Mindfulness and Its Effects on Health And Wellbeing

By: The Mindfulness Initiative

Mother and children smiling and posing while scuba diving

The following excerpt is from our friends at The Mindfulness Initiative. The RethinkCare app leverages techniques consistent with the noted research for MBSR and MBCT. 

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.” – Constitution of World Health Organization, 1948

According to research, various measures of subjective wellbeing (e.g., positive feelings, optimism, self-esteem, etc.) predict later physical health and length of life. A higher level of wellbeing increases resistance to developing illness and protection in the course of physical illness by reducing the response to stress and improving our immune system functioning .

Programs to improve wellbeing can focus on individuals (e.g., positive psychology & coaching, mindfulness or exercise) or changing the context and environment (e.g., whole workplace approaches, building social connections to reduce loneliness or parenting programs to create a nurturing environment for children, etc.).

The Development of Mindfulness for Health 

Mindfulness can be understood as a natural human capacity, an ability to pay attention in a particular way. The cultivation of this capacity through training has its roots in the wisdom traditions of Asia. Over recent decades people in the field of medicine have brought mindfulness practice into their own self-care and their work with patients. In 1979 Jon Kabat-Zinn worked with patients with long-term conditions in the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and developed a structured program now called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), incorporating different forms of meditative practice. This program has now been used in many different health settings to help people manage many different conditions.

In the UK, Mark Williams, then Professor of Clinical Psychology at Bangor University, together with John Teasdale at the Medical Research Council, Cambridge, UK and Professor Zindel Segal at the University of Toronto, developed Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) to reduce the risk of recurrent depression (one of the largest burdens of poor mental health across the globe). Prevention is needed because the main method currently used to try to treat depression – antidepressants – creates unpleasant side-effects for some and cannot be used by others – for example women planning pregnancy. Moreover, about half the people taking antidepressant medication stop taking them prematurely and this can be a major issue as the risk of relapse and recurrence is high.

Research shows that MBCT is effective in preventing depression and it has been recommended as a treatment by NICE since 2004. However, it is not yet available in all areas. MBSR and MBCT have now been extensively researched and are generally provided in the form of an 8-12 week course led by a trained teacher. The surprise, for those involved at the start, has been the rapid growth of mindfulness in other applications and its spread to people who may not be experiencing clinical depression currently but who find the practice sustains good mental health. While MBCT was originally conceived as a preventive treatment (offered once people were no longer experiencing current depression), it is increasingly used as treatment of depression, with good results comparable to CBT.

New programs, such as Mindfulness-Based Pain Management, are also growing in usage globally, although they have a less extensive research literature as yet. Mindfulness techniques can be learned in online courses or apps like RethinkCare, through books, or in short sessions in workplaces but the structured courses delivered in person by trained and accredited teachers are still regarded as the gold standard, they help create community and human connection, and are underpinned by extensive research.

About the Author: This excerpt was edited and reprinted with the permission of our friends at The Mindfulness Initiative. To learn more about their work, please visit www.themindfulnessinitiative.org.

Find the original work here.

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