Thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers prove that mindfulness enhances mental and physical wellbeing and reduces chronic pain. Clinical trials show that mindfulness is at least as effective as the main prescription painkillers while also enhancing the body’s natural healing systems.
Here are a few of the main proven benefits of mindfulness meditation: • Anxiety, stress, depression, exhaustion and irritability all decrease with regular sessions of meditation.1 Memory improves, reaction times become faster and mental and physical stamina increase.2 In short, regular meditators are happier and more contented, while being far less likely to suffer from psychological distress.15 • Mindfulness can dramatically reduce pain and the emotional reaction to it.5,6 Recent trials suggest that average pain ‘unpleasantness’ levels can be reduced by 57 per cent while accomplished meditators report reductions of up to 93 per cent.7 • Clinical trials show that mindfulness improves mood and quality of life in chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia8 and lower-back pain,9 in chronic functional disorders such as IBS,10 and in challenging medical illnesses, including multiple sclerosis11 and cancer.12 • Mindfulness improves working memory, creativity, attention span and reaction speeds. It also enhances mental and physical stamina and resilience.13 • Meditation improves emotional intelligence. 14 • Mindfulness is at least as good as drugs or counselling for the treatment of clinical-level depression. One structured programme known as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is now one of the preferred treatments recommended by the UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.16 • Mindfulness reduces addictive and self-destructive behaviour. These include the abuse of illegal and prescription drugs and excessive alcohol intake.17 • Meditation enhances brain function. It increases grey matter in areas associated with self-awareness, empathy, self-control and attention.18 It soothes the parts of the brain that produce stress hormones19 and builds those areas that lift mood and promote learning.20 It even reduces some of the thinning of certain areas of the brain that naturally occurs with ageing.21 • Meditation improves the immune system. Regular meditators are admitted to hospital far less often for cancer, heart disease and numerous infectious diseases.22 • Mindfulness may reduce ageing at the cellular level by promoting chromosomal health and resilience.23 •Meditation and mindfulness improve control of blood sugar in type II diabetes.24 • Meditation improves heart and circulatory health by reducing blood pressure and lowering the risk of hypertension. Mindfulness reduces the risks of developing and dying from cardiovascular disease and lowers its severity should it arise.25
The Oxford Centre for Mindfulness has found that Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) prevents depression in the service users who have experienced recurrent depression. For people who have experienced three or more previous episodes of depression, MBCT reduces the recurrence rate over 12 months by 40–50% compared with usual care. (Crane C et al, “The effects of amount of home meditation practice in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy on hazard of relapse to depression in the Staying Well after Depression Trial”, Behaviour Research and Therapy, 2014).
MBCT is as effective at reducing recurrence as antidepressants (Williams et al, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for preventing relapse in recurrent depression: A randomized dismantling trial, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 2013). In the UK, the Government’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has recommended MBCT in their Guidelines for Management of Depression (2004, 2009) for service users who have had three or more episodes of depression. A research study published by the University of Oxford in November 2013 provides evidence of the effectiveness of the Be Mindful Online course. The study examined the effects of the course for 273 people who had completed it, and showed that, on average, after one month, they enjoyed:
A 58% reduction in anxiety levels
A 57% reduction in depression
A 40% reduction in stress
An RCT from the University of Surrey (published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology) showed significant average reductions in work-related rumination, chronic fatigue and improvements in sleep quality for completers of the Be Mindful online course
A 25% decrease in rumination
A 26% reduction in fatigue
A 33% improved sleep quality
There is some early evidence from randomised controlled trials supporting the use of MBCT for health anxiety (McManus et al, “A randomized clinical trial of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy versus unrestricted services for health anxiety (hypochondriasis), Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 2012) and for adults on the autistic spectrum (Spek A.A. et al, “Mindfulness-based therapy in adults with an autism spectrum disorder: a randomized controlled trial”, Research in Developmental Disabilities 2013). There is also promising evidence that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) can be helpful in alleviating distress for young people experiencing depression and anxiety (Biegel G.M. et al, “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for the treatment of adolescent psychiatric outpatients: A randomized clinical trial”, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 2009).
Ongoing research Mindfulness can be useful for people from all walks of life and the number of areas that mindfulness is being applied to is growing.
Physical health One of the most important areas of research has been around the use of Mindfulness within the treatment of long-term physical health conditions. A review of 114 studies (Carlson L., “Mindfulness-Based Interventions for physical conditions: A narrative review evaluating levels of evidence”, International Scholarly Research Notices, 2012) found, in the context of poor physical health, consistent improvements in mental health and wellbeing, particularly reduced stress, anxiety and depression where a mindfulness-based intervention is used.
Schools Mindfulness has proven to be effective for children and young people, with school-based interventions having positive outcomes on wellbeing: reducing anxiety and distress as well as improving behaviour, among other areas (K Weare “Developing mindfulness with children and young people: a review of the evidence and policy context”, Journal of Children’s Services, 2013). Evidence also suggests that children who used mindfulness practices more frequently reported higher wellbeing and lower stress scores (W Kuyken et al, “Effectiveness of the Mindfulness in Schools Programme: non-randomised controlled feasibility study”, The British Journal of Psychiatry, 2013). A successful Mindfulness in Schools project was set up in 2007 and is now being taught in 12 different countries. This nine-week course is especially designed for school students, whether they are dealing with exam stress, bullying, or seeking to enhance study skills. It’s being used to improve students’ wellbeing as well as helping them to learn and concentrate better.
Criminal justice Mindfulness practice within criminal justice settings is currently being developed around the country. In HMP Brixton a “Mind/Body Workout Group” was established to help individuals to develop their own mindfulness practice. Evidence on the effectiveness of mindfulness interventions in prisons has been gathered mainly in the USA; a study based in Massachusetts found significant improvements in hostility, self-esteem, and mood disturbance following a course of mindfulness (M Samuelson et al, “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in Massachusetts Correctional Facilities”, The Prison Journal, 2007).
Pregnancy A limited amount of research into mindfulness during pregnancy has shown encouraging results on the positive impact of mindfulness, finding ‘significantly’ reduced anxiety (C Vieten and J Astin, “Effects of a mindfulness-based intervention during pregnancy on prenatal stress and mood: results of a pilot study”, Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 2008).
Workplace Mindfulness in the workplace has been popularised by a number of global companies including Google. However, among smaller businesses mindfulness is not yet widespread. There is growing evidence, shown by initial studies, that mindfulness in the workplace can have a number of positive effects. These include a decrease in perceived stress (Wolever, R et al “Effective and viable mind-body stress reduction in the workplace: A randomized controlled trial,” Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 2012), and an increase in better concentration levels including memory tasks and multi-tasking (Levy, D M et al, “Initial results from a study of the effects of meditation on multitasking performance”, Proceedings of the 2011 annual conference extended abstracts on Human factors in computing systems, 2011).
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