Feeling Lonely? Try Meditating

According to a new study, mindfulness can help with feeling of loneliness.

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More mindfulness, less loneliness 

Half of US adults report feeling lonely and isolated. According to a new study, mindfulness could help. A study at the University of Pittsburgh asked 153 self-identified stressed people to try a 14-lesson smartphone-based training to curb loneliness and social isolation. About one-third practiced acceptance and paying attention to thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, both core aspects of mindfulness. The rest received either attention training or learned tools for coping with stress.

Researchers used smartphones instead of in-person work to see if learning new skills would boost social contact and reduce loneliness. After two weeks, the acceptance and attention group participants had roughly two more social contacts per day, and were 22% less lonely. The other groups showed little change. Researchers concluded that having an attitude of acceptance and paying attention to our experience can increase social connection and reduce loneliness.  

Sport performance gets a boost from mindfulness 

Being an elite athlete comes with its share of stress. Sixty-nine Swedish competitive athletes new to mindfulness completed either a Mindfulness-Acceptance and Commitment (MAC) intervention, or Psychological Skills Training (PST). Both were designed to increase athletic performance. Unlike PST, MAC training emphasizes present-moment awareness, attention, and acceptance.

Seven weeks later MAC-trained athletes showed superior improvements in sport-related mindfulness, emotion regulation, and athletic performance compared to PST group members. The study’s authors attribute these results to MAC group athletes’ improved ability to focus, regulate emotion, and adapt to stress.

MBCT: a treatment for chronic pain?

Chronic low-back pain affects millions globally and can be debilitating and hard to treat. A study at the University of Queensland in Australia found Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) may reduce its symptoms. Researchers had three groups of 23 people either attend MBCT classes, receive mindfulness meditation training, or undergo cognitive therapy for eight weeks. Their pain, mood, physical functioning, and medication use were evaluated immediately after training, and three and six months later.

Following training, participants in all three groups reported significant decreases in pain interference (the degree to which pain interferes with functioning), pain intensity, and depression, and better physical function. Improvements in pain interference over time were better in the MBCT group than the other approaches. For physical functioning, both the MBCT and cognitive therapy groups showed more improvement over time than adults in the mindfulness meditation group.

The findings suggest that for some, cognitive therapies may be more fitting, while others may gain more from meditation, or a combination of mindfulness principles and cognitive therapy. 

Breath awareness may improve brain efficiency

Breath awareness training may help keep us sharp into old age. In a study conducted by researchers at the University of Granada, the University of Liverpool, and Liverpool John Moores University, 21 healthy adults received four hours of mindfulness instruction and were asked to practice mindful breath awareness daily for 10 minutes per day over three weeks. Readings of brain activation during their performance on computer tests found them to be less impulsive and better able to effectively and accurately solve complex problems compared to adults with no meditation experience. The more they meditated, the better their results.