New research suggests that short-term mindfulness meditation practice — 25 minutes for three consecutive days — alleviates psychological stress.
Mindfulness meditation has rapidly gained popularity as a method to help people relieve stress and improve overall health. But despite its growing acceptance, most research has focused on a review of long-term training programs lasting weeks to months.
A new study from Carnegie Mellon University is the first to show that brief mindfulness meditation practice alleviates psychological stress.
As discussed in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, the study investigates how mindfulness meditation affects people’s ability to be resilient under stress.
“More and more people report using meditation practices for stress reduction, but we know very little about how much you need to do for stress reduction and health benefits,” said lead author J. David Creswell, Ph.D.
For the study, Creswell and his research team had 66 healthy individuals aged 18 to 30 years old participate in a three-day experiment.
Some participants went through a brief mindfulness meditation training program; for 25 minutes for three consecutive days, the individuals were given breathing exercises to help them focus on their breath and pay attention to their present moment experiences.
A second group of participants completed a matched three-day cognitive training program in which they were asked to critically analyze poetry in an effort to enhance problem-solving skills.
Following the final training activity, all participants were asked to complete stressful speech and math tasks in front of stern-faced evaluators.
Each individual reported their stress levels in response to stressful speech and math performance stress tasks, and provided saliva samples for measurement of cortisol, commonly referred to as the stress hormone.
The participants who received the brief mindfulness meditation training reported reduced stress perceptions to the speech and math tasks, indicating that the mindfulness meditation fostered psychological stress resilience.
More interestingly, on the biological side, the mindfulness mediation participants showed greater cortisol reactivity.
“When you initially learn mindfulness mediation practices, you have to cognitively work at it — especially during a stressful task,” said Creswell.
“And, these active cognitive efforts may result in the task feeling less stressful, but they may also have physiological costs with higher cortisol production.”
Creswell’s group is now testing the possibility that mindfulness can become more automatic and easy to use with long-term mindfulness meditation training, which may result in reduced cortisol reactivity.
Source: Carnegie Mellon University
This article first appeared on Psych Central on 3 July, 2014.