Meditation is not just an easy, accessible method for controlling anxiety; it's also been proven to reduce symptoms of depression and improve attention span, focus, and cognitive abilities. However, up to this point, many meditation techniques and programs have been inaccessible because they focus on long sessions which require high-time dedication, while other meditation methods offer no information on the time commitment necessary to provide health benefits.

A recently released study in The Official Journal of Psychoneuroendocrinology is working to overcome these limitations. The study, conducted by a team of Carnegie Mellon researchers, suggests that just three days of 25-minute meditation sessions not only visibly reduces anxiety, but also bolsters the ability to remain resilient in stressful situations.

The Methods

Lead author David Creswell and his team conducted the study by splitting 66 healthy adults, aged 18-30, into two groups. Half of these participants went through a three day cognitive training program, which included activities such as analyzing poetry in order to develop problem solving skills. The other half was placed into a three-day mindfulness meditation training program, in which they were taught breathing exercises and other common meditation techniques.

After these three day sessions, both groups were given 'stress inducing tasks': they completed speech or math tests in front of a panel of evaluators. After completing these tasks, the individuals were asked to report their anxiety levels, and their saliva was sampled in order to monitor levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.

Comparing the Results

After comparing the resulting anxiety and cortisol analysis, Creswell's team found that the adults who participated in the mindfulness meditation training program reported markedly lower levels of anxiety upon encountering stress. This indicates that the meditation sessions fostered higher psychological resilience, or the ability to adequately adapt and react to stress.

When the biological results were studied, the team found that, surprisingly, cortisol reactivity was higher in the meditation training group than it was in the cognitive training group. Creswell explained these results by stating that "when you initially learn mindfulness meditation practices, you have to cognitively work at it — especially during a stressful task, and these active cognitive efforts may result in the task feeling less stressful, but they may also have physiological costs with higher cortisol production."

The press release for the study wrapped up by mentioning that “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." For now, the study provides valuable insight into the positive effects of meditation, providing optimistic results for the method even with a time commitment as low as half an hour a day.

Date of original publication:

Sources

Creswell, J. David, Laura E. Pacilio, Emily K. Lindsay, and Kirk Warren Brown. Brief mindfulness meditation training alters psychological and neuroendocrine responses to social evaluative stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology 44:1-12. DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.02.007.

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