Mindfulness increases quality of life and brings about positive change in our cognitive and neurobiological dynamics. It also transforms the way in which someone views himself and the world, and how they respond to their surroundings. This broad effectiveness makes mindfulness a suitable therapy option for a wide range of quality issues and problems.
Stress and quality of life
A meta-analysis by Chiesa and Serretti (2009) looked into the effect of mindfulness in healthy individuals, ultimately concluding that mindfulness does indeed have the power to improve quality of life. Mindfulness training given to a non-clinical group was, for example, proven to be effective in reducing stress, worrying, and anxiety, while boosting empathy and self-compassion.
Ivanovski and Malhi (2007) compiled an overall study of insight meditation, mindfulness, and neurophysiological effects. Neurophysiological effects can be measured using electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). One key study from this compilation was the one by Dunn et al. (1999), which showed that mindfulness practice produces theta, alpha, and gamma brain waves. The theta activity was tied strongly to experience in meditation. These findings pointed at heightened awareness, alertness, and cognitive activity (tasks, working memory) after practising mindfulness.
Attention and concentration
Research by Valentine and Sweet (1999) showed that mindfulness meditators performed significantly better on concentration tests. And Jha, Krompinger, and Baime (2007) demonstrated that people who had taken mindfulness training were better able to focus their attention on the present moment. In their study, Tang et al. (2007) concluded that mindfulness practitioners performed considerably better when performing tasks that require concentration in comparison to a control group that had taken relaxation training instead of mindfulness training.
Davidson et al. (2003) conducted a randomised study into the effects of mindfulness on the immune system. After the training, all participants were injected with a flu vaccine to study the effects of mindfulness on the immune system. The immune system of the mindfulness group was found to function better than that of the control group.
Klatt et al. (2008) conducted a randomised and controlled study into the effectiveness of non-intensive mindfulness training given to adults in a workplace environment. After taking the training, the employees showed higher levels of mindfulness skills, as well as a significant reduction in stress in comparison to the control group.
Winbush et al. (2007) put together a stocktaking study of the benefits of mindfulness in cases of sleep problems, concluding that there is evidence to suggest that practising mindfulness will improve sleep quality and that participants in mindfulness training did indeed see sleep-impairing processes (such as worrying) reduced.
Miller, Fletcher, and Kabat-Zinn (1995) ran a study without a control group to assess the effectiveness of mindfulness in people suffering from an anxiety disorder. After taking the training, the participants showed a clear reduction in their anxiety and panic. And a follow-up study conducted three years later showed that the results proved to be long-lasting.
Bohlmeijer et al. (2009) conducted a meta-analysis of the effects of mindfulness training in people suffering from a chronic illness. In total, they ran eight randomised effect studies. The target groups in these studies included people with sleep problems, cancer, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, or heart problems. On the whole, the effect in terms of reduction of depression was found to be small, while the effect in terms of reduction of anxiety was found to be average.
Oskam et al. (2009) performed a meta-analysis of the effects of acceptance-based interventions in cases of chronic pain. A total of fifteen controlled studies were found and included in the meta-analysis. In twelve of these studies, the intervention used was mindfulness training. The target groups consisted mainly of people who suffered from chronic pain and specific pain (such as pain in their lower back). Significant reductions in pain intensity and depression symptoms were found.
Research into the effects of mindfulness in people with depression symptoms showed a decrease in anxiety and depression symptoms (Kenny and Williams (2007) and Finucane and Mercer (2006)). Mindfulness proved particularly effective in people who had suffered three or more bouts of depression in the past. Teasdale et al. (2000) compared mindfulness-based treatment to regular treatment, and they found that the mindfulness-based treatment had major effect in people who had suffered more than two clinical depressions in the past.
There is proof of mindfulness’ efficacy in reducing alcohol addiction and substance abuse. This was supported by Marlatt et al. (2004) through a study conducted among prisoners and non-prisoners, which showed that alcohol and substance abuse reduced after mindfulness training, while drink-related cognitions improved, as did optimism, self-regulations, and motivation.
Telch et al. (2001) showed the effects of mindfulness-based treatment for women with a binge eating disorder. After taking the training, 89% of participants ceased to have eating binges, compared to 12.5% of the control group. Participants in the mindfulness-based training saw their urge to binge eat drop in situations of emotional instability and were less worried about their weight, figure, and eating habits.
A more comprehensive version of this article is available for download in PDF format. This PDF contains all the references to all the literature cited above.