Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Kevin Aister DO

Apr 21, 2020

What is mindfulness-based stress reduction?

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a form of standardized therapy using stress relief meditation. It’s based around the Buddhist practice of mindfulness meditation. By practicing mindfulness meditation, supported by group therapy, patient education, and other measures, MSBR aims to reduce stress and support well-being in a range of situations. The original MBSR program is an eight-week course of therapy that was developed by scientists and meditation practitioners at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.

What does MBSR involve?

The MBSR program is constructed around the concept of mindfulness meditation. Unlike transcendental meditation and other meditative practices, mindfulness meditation does not require deep trance states or other forms of altered consciousness. Instead, mindfulness meditation involves cultivating a non-responsive awareness of one’s moment-to-moment experience. This form of meditation is highly versatile and can be easily integrated into your daily life.

As well as mindfulness meditation, MBSR also uses patient education as a tool to reduce stress. This education involves instruction in mindfulness meditation, as well as in yoga. Patients are taught various yoga asanas (positions) and listen to lectures on mindfulness and other aspects of meditation. Another critical part of MBSR’s educational component is the provision of information on stress. Stress can both impact and be impacted by health problems. Advice and information regarding the patient’s stress and any medical issues that may be contributing to it also form part of MBSR.

The third main component of MBSR is group support. By regularly interacting with a group of fellow stress-sufferers in a therapeutic setting, MBSR aims to prevent stress from becoming an isolating experience and to promote mutual support.

The initial phase of MBSR therapy involves a day retreat and lots of instruction and support. After the treatment, though, patients are free to continue using the meditation techniques they’ve learned throughout the rest of their lives.

What can MBSR do for me?

Stress seldom occurs in a vacuum. Prolonged stress is often associated with medical issues, either as a causative factor or as a response to the difficulties of living with an illness. For this reason, MBSR can potentially reduce the suffering experienced by the patient as a response to their symptoms. It can also help to reduce the symptoms themselves objectively.

To put it simply, MBSR can both help with lowering stress levels and also with the promotion of health and well-being.

What conditions can MBSR help?

MBSR is designed to help with a wide range of conditions. Studies have demonstrated a degree of effectiveness in a number of medical conditions, with MBSR performing reasonably well or very well depending on the specific context.

Conditions that MBSR may help include severe skin conditions such as psoriasis. In studies, patients’ psoriatic symptoms were reduced with MBSR; their ability to cope with the condition and levels of distress also improved.

MBSR may also help with fibromyalgia, a chronic and poorly understood condition that causes pain, fatigue and a range of other unpleasant symptoms. The condition is notoriously treatment-resistant and has a significant negative impact on the sufferer’s quality of life. Studies have indicated that just over half of patients with fibromyalgia may improve after treatment with MBSR, experiencing reductions in pain and fatigue as well as improved sleep and better mental focus.

Menopausal symptoms offer another example of a health issue that might be improved by MBSR. Patients experiencing hot flashes, insomnia, night-sweats and other signs of menopause were treated with MBSR, and their progress measured against a control group who were not offered treatment. A statistically significant percentage of the MBSR group showed an improvement, as opposed to the control group.

In most studies, follow-up investigations have shown continued improvement post-treatment. This is partly because MBSR emphasizes training and education in mindfulness meditation techniques, which patients can continue to use even after they’ve left therapy. Improvements may consist of reduced stress and anxiety, or they may also involve a reduction in medical symptoms.

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