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Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

Topic Overview

What is mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)?

MBSR is a program that helps you learn to calm your mind and body to help you cope with illness, pain, and stress.

MBSR teaches "mindfulness," a focus only on things happening in the present moment. For example, you may sit quietly and think only about how your body feels. You might focus only on the sounds around you or how your food tastes and smells. When you are mindful, you do just one thing and you pay close attention to that one thing.

By training your mind to focus only on the present, you learn not to get lost in regrets from the past or worries about the future. Letting go of such thoughts may help you worry less and accept things as they are.

How does MBSR work?

To help you focus your mind on the present, a class in MBSR usually teaches you to:

  1. Focus your attention on your entire body, starting with your feet and ending at your head. As you do this "body scan," you might note places where you're tense or have pain. You might notice how your belly rises and falls as you breathe.
  2. Focus on thoughts and distractions running through your mind without judging them. You might, for example, note that a thought about work ran through your mind. And rather than worrying about the thought, you just let it float by.
  3. Practice yoga breathing exercises, stretches, and poses to strengthen and relax muscles.

Try MBSR on your own

  • When you go outside, take a few deep breaths. What's the air like? Is it warm or cold? How does the warmth or chill feel on your body? Try to accept that feeling and not resist it.
  • Eat a meal in silence. Don't do anything but focus on your food. Eat slowly, and savor each bite.
  • When you can, take some time at the beginning of your day to sit alone and think. Focus on your breathing. Gaze out the window, and listen to the sounds outdoors. Or take a slow walk by yourself.
  • If you can do this at work, try to stop for a few moments each hour. Note how your body feels. Let yourself regroup and your mind settle before you return to what you were doing.

How effective is MBSR?

Studies show that MBSR can reduce stress and help people relax. Studies of people who have type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, chronic pain, and other problems show that MBSR helped some people cope better with symptoms and improved their quality of life.

Research also shows that MBSR helped people sleep better and feel less anxious, and it helped ease depression symptoms. In some people, MBSR also helped improve blood sugar and blood pressure. 1, 2, 3

Related Information

References

Citations

  1. Merkes M (2010). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for people with chronic diseases. Australian Journal of Primary Health, 16(3): 200–210.
  2. Ledesma D, Kumano H (2009). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and cancer: A meta-analysis. Psycho-Oncology, 18(6): 571–579.
  3. Chiesa A, Serretti A (2009). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for stress management in healthy people: A review and meta-analysis. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(5): 593–600.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Catherine D. Serio, PhD - Behavioral Health
Last Revised May 23, 2011

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