Stressed? Anxious? Meditation and mindfulness may improve the way the brain handles stress


Daniel Monti and co-researchers, at Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, investigated methods of reducing stress in patients with a diagnosis of breast cancer. 18 patients who were not currently in active treatment were assigned to one of two groups: 1) those to take part in a mindfulness-based art therapy course; and 2) those to take part in an education programme (serving as an “active control” group). Those patients in group 1) underwent an 8-week mindfulness course that combined meditation exercises that stressed awareness of breathing and emotions with expressive art exercises to provide opportunities for self-expression. Patients in both groups were assessed before and after the programmes according to a symptom checklist. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was also used to assess cerebral blood flow before and after the study programs.

The researchers found that the patients who underwent the mindfulness programme had significantly increased blood flow to areas of the brain associated with controlling emotions and regulating stress. In addition, these increases in cerebral blood flow correlated significantly with reduced stress and anxiety as indicated by the symptom checklist. The findings suggested that the brains of those patients who underwent the mindfulness programme worked in a different way to those patients in the education programme control group. The former patients also reported feeling better.

The researchers speculated that methods that change the way the brain handles stress could help improve the quality of life for cancer patients. In addition, it is fairly widely accepted that most people could benefit from lowering their stress and anxiety levels. The findings of this study suggest that a programme of mindfulness could help do this by changing the way the brain deals with stress.

The conclusions drawn from this study obviously cannot be extrapolated to a great degree, as this was a small study, using a specific intervention of mindfulness, meditation and art therapy, versus an education programme (“active”) control group. Nevertheless, the findings showed that a programme that incorporated mindfulness was able to alter the brain and, correspondingly, improved the way in which a group of potentially high-stress patients handled stress.

For information on how hypnotherapy, meditation, mindfulness, relaxation skills, self-hypnosis, EFT and/or cognitive therapy can help manage and reduce stress and anxiety, contact AJR Hypnotherapy Surrey. See above top right for contact details.

Monti, DA, Kash KM, Kunkel EJS, et al (2012). Changes in cerebral blood flow and anxiety associated with an 8-week mindfulness programme in women with breast cancer. Stress and Health, 28 (5), 397–407.