American scientists studied the effects of mindfulness meditation on stress levels and came to the conclusion that just three consecutive days of 25-minute meditation can significantly alleviate stress.
The technique of mindfulness meditation has helped many people to improve the overall state of their mind and body. However, until now, most studies have been mainly focused only on the therapeutic effects of the long-term meditation practice.
New research at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for the first time demonstrates that brief sessions of mindfulness meditation can significantly lower levels of psychological stress in just three days.
“More and more people report using meditation practices for stress reduction, but we know very little about how much you need to do for stress reduction and health benefits,” said J. David Creswell, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University and lead author of the study.
Creswell and his colleagues from the research team conducted a three-day experiment, which involved 66 healthy people aged 18 to 30 years. They were divided into two groups. The participants in the first group had to perform breathing exercises for 25 minutes daily, focusing on their experiences at the moment of inhalation or exhalation. The second group underwent a cognitive training program: the participants did a critical analysis of poetry, which was aimed to develop their ability to solve various problems.
Three days later, all subjects underwent a stress-challenge session: they were asked to give a speech and solve some mathematical problems in front of “stern” researchers. At the same time, the participants’ stress level was assessed by analyzing their stress perceptions and measuring their blood pressure and levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) in saliva samples.
As a result, the participants of the first group reported reduced stress levels when performing speech and completing math tasks. At the same time, the levels of cortisol in their saliva were increased. It can be explained by the fact that when a person does not have much experience in mindfulness meditation and just starts practicing it, he may find performing complex tasks less stressful, while there still will be physiological consequences of stress, and thus the production of cortisol in the body will be increased.
As professor Creswell said, “When you initially learn mindfulness mediation practices, you have to cognitively work at it – especially during a stressful task. And, these active cognitive efforts may result in the task feeling less stressful, but they may also have physiological costs with higher cortisol production“.
The results of the study were published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.