The amount of stress that individuals experience seems to be increasing, with busier lifestyles, education, work, and added responsibilities. Sometimes the stress can be overwhelming and may lead to health-related problems. Yoga and meditation have both been beneficial in reducing the anxiety and stress in everyday life. Another approach to lowering stress that you may not have heard of is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). MBSR was developed in 1979 and employs a comprehensive intervention setting using four main skills to foster mindfulness: the body scan, mindful hatha yoga stretching, sitting meditation, and walking meditation.1 The program uses intentional, present-moment awareness to help participants experience whatever is happening in their lives as it becomes known with curiosity, non-judging attention, and compassion for themselves and others.2 The MBSR program is usually conducted in a group setting and consists of 8 weekly 2.5-hour classes. In addition, other practices are used for daily home practice such as keeping logs of pleasant and unpleasant events and noting simultaneous sensations, thoughts, and feelings. This approach can help people who are coping with medical problems, job or family-related stress, as well as anxiety and depression.
Prior studies have demonstrated that participants who attend MBSR classes reported lasting decreases in both psychological and physical symptoms. MBSR participants experienced improvement of pain levels and were able to better cope with chronic pain.3 Many also report “an increased ability to relax, greater enthusiasm for life, improved self-esteem, and increased ability to cope with stressful situations.”4 One important point to remember is that MBSR is not a substitute for medical care, but rather a complement to an individual’s existing medical care.
Klatt, Buckworth, and Malarkey (2009) completed a study on the effects of low-dose Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on working adults.5 The group was given a shorter duration of the program to determine if the results were similar to the more extensive program. The participants met for a 60-minute session one time per week for 6 weeks. Instruments such as the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) and the Perceived Stress Scale were used to measure the outcome of the intervention between the control group and the treatment group. The results demonstrated significant decreases in stress reduction and increases in mindfulness.
The MBSR program has also shown statistical significance in reducing psychological distress, mood disturbance, and anxiety in the treatment of a variety of chronic physical and emotional disease states.6 Several studies have shown significant findings affecting chronic conditions such as heart disease, fibromyalgia, and HIV. An MBSR study conducted by Koerbel and Zucker (2007) focused on similar populations to those living with chronic hepatitis C, and found that MBSR is also useful in the care of those with that disease The physical symptoms of chronic hepatitis C include fatigue, abdominal pain and swelling, jaundice, nausea, and muscle weakness, while psychological symptoms include anxiety and depression. Meditation skills can be extremely helpful at every stage of the disease to better cope with both the physical and psychological symptoms.
MBSR has shown promise in various situations to help reduce anxiety, improve self-esteem, and provide participants with the increased ability to cope more effectively with stressful situations.7 The MBSR program is offered nationwide at universities, hospitals, and workplaces. Rising health care costs are an incentive for companies to offer work-site wellness programs that include stress reduction.8 The general public, including adolescents, may benefit from MBSR as a worthwhile complement to current medical care and in the promotion of health and well-being.
Gayle Walter, MPH
Gayle Walter is an adjunct professor at Kaplan University and teaches courses such as Contemporary Diet and Nutrition and Research Methods for Health Sciences. In addition, she also works for the University of Dubuque in the Department of Natural and Applied Sciences and Physical Education. Ms. Walter received her Master of Public Health from Walden University in 2007 and is currently enrolled in the doctoral program in public health with an emphasis on community health promotion and education. She currently resides in Dubuque, Iowa, with her family.