“If the problem can be solved, why worry? If the problem cannot be solved worrying will do you no good.” An assessment of worry attributed to the Buddha
Research into the concept, definition, practice and outcomes of mindfulness has exploded in the past 20 years, with increasing attention into the potential therapeutic impacts of this centuries’ old human activity. A recent online University library search for articles with ‘mindfulness’ in the title yields 84 results for the years between 1990 and 2000, jumping to 1243 for the following decade and increasing nearly tenfold to 11 682 in the years between 2010 and 2020!
Criticism of the concept and its popularity have noted that much of the research struggles to gain relevance because of debates regarding the definition and measurement of ‘mindfulness’. There are concerns that most research studies have small numbers and the impact of the placebo effect can’t be discounted. However, whilst academics engage in ongoing debate there do seem to be encouraging findings linking mindfulness to multiple benefits.
Recent research has linked core neurological structures with potential pathways of change for those who report more mindfulness. Current theory postulates that the default mode network, or network of neurological structures that appear more active during restful moments, shifts towards a more regulated state in those with higher mindfulness states. This theory suggests that mindfulness leads to more balanced and connected brain function; an integrated brain. Neuroimaging data appears to partly support these concepts. These brain changes could explain how mindfulness might work. (See related Expert Fact Sheet on Neuroplasticity and the Mind/Body System for further details on these and other concepts.)
Overall the research shows that increased mindfulness is linked to:
Improved mental health including lower perceived stress, lower depressive symptoms, lower rumination on the past (Shapiro, Oman, Thorensen, 2008; Tomlinson, Yousaf, Vitterso et al, 2018), improved emotional regulation, increased self-compassion (Lykins and Baer, 2009; Keng, Smoski and Robins, 2010) and reduced anxiety (Goyal, Singh, Sibinga et al, 2014; Vøllestad, Nielsen, MB and Nielsen, GH, 2012).
Better physical health including decreased pain perception (Goyal, Singh, Sibinga et al, 2014; Shonin, Van Gordon and Griffiths, 2015, Creswell, Lindsay, Villalba et al, 2015), better self-reported physical health, healthy eating and sleep quality (Rogers, Ferrari, Mosely et al, 2017) and shorter duration or reduced severity of inflammatory related disorders such as the common cold, psoriasis and irritable bowel syndromes (Creswell, Lindsay, Villalba et al, 2015).
Optimised relationship and work experiences including prosocial behaviour defined as “voluntary behaviour intended to benefit another.” (Donald, Sahdra, Van Zanden et al, 2019), greater romantic relationship satisfaction, improved friendship and empathy (Kozlowski, 2013; McGill, Adler-Baeder and Rodriguez, 2016, Pratscher, Rose and Markovitz et al, 2018 ), and greater job satisfaction (Hülsheger, Alberts, Feinholdt et al, 2013).
As with all decisions regarding your health, please consult a trusted health professional regarding the potential benefits of any intervention for your unique circumstances.
Dr Alice Dwyer BA (Hons) MBBS (Hons) MPsych FRANZCP
- Creswell, Lindsay, Villalba et al. “Mindfulness Training and Physical Health: Mechanisms and Outcomes.” In Psychosomatic Medicine, 2019, April, Volume 81, pp 224-232
- Donald, Baljinder, Van Zanden et al “Does your mindfulness benefit others? A systematic review and meta‐analysis of the link between mindfulness and prosocial behaviour.” In The British Journal of Psychology, 2019, February, Volume 110, Number 1, pp. 101 - 112
- Goyal, Singh, Sibinga et al. “Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” In JAMA Internal Medicine, Volume, 2014, Volume 174, number 3, pp. 357 – 368
- Hodgins and Adair. “Attentional processes and meditation.” In Consciousness and Cognition, 2010, December, Volume 19, Number 4, pp. 872 – 878
- Hülsheger, Hugo, Feinholdt et al. “Benefits of Mindfulness at Work: The Role of Mindfulness in Emotion Regulation, Emotional Exhaustion, and Job Satisfaction.” In Journal of Applied Psychology 2013, Volume 98, Number 2, pp. 310 –325
- Keng, Smoski and Robins. “Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies.” In Clinical Psychology Review, August, 2011, volume 31, number 6, pp. 1041–1056.
- Kozlowski, Anna. “Mindful mating: exploring the connection between mindfulness and relationship satisfaction” in Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 2013, Volume 28, number 1-2, pp. 92-104.
- Liu, Gao and Hou. “Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction combined with music therapy on pain, anxiety, and sleep quality in patients with osteosarcoma.” In Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry, 2019, November/December, Volume 41, Number 6, pp. 540 - 545
- Lutz, Jacqueline, Herwig, Uwe, Opialla, Sarah et al “Mindfulness and emotion regulation: an fMRI study” in SCAN, 2014, Volume 9, pp.776-785
- Lykins, E and Baer, RA “Psychological Functioning in a Sample of Long-Term Practitioners of Mindfulness Meditation” in Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly Volume 2009, Volume 23, Number 3, pp. 226 - 41
- McGill, Adler-Baeder and Rodriguez. “Mindfully in Love: A Meta-Analysis of the Association between Mindfulness and Relationship Satisfaction.” In Journal of Human Sciences and Extension, 2016, February, Volume 4, Number 1, pp. 89 – 101
- Rogers, Ferrari, Mosely et al. “Mindfulness-based interventions for adults who are overweight or obese: a meta-analysis of physical and psychological health outcomes.” In Obesity Reviews, 2017, January, Volume 18, pp. 51–67.
- Shapiro, Shauna L, Oman, Doug, Thoresen, Carl et al. “Cultivating Mindfulness: Effects on Well-Being,” in Journal of Clinical Psychology, 2008, Volume 64, Number 7, pp. 840-862.
- Shonin, Van Gordon and Griffiths. “Does mindfulness work? Reasonably convincing evidence in depression and anxiety.” In British Medical Journal, 2015, BMJ 2015, 351:h6919.
- Tomlinson, Yousaf, Vittersø et al. “Dispositional Mindfulness and Psychological Health: a Systematic Review,” in Mindfulness, 2018, February, Volume 9, Number 1, pp. 23-43
- Voci, Veneziani and Fuochi. “Relating Mindfulness, Heartfulness, and Psychological Well-Being: the Role of Self-Compassion and Gratitude Mindfulness.” In Mindfulness, 2019, Volume 10, pp. 339–351
- Vøllestad, Nielsen, MB and Nielsen, GH. “Mindfulness- and acceptance-based interventions for anxiety disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” In British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 2012, September, Volume 51, Number 3, pp. 239 – 260
- Pratscher, Rose and Markovitz et al. “Interpersonal Mindfulness: Investigating Mindfulness in Interpersonal Interactions, co-Rumination, and Friendship Quality.” In Mindfulness, 2018, Number 9, pp. 1206–1215
Author: Dr Alice Dwyer BA (Hons) MBBS (Hons) MPsych FRANZCP