Authors of a new study published in Psychiatry Research discuss the impact of a Mindfulness-Based intervention on stress-related biomarkers in individuals with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). The authors led by Elizabeth A. Hoge, based at Massachusetts General Hospital, provide what they state is “the first combined hormonal and immunological evidence that MBSR [Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction] may enhance resilience to stress.” This is the second paper they’ve published detailing the results of their clinical trial.
“… findings suggest that mindfulness meditation training, a relatively inexpensive and low-stigma treatment approach, may be a helpful strategy to decrease biological stress reactivity and improve resilience to stressors in patients with GAD.”
Mindfulness has become an increasingly popular concept among providers and patients, with related interventions being used to treat a number of issues including depression, trauma, and anxiety. For this study, the researchers used Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), an approach that has been found safe and effective for a number of conditions. Founded at the University of Massachusetts’ Medical School, MBSR is typically conducted as an 8-week program which focuses on helping individuals manage pain, improve focus, resilience, and coping skills.
In their first paper, the researchers discussed their clinical trial findings on subjective stress. Findings included a reduction in participants’ ratings of stress post-program. For the second part of the study, the researchers focused on understanding the effects of mindfulness meditation on individuals’ stress hormones and chronic inflammatory markers, both of which are related to GAD, cardiovascular health, and metabolic health. For this study, 72 participants completed treatment and were eligible for biomarker analysis. Exclusion criteria included chronic inflammatory diseases, Post-traumatic stress disorder, and receiving current psychotherapy for GAD. The intervention group attended an 8-week MBSR program, which included education on breath awareness and body scans, and completed blood samples at the beginning and end of the trial.
The analysis was conducted using the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), which is used to measure “laboratory resilience” – to understand coping in regards to a standardized stressor. The results suggest that the MBSR program could enhance resilience to a standardized stressor. Further, individuals in the control group, who did not experience the mindfulness intervention, were found to have increased stress during their second TSST.
“We found that mindfulness meditation training was associated with an attenuated stress response to laboratory stress in GAD, with evidence from both HPA axis hormones and inflammatory markers, raising the possibility that mindfulness meditation may imbue some resilience to stressful psychological challenges.”
These findings are an important addition to the ever-growing field of mindfulness, giving further evidence for its use as an effective, low-cost, safe intervention that can help treat a variety of issues.
Hoge, E. A., Bui, E., Palitz, S. A., Schwarz, N. R., Owens, M. E., Johnston, J. M., … & Simon, N. M. (2017). The effect of mindfulness meditation training on biological acute stress responses in generalized anxiety disorder. Psychiatry Research. (Abstract)