Mindfulness training could help protect university students against stress and anxiety, according to a new randomized controlled trial published in BMC Psychology. The findings provide evidence that brief meditation sessions can help to reduce psychological distress.
“My interest in mindfulness and meditation began with my search for tools and strategies that I could use to manage my own emotions,” said study author Geissy Lima-Araújo, a postdoctoral researcher at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil.
“After started meditating, I felt the benefits in myself and wandered what science was saying about these practices. In that time, it was around the end of 2014, I was working in a very different research topic covering brain development and decided to change my PhD thesis to focus on mindfulness practices.”
In the study, 40 university students with no previous meditation or yoga experience were randomly assigned to mindfulness training or active control groups. Those in the mindfulness training group participated in 30-minute audio-guided meditation sessions for three days in a row. Those in the active control group, on the other hand, listened to audio containing educational health information and colored pictures for 30 minutes for three days.
To measure changes in hormone levels, the researchers collected blood samples from the participants before and after the three-day interventions. The participants also completed a variety of psychological assessments.
Lima-Araújo and her colleagues found that both the mindfulness training and the active control interventions were associated with reductions in levels of the stress hormone cortisol and improvements in mood. Only mindfulness training, however, was associated with reductions in anxiety and perceived stress.
“We showed that if we pay attention to the sensations of the breath for 30 minutes for three consecutive days with a mindful attitude (in a non-judgmentally, open, and curious way), we can perceive less stress and anxiety after the practice when compared with our active control group,” Lima-Araújo told PsyPost.
“Moreover, this brief training was able to induce a more present state of consciousness in the subjects of the study and this state mediates the increase of positive affect and the decrease of stress perception and cortisol levels.”
The researchers also found that people who tend to have a more mindful disposition also tend to have lower anxiety levels.
“We also showed people who have high trait mindfulness (measured with the Five Facets of Mindfulness questionnaire) have lower anxiety and perceived stress,” Lima-Araújo explained. “People with this characteristic tend to focus on the present moment, embodying the mindful attitude more easily than people with low trait mindfulness. This is interesting because, through mindfulness training, we can change not only the mindfulness state, but also trait mindfulness that seems to be protective and improves levels of measures of wellbeing.”
But the study — like all research — includes some caveats.
“This study does not have a follow up with the participants to investigate how long the effects of a brief mindfulness training would last,” Lima-Araújo said. “It would also be interesting to know the frequency needed to have long lasting effects and future studies should address those questions using larger and, preferably, diverse populations.”
“Mindfulness is a very simple, low-cost, and effective practice to reduce anxiety and stress,” she added. “We are facing challenging times with the global pandemic and this kind of practice can help us to navigate through these uncertain times, helping us to cultivate a more peaceful and meaningful life. It just takes a feel minutes and requires our presence to breath consciously.”
The study, “Brief mindfulness-based training and mindfulness trait attenuate psychological stress in university students: a randomized controlled trial“, was authored by Geovan Menezes de Sousa, Geissy Lainny de Lima-Araújo, Dráulio Barros de Araújo, and Maria Bernardete Cordeiro de Sousa.