Contact: J. David Creswell, PhD
For Release: Immediately
Mindfulness. It seems like everyone’s talking about it. But what exactly does it mean, and can it help us to stay healthy?
Over the last 20 years, there’s been a tremendous surge in popularity for Mindfulness Training Programs. Meanwhile, cutting-edge studies of high scientific quality are beginning to show that mindfulness programs can help people better manage chronic pain. There’s also preliminary evidence that the training may improve symptoms in an array of illnesses triggered or worsened by stress. A summary of research highlights so far, including frontier brain studies suggesting how mindfulness may work, appears in the April issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, journal of the American Psychosomatic Society.
Mindfulness means paying attention to your moment-to-moment experiences through an open lens of acceptance. Most controlled studies look at the effects of widely used eight-class training programs (boosted by a day-long retreat and daily audio-guided practice).
Several large studies show that mindfulness training can improve pain symptoms and reduce disability due to pain, says David Creswell, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, lead author of the research review. However, there are mixed findings on whether these pain-easing benefits last over time, so longer- term research is needed, he adds.
Some initial cutting-edge studies also show that mindfulness programs can improve symptoms in people with stress-related health problems. Among the conditions studied: psoriasis, irritable bowel syndrome, HIV and PTSD.
Brain imaging research in Creswell’s lab, along with findings of other scientists, suggests that mindfulness works to benefit our bodies by curbing the harmful effects of stress. Mindfulness training increases activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area near our foreheads that helps us plan, manage our emotions and regulate stress. Brain imaging shows that mindfulness training also increases how much this stress-managing brain area is connected to other regions of the brain.
“We think mindfulness training may benefit your body by helping people turn down feelings of alarm and improving your ability to manage stress,” says Creswell. The initial brain scans so far support a plausible explanation for the training’s health benefits: “Mindfulness is changing the brain and changing how we respond to stress.”
Faculty Page: https://www.cmu.edu/dietrich/psychology/people/core-training-faculty/creswell-david.html
The American Psychosomatic Society (APS) (http://www.psychosomatic.org), founded in 1943, is an international multidisciplinary academic society that organizes an annual scientific meeting and educational programs. Psychosomatic Medicine is its scientific journal. The membership of over 700 is composed of academic scientists and clinicians in medicine, psychiatry, epidemiology, health psychology and allied health services. The mission of the APS is “to advance and integrate the scientific study of biological, psychological, behavioral and social factors in health and disease.”