Surrounded by responsibilities from work and family and constant bombardment via phone, email and television, reducing stress is difficult, if not seeming impossible.
Yet the dangerous effects of stress on our minds, bodies and overall quality of life is a regular topic of conversation.
Recently, the effects of mindfulness meditation have been taking over the stage, with more and more people choosing to partake in the Buddhist meditation practice. According to some, it offers a way to get ahead of the stress accompanied with today's busy world.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University led by J. David Creswell conducted a study comparing the stress levels of individuals during stressful tasks, after they had undergone either 25 minutes of mindfulness meditation or a cognitive training program using poetry analysis, each for three consecutive days
Some of the 66 young, healthy subjects meditated, and some went through cognitive training. After the programs, all the subjects were individually given stressful speech and math tests, proctored by severe, unfriendly evaluators.
Researchers then measured the individuals' responses to the stressful activity using a Trier Social Stress Test (TSST). First, the subjects reported their overall feelings of stress during the tests. Then, the researchers took saliva samples and tested for cortisol levels. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is a commonly used measurement device for stress levels.
The subjects that underwent mindfulness meditation prior to the stressful tasks reported significantly less stress during the tasks than those that underwent the poetry analysis cognition program. Yet the meditators also displayed higher levels of cortisol.
Creswell explains that, while the tasks feel less stressful for the meditators, "they may also have physiological costs with higher cortisol production" as a result of the cognitive work put into mindfulness meditation. The practice isn't easy. According to the University of California, Berkeley, mindfulness meditation involves intensely focusing on the present rather than the past or the future, and requires lots of focus. This is one likely explanation for the high cortisol levels seen in the meditative subjects.
Creswell and his colleagues published their findings in Psychoneuroendocrinology in June. The data is supported by a few other studies that aimed to measure both the physiological and mental effects of mindfulness meditation, a practice that is slowly making waves in non-Buddhist cultures.
Many online videos and training programs are available for those who would like to try mindfulness meditation. If the results of this study are accurate and valid, one only needs 25 minutes of meditation daily to feel the effects and reduce stress.