are more mindful respond better to emotionally charged information, including standard health advice such as “exercise more,” “reduce calories” and “stop smoking.”

“Health messaging often causes people to react emotionally in negative ways, so we investigated factors, including mindfulness, that could potentially influence people to be more receptive to health messages and more motivated to change their behavior,” said senior author Emily Falk, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

The study rated participants’ mindfulness based on their response to a questionnaire and studied the subjects’ responses to health messages, including their long-term follow-through on the advice.

“Some people, when confronted with health messages, felt really bad about themselves,” said Falk, “and that didn’t help them change their behavior. And in the long run, it doesn’t help us have a healthier, happier population.”

But people who scored high on mindfulness reacted less negatively to the health messages and were more likely to follow the advice.

This suggests that not only do mindful habits reduce negative emotional reactions, such as shame or stress, but that this reduction can lead to improved behavior.


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