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Mindful : December 2014
Beating Negative Rumination A study by Natasha Odou and Jay Brinker at Australian National University suggests that writing about a negative experience from a self-compassionate stance could signifi- cantly improve mood by allowing people to process (rather than avoid) negative emotions—a core mindfulness principle. The researchers also found that significant improvement in mood occurred after only 10 minutes of practice—meaning that people could use the exercise to improve their mood soon after a distressing event occurs. While staying aware of and open to their experience in the moment, they could also effectively avoid spinning into a rumi- native, depressive downward spiral. Odou and Brinker acknowledged that depression involves factors beyond negative mood that need to be taken into account. But their findings are impor tant because self-compassion practice and rumination both involve the so-called “default mode” of processing in the brain, whereby the mind is free to meander or play, making new associations and links on its own. This study suggests that while the brain is in that mode of processing, a self- compassionate writing exercise allows par ticipants to stay open to and accepting of experience. Conversely, in that same mode of processing, writing in an unfil- tered, emotionally expressive way leads to the kind of ruminative thinking that simply makes matters worse. IS A SENSE OF PURPOSE A KEY TO A LONGER LIFE? Recent st udies link a sense of purpose to a longer and healthier life. But these studies all had the same limitation: They focused on adults older than 60. A recent study published in the journal Psychologi- cal Science explored whether the positive health effects of having a purpose in life also extend to younger adults. Researchers Patrick Hill and Nicholas Turiano followed over 7,000 adults for 14 years. During that time, nine percent of the sample died—and, in analyzing the data, the researchers found that having a sense of purpose was a critical factor in determining who lived, for how long. The researchers concluded that greater purpose still predicted greater longevity in adulthood. But perhaps most significantly, they found that maintaining a strong purpose can be as important to young adults as it is to older people. DIGITAL MINDFULNESS Does mindfulness work in the bottom-line- driven workplace, or is it just a frivolous feel-good program? And can the training be delivered online, which saves money and offers maximum flexibility to the em- ployee? A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine sought to determine whether an online mindfulness prog ram, created for the Dow Chemical Company, could cut stress while enhancing the resiliency and well-being of employees. Eighty-nine participants completed scientific scales designed to measure their deg ree of stress, mindful- ness, resiliency, and vigor. They were then divided into two groups—one to take the online class and one to sit on the wait list. After the first group finished, the research- ers came six months later to see how everyone was doing. They found that the group that took the class was less stressed, more resilient, and more energetic than the group that couldn’t yet take the class. “This online mindfulness inter vention seems to be both practical and effective in...en- hancing overall employee well-being,” the researchers concluded. For individual study citations, please visit mindful.org/ researchroundup SCHOOLKIDS LESS STRESSED In Frontiers in Psychology, German re- searchers systematically reviewed 24 stud- ies of school-based mindfulness interven- tions. Collectively, these studies involved over 2,000 students, ranging in grade from first to twelfth. All in all, the researchers say, mindfulness-based inter ventions in children hold promise, particularly in rela- tion to improving cognitive performance and resilience to stress. “The available evi- dence,” they conclude, “certainly justifies allocating resources to such implementa- tions and evaluations.” MOTHERS OF DISABLED CHILDREN FIND SOME HELP FOR ANXIETY Many studies have focused on therapies for children with severe disabilities, but their parents’ stress has been largely overlooked. A new study in the journal Pediatrics sug- gests that mindfulness techniques can help moms caring for profoundly disabled kids. Elisabeth Dykens and her colleag ues ran- domly assigned 243 mothers to a six-week group treatment prog ram that employed either mindfulness techniques or positive psychology exercises designed to foster virtues like gratitude and patience. At the beginning of the st udy, 85 percent of the mothers reported significant stress levels— almost half were clinically depressed. Both treatments worked to reduce these prob- lems. But the mindfulness g roup showed more immediate improvement than did those in the positive psychology interven- tion, reporting less anxiety, depression, and insomnia. The researchers suggest mindfulness may have a more visceral impact on the body. ● Research compiled by the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and compiled and written by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. 18 mindful December 2014 science Research Roundup