In today’s world, stress seems to be a major complaint for nearly every American. Although some wear it like a badge of honor, others find it to be completely debilitating. In fact, workplace stress alone causes approximately 1 million U.S. employees to miss work each day. Americans attempt to reduce their stress in countless ways, but one of the most popular — and obvious — is mindfulness meditation. The practice of mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce the negative effects of stressors and lowers stress hormone levels. Now, a new study shows promising research that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction may provide relief for anxiety sufferers.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. Nationwide, these conditions affect 40 million adults over the age of 18. Those with generalized anxiety disorder typically experience more stress than individuals without this condition, so methods of reducing that stress often go a long way.
Meditation has been shown to actually change the structure of the brain and impact how it functions. Mindfulness focuses on being present in any given moment and teaches practicing individuals to consider their own thoughts without judgment. The combination of the two has been shown to be incredibly effective for anxiety disorders, as it can allow them to examine their own thought process and how it influences their behaviors, especially in regards to how they deal with anxiety-provoking situations.
The recent study involved 89 individuals with GAD. Over eight weeks, participants were assigned at random to either a Stress Management Education course or a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program. Before and after starting their respective courses, subjects underwent the Trier Social Stress Test. The test involves giving a lecture in front of a panel, followed by mental math equations. Afterward, the subject’s blood is drawn to measure the level of stress hormones and inflammatory proteins.
Following these eight weeks, participants in the MBSR program showed significant reductions in both their stress hormones and their inflammatory proteins. In contrast, those in the education course showed increases to these levels.
While the study sample size was quite small and the results don’t show definitive causation, the results do illustrate the importance of thinking about anxiety treatment in a new way. In lieu of expensive medication that may cause a variety of undesirable side-effects in some patients, meditation could present at least one component of safe, effective treatment for anxiety sufferers.
Lead study author, Elizabeth A. Hoge, 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.” And while this study focused specifically on anxiety sufferers, those dealing with overwhelming work stress can certainly benefit from the practice.