Continuing with Meditation and Neuroplasticity: Can Mindful Practice Help with My Anxiety? 


Last week we explored the idea of mindfulness and transformations in brains, as well as helping to alleviate the symptoms of conditions such as depression.

This week-- I bring you-- a way to address anxiety disorders… drum roll please… 

Mindfulness! Hmm, wait. That sounds familiar, does it not? 

Well, hold on a minute. What exactly is “mindfulness”? Does that just mean I have to meditate everyday? Not exactly. 

Mindfulness is involved in meditation, which is the most fundamental and traditional way of practice. However, you can be mindful in most ANYTHING that you do. The definition varies, as it is a challenging concept to fit neatly in a sentence, but it most commonly refers to the principal human ability to live in the present and to hold in awareness where we are and what we are doing.

A definition that we use at Mindful Boston was written by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a world renowned scholar and educator of mindfulness used in clinical settings: "Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”. 

If you still can’t quite grasp what mindfulness is, just give it a try and feel the benefits for yourself! Or join a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course like the people in the following study who are working on their anxiety symptoms. 

Conducted in 2007, an experiment involving an eight week intensive mindfulness meditation program showcased the considerable effects of meditation on patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Eleven subjects convened in a group for two hours at a time each week throughout the eight weeks. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) were implemented. MBCT exercises included effortful observations of connections between worried thoughts, mood and behavior. MBSR techniques included the practice of body scan meditation, sitting meditation and yoga. Additionally, subjects were given homework assignments in which they would follow guided meditation CDs, and then perform and record their meditations for a minimum of 30 minutes each day. Easy enough, right? 

Before beginning the eight week program, subjects gave self-reported measures using the Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI), the Beck Depression Inventory- II (BDI-II), the Penn State Worry Questionnaire (PSWQ), the Profile of Mood States (POMS), the Mindfulness Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS), and the AMNART. Baseline results of the 11 subjects displayed “moderate levels of anxiety” measured by the BAI, a “pathological degree of worry” measured by the PSWQ, “significant levels of anxiety and tension” measured by the POMS, and mild levels of depressive symptomatology, measured by the BDI. Furthermore, baseline of day-to-day mindful awareness experiences measured by the MAAS was significantly lower for people with GAD than for people without GAD; the GAD mean score being 3.68, and the normative sample mean score being 4.22. 

By the completion of the eight week program, the subjects gave self-reported measures again, but this time the numbers were distinctly smaller. The BAI, PSWQ, POMS, and BDI all presented statistically significant declines compared to the baseline results. To break this down further, five subjects dropped from a clinically significant score (moderate-severe) on the BAI to a non-clinical score (minimal). Three of the five subjects who had shown clinical levels of depressive symptomatology on the BDI before the meditation program dropped to non-clinical levels after the program. Three subjects with clinically considerable scores on the PSWQ dropped down to the non-clinical range of pathological worry post-program. Finally, three subjects with scores that indicated clinical POMS tension-anxiety, dropped to non-clinical scores (Evans, 2008). This data defends MBCT and MBSR as effective treatments for GAD, for all participants in the study experienced reduced levels of anxiety related symptoms by the time of the study’s completion. Go mindfulness therapy!

At this point we have evidence to support the impact of mindfulness on both depression AND anxiety. 

Not sure where to begin your mindfulness journey? Sign up for an MBSR course just like the one used in this study at Mindful Boston!

Evans, S., Ferrando, S., Findler, M., Stowell, C., Smart, C., & Haglin, D. (2008). Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy For Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 22(4), 716-721. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2007.07.005

Mindful Boston intern Isabel Fitzpatrick writes this blog.  It introduces a new scholarly research study/article each week that exhibits the efficacy of MBSR from a neuroscience standpoint with Izzy's own break-down and commentary.