Mindfulness for Stress Reduction
Look anywhere online and you'll see people suggesting mindfulness for Stress Relief. So we got Dr Alfredo to take a deep dive into the topic and see how a little bit of mindfulness could help you reduce stress and anxiety....
Mindfulness and Stress Reduction
Stress is a natural response that improves our performance in threatening situations. As we have seen in (link to sport article) stress enhances mental and physical performance through effects on brain, musculo-skeletal, and cardiovascular function. We have also seen that a maintained stress response over time has negative consequences for the body and mind [1, 2].
An effective approach to reduce stress should be multidimensional, which means that we should attach stress from multiple sides. We have explained how and why sport and exercise is an effective and active way to reduce stress. In this article we are going to dive into mindfulness and the benefits for stress reduction.
What is mindfulness?
According to the Buddhist scholar and monk Nyanaponika Thera, mindfulness is “the unfailing master key for knowing the mind and is thus the starting point; the perfect tool for shaping the mind, and is thus the focal point; and the lofty manifestation of the achieved freedom of the mind, and is thus the culminating point.” . In plain words mindfulness is a mediation technique that consists in focusing the attention on the moment-to-moment without judgements. It’s power relies on its simplicity but do not take me wrong it is far from being easy to practice.
Can mindfulness help me manage stress?
YES! The answer is clear, there is plenty of psychological research demonstrating that a well carried mindfulness program helps to reduce stress levels for healthy people [4, 5].
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programs help managing stress levels by reducing ruminative* thinking and anxiety; it has also benefits in other psychological aspects apart from stress (improving focus abilities and sleep quality for example).
Some studies showed that these beneficial effects were persistent 3 years after the mindfulness program for persons that continue practicing mindfulness regularly.
In line with the psychological benefits research also reports neurological and hormonal benefits. Meditation helps to reduce systolic blood pressure, cortisol and adrenaline levels preventing common risk factors for heart diseases.
How can I start practicing Mindfulness for Stress?
There are multiple ways of engaging mindfulness depending on the time, money and the level of self-learning needed by each person. There are at least 3 types of approaches to be introduced in mindfulness***.
Intensive/retire programs. These programs provide the perfect environment to practice and be introduced to the practice of mindfulness. The main advantage of this type of program is that during the training the interference from external stress stimuli is minimized due to the retirement nature of the program. Vipassana 10 day meditation programs have been proven useful for improving the wellbeing of participants [6, 7].
Group or private lessons. In the last few years mindfulness has become more and more popular so it is highly likely that you can find a meditation group nearby. As mentioned in the sport article (link to sport article) there are major psychosocial benefits associated with group practice, it also increases motivation and adherence to the program.
Bibliografic or online materials. If we have learned something from 2020 it is that we can work and learn remotely and mindfulness is not an exception. The main advantage of this type of program is that we can engage anytime we want.
There is no excuse not to engage in meditation and mindfulness, there are intensive and extensive courses, online and in person, just choose the one that fits you!
The benefits of mindfulness for stress summarised:
-Stress response is natural, inevitable and in most cases beneficial to face a challenging situation
-When the stress response becomes prolonged and constant it is no longer a response but chronic stress and should be treated by a healthcare professional
-Meditation can help to reduce stress levels by improving our mental and physical health
-There is no excuse to engage in meditation, there are intensive and extensive courses, online and in person, just choose the one that fits you.
First of the multiple relevant terms in the stress field:
*Rumination is characterized by a focused attention on the symptoms (anxiety, negative feelings, stress), and on its possible causes and consequences of the injury (“I am so busy”; “I cannot make it on time”; “Is too much for me”...), as opposed to its solutions (“I should reorganize my time”; “I can get advice”...).
The rumination thoughts can produce a loop of increasing negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours that will not only increase the negative mood of the person but also impede facing the underlying problem with useful solutions.
1- Dhabhar, F.S., 2018. The short-term stress response–Mother nature’s mechanism for enhancing protection and performance under conditions of threat, challenge, and opportunity. Frontiers in neuroendocrinology, 49, pp.175-192.
2- Wirtz, P.H. and von Känel, R., 2017. Psychological stress, inflammation, and coronary heart disease. Current cardiology reports, 19(11), pp.1-10.
3- Kabat-Zinn, J., 2015. Mindfulness. Mindfulness, 6(6), pp.1481-1483.
4- Chiesa, A. and Serretti, A., 2009. Mindfulness-based stress reduction for stress management in healthy people: a review and meta-analysis. The journal of alternative and complementary medicine, 15(5), pp.593-600.
5- Pascoe, M.C., Thompson, D.R., Jenkins, Z.M. and Ski, C.F., 2017. Mindfulness mediates the physiological markers of stress: systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of psychiatric research, 95, pp.156-178.
6- Ostafin, B.D., Chawla, N., Bowen, S., Dillworth, T.M., Witkiewitz, K. and Marlatt, G.A., 2006. Intensive mindfulness training and the reduction of psychological distress: A preliminary study. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 13(3), pp.191-197.
7- Ala’Aldin Al-Hussaini, A.S., Dorvlo, S.X.A., Dhananjay Chavan, J.D., Vimal Purecha, S.A.R. and Samir, A.A., 2001. Vipassana meditation:: A naturalistic, preliminary observation in Muscat. Journal for scientific research. Medical sciences/Sultan Qaboos University, 3(2), p.87.