Mental illnesses affect a person’s behavior, thoughts, and mood, so much so that neuroimaging practices have observed structural changes among patients with depression(1) and anxiety disorders(2).
Some experts aim to direct clinical practices toward mindfulness-based interventions (MBI) or programs that focus on processes and core competencies instead of treating medical syndromes.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is the standard approach when it comes to MBIs. This intervention lasts eight weeks and aims to reduce stress by encouraging regular meditation to develop enhanced mindfulness skills.
Such programs typically consist of weekly group-based meditation classes that last between 2 to 2.5 hours. The entire intervention process involves a trained instructor, daily audio-guided home practices, and mindfulness retreats that last a whole day during the sixth week.
For the most part, MBSR courses focus on helping you learn how to attend to your body sensations mindfully. This process involves using various mind-body meditative practices, including body scans, sitting meditation, yoga, and gentle stretching.
The program involves a group, fostering a discussion on applying mindfulness in the daily and allowing insight into adaptive ways of handling stressors.
Compared to active control conditions, studies indicate that MBIs are superior interventions in reducing anxiety symptoms. In one study involving patients with generalized anxiety disorder, the MBSR group outperformed the group under the active stress-management education program in reducing anxiety symptom severity(3).
MBSR’s effectiveness in reducing stress and anxiety has prompted researchers to adapt the intervention’s basic principles into other programs to treat specific populations.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
MBCT is the most widely researched adaptation of MBSR. Such interventions target major depression relapse by combining the enhanced internal awareness one gets from mindfulness training and the active recognition of negative thoughts taught in cognitive therapy.
Mindfulness principles include recognizing the deterioration of mood without immediate judgments or reactions to such changes. Meanwhile, cognitive therapy teaches you how to remove yourself from maladaptive behaviors that may lead to depression.
Mindfulness-based treatments and traditional cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) differ in their approaches. MBIs involve simple observation, while CBT involves facing metacognitions directly. Despite different methods, both practices aim to change your perspective on negative internal phenomena.
Like MBSR, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy sessions follow the eight-week group-based structure, including the length and courses.
Several randomized controlled trials demonstrated MBCT’s effectiveness in reducing relapse rates among patients with major depression(4). Other researchers highlighted the intervention’s efficacy in lowering acute depression symptoms(5).
Additionally, modified MBCT programs may prove effective for patients resistant to depression treatments. A study comparing MBCT to a well-matched active control program suggested that the former outperformed the latter in reducing depressive symptoms post-treatment.
MBSR and MBCT may not be accessible to the general public, as they are thorough intervention programs. Such practices require substantial time and training commitment from patients and therapists.
Some alternative treatment delivery methods exist in addition to the standard mindfulness practices.
Mindfulness meditation retreats and residential programs usually range from one to three days to three months in length. Such programs are cost-effective options for intensive and well-controlled mindfulness intervention doses.
Although the evidence on the short- and long-term effects of such interventions are minimal, recent trials suggested positive effects on measures of psychosocial well-being and health, including stress and anxiety(6)(7).
Brief Mindfulness Interventions
Some researchers modified the standard MBSR treatment protocol into two- to three-week programs. Although this intervention is much shorter than the typical eight-week program, initial studies suggest that such short programs benefit working memory capacity and compassion(8-9).
An even shorter intervention involves three- to four-day lab-based mindfulness training sessions. Such programs may involve 20-to-30-minute group sessions with guidance from a trained meditation instructor. Studies on such methods indicate immediate effects on neuroendocrine and psychological responses to social stress(10).
The existing studies warrant further research into the efficacy of abbreviated mindfulness interventions in reducing clinical levels of depression or anxiety.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected group-based meditations and therapy sessions, making them seem inaccessible. Thus, you may consider internet- or app-based MBIs. Such interventions may range from two- to three-week self-guided programs to eight-week courses that mimic MBSR protocols(11).
Although the development of online MBIs is recent, results from 15 randomized-controlled trials highlighted the beneficial impact of technology-based MBIs on depression, anxiety, stress, well-being, and mindfulness(12).
The limited studies on online and smartphone MBIs showed promising results, warranting further studies on the matter.
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- Song, T., Han, X., Du, L., Che, J., Liu, J., Shi, S., Fu, C., Gao, W., Lu, J., & Ma, G. (2018). The Role of Neuroimaging in the Diagnosis and Treatment of Depressive Disorder: A Recent Review. Current pharmaceutical design, 24(22), 2515–2523. https://doi.org/10.2174/1381612824666180727111142
- Holzschneider, K., & Mulert, C. (2011). Neuroimaging in anxiety disorders. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 13(4), 453–461. https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2011.13.4/kholzschneider
- Hoge EA, Bui E, Marques L, et al. Randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation for generalized anxiety disorder: effects on anxiety and stress reactivity. J Clin Psychiatry. 2013; 74(8):786–792. DOI: 10.4088/JCP.12m08083 [PubMed: 23541163]
- Creswell JD. Mindfulness Interventions. Annu Rev Psychol. 2017; 68:491–516. DOI: 10.1146/annurev-psych-042716-051139 [PubMed: 27687118]
- Strauss C, Cavanagh K, Oliver A, Pettman D, Laks J. Mindfulness-based interventions for people diagnosed with a current episode of an anxiety or depressive disorder: A meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. PLoS ONE. 2014; 9(4):e96110.doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0096110 [PubMed: 24763812]
- Cohen JN, Jensen D, Stange JP, Neuburger M, Heimberg RG. The Immediate and Long-Term Effects of an Intensive Meditation Retreat. Mindfulness. 2017; 14(1):449.doi: 10.1007/s12671-017-0682-5
- Rosenberg EL, Zanesco AP, King BG, et al. Intensive meditation training influences emotional responses to suffering. Emotion. 2015; 15(6):775–790. DOI: 10.1037/emo0000080 [PubMed: 25938614]
- Lim D, Condon P, DeSteno D. Mindfulness and compassion: an examination of mechanism and scalability. PLoS ONE. 2015; 10(2):e0118221.doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0118221 [PubMed: 25689827]
- Mrazek MD, Franklin MS, Phillips DT, Baird B, Schooler JW. Mindfulness training improves working memory capacity and GRE performance while reducing mind wandering. Psychol Sci. 2013; 24(5):776–781. DOI: 10.1177/0956797612459659 [PubMed: 23538911]
- Creswell JD, Pacilio LE, Lindsay EK, Brown KW. Brief mindfulness meditation training alters psychological and neuroendocrine responses to social evaluative stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2014; 44:1–12. DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.02.007 [PubMed: 24767614]
- Cavanagh, Kate, Strauss, Clara, Cicconi, Francesca, Griffiths, Natasha, Wyper, Andy, Jones, Fergal. A randomised controlled trial of a brief online mindfulness-based intervention.
- Spijkerman MPJ, Pots WTM, Bohlmeijer ET. Effectiveness of online mindfulness-based interventions in improving mental health: A review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Clin Psychol Rev. 2016; 45:102–114. DOI: 10.1016/j.cpr.2016.03.009 [PubMed: 27111302]