Mindfulness May be a Useful Tool for Dealing with Stress Associated with Autism

A look at the latest mindfulness research gathered from Providence College, Arizona State University, and others.

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Mindfulness may be a useful tool for dealing with stress associated with autism. Researchers at Arizona State University randomly assigned 56 adults with autism spectrum disorder to either a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) intervention, or relaxation training. Although members of both groups reported enhanced mental health-related quality of life at the end of their programs, those in the MBSR group showed greater improvements in both physical and mental health disability-related quality of life compared to those in the relaxation group. Women experienced greater overall health-related quality of life improvements than men regardless of which intervention they received.

Easing Teen Angst

Scientists from Germany and the UK recently found that 3 to 6 months of daily mindfulness-based training may buffer against long-term physiological and psychological stress. They randomly assigned 277 healthy adults with no meditation experience to either a 3-ora 9-month mindfulness group, or a control group. Both mindfulness groups were then divided into smaller training subgroups.

Participants in the 3-month group received 13 weeks of exercises focusing on compassion, loving-kindness, and gratitude. Those in the 9-month group attended 3 consecutive sessions of 13 weeks each, divided into 3 content areas: attention and body awareness; perspective-taking and paying attention to thoughts; and compassion, gratitude, and loving-kindness. Participants in both mindfulness groups were asked to engage in 30 minutes of mental practice 6 days per week for the duration of their program.

Cortisol and cortisone levels, biological markers of long-term stress, were collected at baseline and 4-month intervals from all groups, using hair samples. Perceived stress levels were assessed using a standard survey at similar time points.

Consistent mindfulness- based practice may reduce physiological stress over 6 months, then stabilize regardless of practice type.

Participants in both mindfulness groups showed a steady decrease—averaging 25%—in the concentration of stress biomarkers during the first 3 and 6 months of practice, regardless of training length or type. Stress hormone levels in the control group remained relatively stable over a 9-month period. This suggests that consistent mindfulness-based practice may reduce physiological stress over 6 months, then stabilize regardless of practice type, even for healthy individuals. Changes in perceived stress were unrelated to changes in stress biomarkers, however. That
is, perceptions of stress may persist despite physiological changes.

Keeping it Real at Work

The benefits of mindfulness at work may be mixed, according to two new studies from Providence College. In the first, employees were asked about their levels of trait mindfulness, whether they hid their emotions or adopted fake feelings at work (called “surface acting”), and how much they felt their self-control was depleted. Findings showed that workers with greater mindfulness were less likely to engage in surface acting. However, those who did surface act reported more depleted self-control.

In the second study, employees and their supervisors responded to the same survey questions at three different time points spaced six weeks apart. As in the first study, mindful employees reported less surface acting, but felt more depleted when they did hide their feelings.

Overall, these studies suggest that mindful employees who are aware of the disconnect between their feelings and actions are more likely to suffer from exhaustion and diminished work performance.