A very brief meditation intervention — just 75 minutes spread over three days — can reduce the psychological reaction to stressful events.
The conclusion comes from a study which also found that the short training session was most beneficial for those who were naturally the least mindful in their everyday lives (Creswell et al., 2014).
Lead author, J. David Creswell, explained the motivation for the study:
“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.”
Many previous studies on meditation look at the effects of 8 or 10-week courses: a length of time that is not practical for many.
For this study, 66 participants were given three 25-minute training sessions on consecutive days:
- In a control group, half the participants critically analysed poetry to improve their problem-solving skills.
- In a meditation group, the other half of the participants were taught the basics of mindfulness meditation: how to focus on your breath, focus your attention and be ‘in the moment’.
After their brief training sessions, people had to give a stressful speech and complete math tasks in front of a panel of stern-faced evaluators.
Once completed, they were asked how stressed they were during the tests and asked to provide a sample of their saliva to measure their levels of cortisol, the ‘stress hormone’.
Those in the mindfulness training group reported feeling less stressed but their cortisol levels spiked higher.
The researchers think this reflects a dual effect of the meditation.
Not only does it make you feel less stressed, but it also represents more active coping and greater engagement with the task, which is why cortisol levels were higher.
“When you initially learn mindfulness meditation 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.”
→ Find out more about the benefits of meditation.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: c_liecht
→ This post is part of a series on meditation:
- Meditation Benefits: 10 Ways It Helps Your Mind
- Meditation Changes How Genes Are Expressed
- Cognition Accelerated by Just 4 x 20 Minutes Meditation
- How Meditation Improves Attention
- Meditation Can ‘Debias’ the Mind in Only 15 Minutes
- Meditation is an Effective Treatment for Depression, Anxiety and Pain
- Mindfulness: 6 Steps to Better Memory, Verbal Reasoning and Improved Concentration
- Mindfulness at School Decreases Chance of Developing Depression
- 8 Wonderful Psychological Effects of Being Compassionate
- Mindfulness Meditation: 8 Quick Exercises That Fit into Your Day
- Meditation: The Minimum Amount That Works