In recent years, a lot of research studies and clinical trials have been conducted to whether meditation and mindfulness techniques can be beneficial for treating stress and anxiety.
Mind-body techniques such as meditation show potential to lower stress and depression by emphasizing focused, non-judgemental awareness of present moment experiences as an alternative to dwelling on the future or the past. Study results indicate that meditation is an effective stress management tool that helps reprogram the brain via a number of physiological and psychological factors. Such techniques can be applied in different scenarios, including the workplace, where meditation interventions have shown greater work engagement, higher productivity, and lower health care costs.
Stress and anxiety are the outcomes of situations where the mind feels unable to handle the pressures of everyday life. As a coping mechanism, meditation has become a popular way to treat stress and stress-related issues, along with promoting general health.
At its most basic, meditation is a practice that helps focus attention purposefully and with nonjudgmental acceptance on the present moment. When the mind is able to achieve this, it is better able to handle stress, anxiety, and fears, among other feelings.
In other words, meditation is a deliberate way of remaining grounded in the present moment even when faced with difficult stressors. Instead of experiencing stress or anxiety as if on autopilot, meditation helps you view personal stress and anxiety from an observer’s vantage point.
There are a few different types of meditative techniques that can be applied to deal with common stressors. Among these mindfulness mediation and loving kindness meditation are the two that have been studied extensively for their
Meta-Analyses and Reviews
A meta-analysis is research that combines the results from many other studies so that the sample space is much larger and therefore we can have more confidence in the statistical results, and a summary of their findings. Two recent meta-analysis and reviews have shown that meditation is moderately effective in alleviating anxiety, stress, and pain. Despite these two reviews only being a few years old, it’s worth bearing in mind that there has been an explosion of new research studies conducted since they were completed.
2015 April: Mindfulness-Based Interventions Reduce Psychological Distress in Working Adults: a Meta-Analysis of Intervention Studies
Summary: To assess the effectiveness of mindfulness based interventions or MBIs to lower psychological distress in working adults.
Participants: Data from 19 controlled and uncontrolled intervention studies involving a total of 1,139 participants was collected to determine the effectiveness of MBIs for occupational stress management.
Results: Traditional 8-week sessions developed for clinical settings are as effective as briefer versions of MBSR for organizational settings. That said, MBIs are not any more effective as other interventions such as yoga, or relaxation training for lowering psychological distress in working adults.
2014 March: Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis
To examine the effectiveness of meditation programmes in different stress-related outcomes.
Participants: Data from 47 trials including 3,320 participants was studied after reviewing 17,801 citations.
Results: Findings show that mindfulness meditation programs could moderately improve anxiety, depression, and pain at 8 weeks. There was low evidence of improving stress or distress and mental health-related quality of life. Findings also showed minimal or insufficient evidence of the effect of meditation programmes on attention, mood, substance abuse, eating, sleeping and weight.
Mindfulness Meditation and Stress
Mindfulness meditation is the most commonly researched type of meditation and is generally administered through an 8-week intervention program allowing protocol based group instruction. To remediate stress, mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) introduces the concept of mindfulness and develops it by teaching directed attention, which can help reduce anxiety and depression. Research indicates improvements in individuals with neurocognitive difficulties, those with worry symptoms and co-occurring cognitive dysfunction, as well as improving biological health markers.
2017 August: Mindfulness Meditation Training and Executive Control Network Resting State Functional Connectivity: A Randomized Controlled Trial
Summary: The purpose was to investigate how mindfulness training may attune the resting state functional connectivity between d1PFC and the dorsal and ventral networks.
Participants: This trial involved 35 adults with high levels of psychological distress with sessions of either intensive mindfulness meditation or relaxed training. Everyone took a resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging scan prior to and after the intervention.
Results: Increased connectivity was recorded in the left d1PFC to the right interior front gyrus (T=3.74), right middle frontal gyrus (T=3.98), right supplementary eye field (T=4.29, right parietal cortex (T=4.44 and left middle temporal gyrus (t=3.97; all p<0.05) following mindfulness training. Increased connectivity was also observed in the right d1PFC to the right middle frontal gyrus (T=4.97, p<0.05) Results indicate that increased functional connectivity between brain regions is enhanced by mindfulness intervention. Read Research Paper…
2017 July: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Older Adults With Stress Disorders and Neurocognitive Difficulties: A Randomized Controlled Trial
Summary: This trial was conducted to determine if mindfulness intervention could improve neurocognitive performance in older adults suffering from stress disorders and cognitive complaints.
Participants: 103 adults aged 65 years and older diagnosed with an anxiety or depressive disorder were recruited for this trial. The primary outcome was memory and cognitive control with other outcomes including worry, depression, anxiety, and global improvement.
Results: The MBSR group showed greater improvement on memory composite score (P=.046), measures of worry (P=.046) and depression (P=.049) at post-treatment. The same group showed improvement on worry (P=.02), depression (p+002) and anxiety (P_.002) at follow up. There was no change in cognitive control.
2016 July: Alterations in Resting-State Functional Connectivity Link Mindfulness Meditation With Reduced Interleukin-6: A Randomized Controlled Trial
Summary: Mindfulness meditation can improve markers of health such as interleukin (IL)-6.
Participants: 35 stressed adults were engaged in a 3-day intensive residential mindfulness meditation or relaxation training programme. Two 5 minute resting state scans before and after the intervention were taken and blood samples provided pre-intervention, and at a 4-month follow-up to be evaluated for circulating IL-6.
Results: Mindfulness meditation training vs relaxation training increased posterior cingulate cortex rsFC with left d1PC (p.05, corrected). The same also showed improvements in IL-6 at 4 month follow up.
2014 October: Mindfulness-based stress reduction for older adults with worry symptoms and co-occurring cognitive dysfunction
Summary: MBSR can improve cognitive functioning and reduce worry symptoms in older adults.
Participants: 34 participants aged 65 and older with anxiety related distress and cognitive dysfunction, but not dementia, were included in two different site-based trails. Both groups received traditional 8-session MBSR intervention extended into 12 sessions, with more repetition of topics and techniques.
Results: All subjects showed reduction in worry severity and an increase in mindfulness, along with improvements in memory. Most participants continued using MBSR for 6 months after the sessions ended and found them helpful in stressful situations. However, evidence collected does not indicate that the extended 12 MBSR sessions produced better cognitive or clinical outcomes than the traditional 8-week programme.
2014 June: Brief mindfulness meditation training alters psychological and neuroendocrine responses to social evaluative stress
Summary: To determine if brief sessions of mindfulness meditation can alter psychological and neuroendocrine responses to the Trier Sicila Stress Test (TSST).
Participants: 66 young adult volunteers participated in either a 3-day, 25 minutes a day mindfulness meditation session or an analytical cognitive training control program.
Results: Participants of the mindfulness meditation training sessions reported that they had reduced psychological stress but they had increased salivary cortisol reactivity to TSST.
2013 October: Mindfulness-based stress reduction and physiological activity during acute stress: a randomized controlled trial
Summary: To investigate the effects of MBSR on cardiovascular and cortisol activity during acute stress.
Participants: 88 healthy individuals with elevated stress levels were recruited and assigned to an MSR protocol or a waitlist control group.
Results: The MSR group exhibited greater reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings. SP results were (F (1, 58) = 4.99, p = .029, partial η² = .08) and DBP (F (1, 58) = 11.09, p = .002, partial η² = .16). Effects were not maintained on other psychological measures.
Loving / Compassion Meditation and Stress
Loving kindness meditation (LKM) or compassion meditation is a practice that fosters self-compassion, rather than emphasize calming the mind or improving focused attention. It trains the mind to generate feelings of warmth, kindness, and compassion primarily towards self and then by extension towards others. Cultivating these positive feelings can then factor in on relieving stress.
2016 June: Loving‐Kindness Meditation and Empathy: A Wellness Group Intervention for Counselling Students
Summary: To see if LKM can be beneficial for enhancing empathy.
Participants: 103 master’s level counselling students participated in the intervention programme.
Participants: 103 master’s level counselling students participated in the intervention programme.
Results: Those receiving LKM exhibited gains in dimensions of empathy.
2015 February: Loving-Kindness Meditation’s Effects on Nitric Oxide and Perceived Well-being: A Pilot Study in Experienced and Inexperienced Meditators
Summary: To determine if loving-kindness meditation affects Nitric Oxide metabolism and associated stress reduction.
Participants: 12 subjects including experienced and inexperienced healthy meditators took part in the study after refraining from consuming nitrate-rich foods for 12 hours.
Results: Lower stress and heart rate was reported at baseline in the experienced group. After meditation stress levels fell (52 vs. 11, P < .05), and relaxation increased (55 vs. 89, P < .05) in the inexperienced group.
Research on effect of Meditation on Anxiety
Anxiety is characterized by persistent and excessive worry. It is a step up from normal stress and occasional anxious feelings. Anxiety is where the mind loses rational perspective and expects the worst even when there is no apparent cause for concern.
Research shows that consistently practiced meditation intervention can reprogram the brain’s neural pathways and assist the mind to regulate emotions.
Mindfulness Meditation and Anxiety
Mindfulness meditation’s ability to quieten an overactive mind has been researched extensively. The ability of the mind to detach from anxious thoughts is achieved by practicing awareness, identifying tension in the body and understanding thinking patterns. Once again, mindfulness based stress reduction MBSR is the main approach to deal with anxiety on different levels. Most research done on anxiety and mindfulness meditation involves MBSR as an intervention technique.
Research into Mindfulness and Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Mindfulness meditation uses breath and body sensations to non-judgementally evaluate distracting thoughts and emotions. Many studies conducted on using mindfulness meditation for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) use brain imaging to monitor areas related to executive function and worrying, with results indicating various benefits for people with anxiety, including reduction in inflammatory hormones in the brain, reductions in stress scores, and greater connectivity between brain regions.
2018 April: The effect of mindfulness meditation training on biological acute stress responses in generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
Summary: To investigate if mindfulness meditation can be effective for lowering stress responses in people with GAD.
Participants: 70 adults with GAD were recruited and divided to either receive MBSR or an attention control class.
Results: Participants in the MBSR group showed a greater reduction in ACTH or adrenocorticotropic hormone AUC concentrations. Likewise, the same group also exhibited a greater reduction in inflammatory cytokines AUC concentrations. The results were more positive than those found in the attention control group.
2013 August: Randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation for generalized anxiety disorder: effects on anxiety and stress reactivity
Summary: To compare the effectiveness of MBSR as a treatment for anxiety disorders, with an active control group with GAD.
Participants: 93 individuals with GAD took part in an 8-week intervention for either mindfulness-based stress reduction or an attention control Stress Management Education (SME).
Results: As measured by the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale, both interventions led to significant reductions in HAMA scores (p=.0001) at endpoint without too much difference. When measured by the Clinical Global Impressions-Severity of Illness (CGI-S) and Clinical Global Impressions-Improvement (CGI-I) scales, and the Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI), the MBSR group showed greater reduction in anxiety. The same group also exhibited greater reduction in anxiety and distress ratings in response to TSST (P<05) than SME and a greater increase in positive statements (P=.004).
2013 March: Neural mechanisms of symptom improvements in generalized anxiety disorder following mindfulness training
Summary: To investigate the neural mechanisms behind symptom improvement in individuals with GAD at being given mindfulness training.
Participants: 26 patients diagnosed with GAD were included in an 8-week mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) with some enrolled in a stress management education (SME) active control program. Another 26 healthy demographically matched individuals were recruited for baseline comparisons.
Results: Results: Results indicate increases in connectivity between the amygdala and other regions of the brain after MBSR but not after SME.
Research into Mindfulness and Social Anxiety Disorder
Unlike generalised anxiety disorder, where a person feels anxiety in most situations, people with social anxiety disorder predominantly experience anxiety in social situations. They are more likely than other people to feel judged, criticized or rejected in social situations, and therefore, they fear social interactions. Research in this field indicates that MBSR intervention can demonstrate improved mood, functioning, social anxiety, and quality of life. When conducted as 8-week sessions it can also increase self-esteem, and reduce negative self-views.
2018 February: Investigating Effects and Mechanisms of a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Intervention in a Sample of College Students at Risk for Social Anxiety
Summary: This study wanted to investigate the effectiveness of a 6-week MBSR programme on students at risk for social anxiety.
Participants: 46 female college students were placed in either MBSR intervention or a waitlist control group.
Results: Compared to the control group, those who received MBSR experienced significant reductions in social anxiety and perceived stress.
2016 May: Group CBT versus MBSR for social anxiety disorder: A randomized controlled trial
Summary: To study the treatment outcome of receiving cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), versus mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR), versus waitlist (WL), in patients with SAD.
Participants: 108 unmediated patients were recruited for this study and divided randomly into three groups to receive either, CBT, MBSR or waitlist with completed assessments at baseline, post treatment/WL, and 1 year follow up.
Results: Linear mixed model analysis presented CBT and MBSR to produce greater improvements on most measures when compared with waitlist.
2015 January: Mindfulness Meditation Training and Self-Referential Processing in Social Anxiety Disorder: Behavioural and Neural Effects
Summary: To study the effects of MBSR in individuals suffering from SAD who relate information from the external world to their own selves.
Participants: 16 participants diagnosed with SAD received MBSR for an 8 week period divided into 2.5 hour sessions each. On the SRP task, participants were given a combination of positive and negative social trait adjectives to describe themselves.
Results: After receiving MBSR, there was a moderate reduction in symptoms of social anxiety along with depression, rumination, and state anxiety. There was also an increase in the self-esteem of participants.
Loving / Compassion Meditation and Anxiety
Although MBSR is the primary intervention for treating stress and anxiety, loving kindness or compassion meditation has also shown some benefits. Research shows that nurturing the warm sensation of compassion can help alleviate anxious thoughts and encourage the mind to focus on the positive.
2017 June: Does Loving-Kindness Meditation Reduce Anxiety? Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial
Summary: To see if loving kindness meditation (LKM) is effective as a treatment for anxiety.
Participants: Participants: 71 non-clinical undergraduate students were assigned to either a 4-session group-based LKM intervention or a waitlist control group. Outcomes measured were self-reported anxiety, compassionate love, and self-compassion at pre-treatment, post-treatment and an 8-week follow-up.
Results: The loving kindness meditation participants reported higher compassionate love and self-compassion at post treatment. There was also a surge in self-kindness which is a component of self compassion at follow up. Anxiety ratings didn’t change significantly between post treatment and follow up.
2015 August: A wait-list randomized controlled trial of loving-kindness meditation programme for self-criticism
Summary: To examine the efficacy of loving kindness meditation on increasing self-compassion in individuals who were highly self-critical.
Participants: 38 highly self-critical participants were placed on either loving kindness meditation intervention or on a wait list with measures of self-criticism, self- compassion and psychological distress recorded immediately before and after the intervention. Both groups were also assessed at a 3 month follow up.
Results: LKM participants showed greater reductions in self-criticism and depressive symptoms when compared to the wait list group. They also exhibited greater self-compassion and positive emotions. At a 3 month follow up, both groups exhibited the gains attained to have been maintained after receiving intervention.