Practice mindfulness if you want to reduce stress and anxiety

Note: This research is part of a series of assignments for Cognitive Psychology, part of my MSc in Psychology.

Mindfulness means “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, p. 4, 1994). Thus, mindfulness is a practice that takes us to the present moment, where we exist with awareness of ourselves and our environment, paying attention to what we experience and living consciously (Germer, 2013).

A clinical application of mindfulness and an effective mindfulness intervention is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, developed initially to manage chronic pain and treat emotional and behavioural disorders. It consists of building awareness of daily life experiences and paying attention to body sensations through yoga practices and stretching  (Bishop et al., 2004). Meditation is another mindfulness practice proven to foster coping efforts, reduce stress, and increase cortisol reactivity during social evaluative stressors (Creswell et al., 2014). The broader effects of mindfulness interventions are increased physical health, better coping with chronic pain, stress related to chronic pain, improved sleep, and reduced behaviours such as smoking and sweets consumption. It also supports the regulation of emotions and maladaptive thoughts and relieves anxiety and depression symptoms (Creswell, 2017), thus having the potential to alleviate anxiety and depression caused by the COVID-19 pandemic (Behan, 2020).

Mindfulness meditation alleviates the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. From Harvard University. (2018, April 10). Mindfulness research probes depression benefits [Video]. YouTube. Accessed on July 8, 2021. 

Is mindfulness universally beneficial? Too much of a good thing could have adverse effects: high levels of focused attention have been associated with worse mental health, increased depression and anxiety (Sahdra et al., 2017); qualities associated with mindfulness (such as acceptance, nonjudgment, patience, trust, resilience) can have undesirable costs in certain situations (Grant & Schwartz, 2011); the influence that mindfulness has on the amygdala (dampening negative emotions, associated with improved anxiety, depression and emotional regulation) might not be positive, it can also attenuate positive emotions (Kral et al., 2018). 

Figure 1. fMRI images of amygdala activation after mindfulness meditation training


Note: functional magnetic resonance images show amygdala activation when the person watches images with emotional content before (left) and after (right) mindfulness meditation practice; the amygdala is less activated after meditation training. Reprinted from “When science meets mindfulness. Researchers study how it seems to change the brain in depressed patients.”, by A. Powell, 2018, The Harvard Gazette. Retrieved on July 8, 2021, from

Figure 2. Proven health benefits of mindfulness practice


Note: mindfulness practice has positive effects on people’s health: improving memory, reducing stress, improving sleep, improve management of chronic pain are just a few of its benefits. Reprinted from 12 Fascinating Ways Mindfulness Can Improve Your Mental (and Physical) Health, According to Science, in Real Simple, 2020, from  


Behan, C. (2020, May 14). The benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices during times of crisis such as COVID-19. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine. Cambridge University Press.

Bishop, S. R., Lau, M., Shapiro, S., Carlson, L., Anderson, N. D., Carmody, J., Segal, Z. V., Abbey, S., Speca, M., Velting, D., & Devins, G. (2004). Mindfulness: A proposed operational definition. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11(3), 230–241.

Creswell, J. D., Pacilio, L. E., Lindsay, E.K., Brown, K. W. (2014). Brief mindfulness meditation training alters psychological and neuroendocrine responses to social evaluative stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 44:1–12

Creswell, J. D. (2017). Mindfulness Interventions, Annual Review of Psychology. 68:1, 491-516

Germer, C. K. (2013). Mindfulness: What is it? What does it matter? In C. K. Germer, R. D. Siegel, & P. R. Fulton (Eds.), Mindfulness and psychotherapy (pp. 3–35). The Guilford Press.

Grant, A.M.,  Schwartz, B. (2011). Too much of a good thing: the challenge and opportunity of the inverted U, Perspect Psychol Sci, 6, pp. 61-76

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: mindfulness meditation in everyday life. Hyperion, New York. 

Kral, T.R.A, Schuyler, B.S.,  Mumford, J.A., Rosenkranz,  M.A., Lutz, A., Davidson, R.J. (2018). Impact of short- and long-term mindfulness meditation training on amygdala reactivity to emotional stimuli. Neuroimage, 181, pp. 301-313

Sahdra, B., Ciarrochi, J., Parker, P., Basarkod, G.,  Bradshaw, E., Baer, R. (2017). Are people mindful in different ways? Disentangling the quantity and quality of mindfulness in latent profiles and exploring their links to mental health and life effectiveness. Eur J Pers, 31, pp. 347-365

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