Short term meditation training could help reduce stress levels

Mindfulness meditation is not a new idea; there are a whole host of books, podcasts and training programmes dedicated to teaching us how to be more mindful and reap the benefits of living ‘in the now’. In the past, however, some people might have been discouraged by the idea that in order to learn how to meditate, you would have to set aside a lot of time.

New research may have put an end to that; the findings from a recent study have indicated that it might not be necessary to embark on a six week training course in order to feel the benefit of mindful meditation after all. America’s Carnegie Mellon University carried out a study which showed that just 25 minutes of mindful meditation over a period of three consecutive days can have a powerful effect on perceived stress levels.

The study, which was published in the journal ‘Psychoneuroendocrinology’ looked at people’s ability to stay resilient when they were under stress.

Lead author J. David Creswell, associate professor of psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, worked with a research team looking at 66 healthy subjects aged between 18 to 30.

Over the course of three days, some of the participants took a short mindfulness meditation training program which involved breathing exercises, and others took part in a three-day long cognitive training programme. After the three days on either programme, everyone was asked to take a stressful maths test and a speech test with ‘stern-faced’ evaluators designed to ramp up their stress levels even further.

The people who took part in the short mindfulness felt less stressed by the tests than those who had taken part in the cognitive training. Interestingly though, their cortisol levels were higher! Their blood pressure was also recorded, although the study didn’t show any meaningful changes there.

The conclusions were that brief training in mindfulness meditation helps to improve self-reported stress coping mechanisms, but the fact that it has to be ‘worked at’ initially could cause an increase in cortisol reactivity.

David Cresswell explained,

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.”

Spurred on by the findings from the study, Creswell and his team are now looking into whether mindfulness can become automatic, which would make it easier for people to use in stressful situations once taught.

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