17 January 2011 ~ 0 Comments

Mindfulness Therapy – an aid to Stress Reduction

It’s January,  the highs of Christmas and New Year have given way to the inevitable doldrums, aided by having to return to the office, perhaps deal with blizzards and freezing weather or floods ,  or just that general feeling of anxiety.   So it was timely that I came across an article that offers relief from stress and anxiety, as well as from the usual medications.

What may once have seemed like a fad, or a touch “New-Agey”, in a field of medicine prone to fads (the field of psychology), is moving strongly into the mainstream.  Mindfulness Therapy  now has the results of numerous studies and solid evidence to show it really can help. 

“What mindfulness-based stress reduction has in its favor is all of the research behind it, which give it a decent amount of credibility,” said Maggie Crowley, a clinical psychologist at the Northwestern Center for Integrative Medicine and Wellness.

A study this month in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that mindfulness-based therapy worked as well as antidepressants in preventing relapses of depression over an 18-month period.

Zindel Segal, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto was one of the pioneers behind mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, or MBCT, a treatment that combines mindfulness with cognitive behavioral therapy.  He and colleagues conducted a study involving 84 patients who had recovered from at least two bouts of major depression.   The patients were broken up into three groups: One had eight weekly  sessions of the therapy; one took an anti-depressant; and one took a placebo.  Over 18 months about 70% of patient taking the placebo suffered at least one more episode of the depression.  By comparison, only about 30% in the other two groups had a setback.

“Many of us have practiced a sort of dysfunctional way of thinking for a long, long time, and those habits are very ingrained,” said Robert Farra, director of the Adult Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program at NorthShore University mindfulness meditation.

 Even for people who don’t find all of the mindfulness techniques useful, there’s no real downside to giving it a try,  Farra said. “This is for everybody who wants to live a life that is more joyful and more meaningful.”

Segal said mindfulness therapy could help patients avoid rumination, the process of endlessly chewing on incidents from the past. Rumination is a driving force behind depression, he said, and it just doesn’t mesh with mindful thinking. He also believes that by encouraging patients to focus on their current thoughts, mindfulness can discourage anxiety and worry — up to a point.

“If you’re having panic attacks in the mall, mindfulness therapy on its own isn’t going to be enough,” he said.

Mindfulness therapy encourages patients to focus on their breathing and their body, to notice but not judge their thoughts and to generally be in the moment.  Not necessarily easy for anyone but can improve with practice – the practice of “letting go” of judgment and of analyzing thoughts in favor of simply observing the thoughts.

Segal said that mindfulness treatment changes the relationship people have with their emotions, so much so that shifts in the brain activity even show up in MRI tests.

Taking a moment to meditate with mindfulness might be just the therapy needed for stress reduction.  Especially for people who normally find it hard to meditate.

Here are links to additional details on the topic. 

  Article 1   Article 2

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