Mindfulness is an ancient wisdom that was recently introduced to the western world. Since then several studies have been done to measure its impact on physical, mental and emotional health.
Research on Mindfulness and Mental Health
Several research studies have consistently proved that 8 weeks of 20 minute daily meditations change the structure of the brain. This leads to several positive changes in an individual’s emotional wellbeing. Studies in the area of mental health are promoting more usage of mindfulness techniques in psychotherapy for the alleviation of mental health symptoms. Therapists now introduce mindfulness practices in individual counseling as well as group counseling.
Depression, stress and anxiety
The University of Oxford published a study in 2013, which investigated the effects experienced by 273 participants of the Be Mindful Online Course. After just one month this was the average reduction found in stress, depression and anxiety.
A 58% reduction in anxiety levels
A 57% reduction in depression
A 40% reduction in stress
Hofmann, Sawyer, Witt, and Oh (2010) conducted a meta analytic review of 39 studies with patients suffering from a variety of medical and psychiatric disorders. They found that mindfulness interventions had a moderate effect in improving anxiety and depressive symptoms. In patients with co-occurring anxiety and mood symptoms, the effects were much larger.
In some recent studies on veterans (Serpa, Taylor, & Tillisch, 2014) it has been found that mindfulness reduces depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. It has also been effective in treating psychological stressors and coping in life threatening and chronic illnesses (Carlson, 2012).
Improved Quality of Life
Studies with nurses (Bruce, Young, Turner, Vander Wal, & Linden, 2002), oncology patients (Lerman, Jarski, Rea, Gellish, & Vicini, 2012) and adults suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (Biomed Res Int.2015) showed a marked improvement in the quality of life. These studies also found that there was an improvement in mood and attention as well. Thus, studies are clearly indicating that mindfulness leads to a shift in the perceived quality of life in individuals who are healthy as well as those who are experiencing physical or mental concerns.
The ability to pay attention and concentrate is an outcome of mindfulness meditation. This helps people deal with distractions, focus on the task at hand and promotes cognitive flexibility. (Moore and Malinowski, 2009).
Reduced Emotional Reactivity
Numerous self reports from meditators indicate that the habitual patterns of emotional reactivity reduce. It paves ways to cope with emotions and chose appropriate responses (Cahn & Polich, 2006; Davidson et al., 2003). The tendency to impulsively react reduces greatly (Ortner et al., 2007). Another interesting finding is that post the negative episode there is a fast recovery to the baseline mood. (Davidson, 2000; Davidson, Jackson, & Kalin, 2000).
Mindfulness helps a person understand and express their emotions to their partners (Dekeyser el al., 2008). Mindfulness enhances an individual’s ability to communicate effectively during conflicts. This helps to cope with conflicts, cultivate emotional intimacy and build happy relationships. It is no wonder that there is evidence predicting relationship satisfaction (Barnes et al., 2007; Wachs & Cordova, 2007).
Source: Research works cited on APA.
Research on Mindfulness and Physical Health
A host of studies have investigated how mindfulness can help individuals with chronic health concerns. Some of the illness investigated were rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, organ transplant, chronic pain, fibromyalgia and irritable bowl syndrome (Carlson, 2012). The results from these studies do not show improvement or cure of the disease however all the findings proved that patients developed the ability to cope better with their ailments. For example, mindfulness meditation is taught to several cancer patients to aid them with pain management. The pain does not diminish but the ability to cope and tolerate the pain is markedly improved.
A very new research has promising findings for those suffering from obesity and overweight issues. Mindfulness has helped participants improve their eating habit, change their attitudes leading to a decrease in depressing and anxiety which in turn has led to weight loss (Rogers, Ferrari, Mosely, Lang, & Brennan, 2017).
Jean Kristeller and the research team stated that it certainly helps people to know the difference between emotional and physical hunger and satiety. They say it introduces a moment of choice between the urge and actual eating. Their studies at Duke University showed that people who meditated during meal and also off meal times benefited more from the program of mindfulness eating techniques.
This opens up a world of health benefits. Such researches indicates that people who are mindful are more prone to eat healthier and stay away from foods that are processed and toxic. Besides helping with weight management it could have a host of other health benefits. It is no wonder that mindfulness is being included and studied in the treatment of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. A US team from Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pennsylvania stated that their recent study possibly indicates that mindfulness could be useful in managing and treatment diabetes in overweight women. Most of the research investigating diabetes and mindfulness indicates that mindfulness plays one role in the treatment, but it is not the sole treatment method.
Long Term Health Benefits
There have been some studies that show that mindfulness has a positive impact on telomere length which helps to decrease cellular aging and cogitivie stress. (Epel et al., 2009). Changes in biological markers has been seen; this includes stress hormone markers, immune and endocrine system markers (Black and Slavich, 2016).
Eventually it seems as though mindfulness could serve as a great preventive method to illness. It helps a person tune into their body and live more consciously making healthier choices and developing healthier attitudes and habits. This promotes over all wellbeing. For example a study from last year proved a similar point showing that mindfulness increases multiple healthy behaviors like getting regular health checkups, being more physically active, using seat belts and avoiding nicotine and alcohol (Jacobs, Wollny, Sim, & Horsch, 2016).