Summary of Project
Background: Over the last several decades, mindfulness and programs in mind-body stress reduction (MBSR) have emerged as potential therapeutic options for patients with medical conditions such as depression, anxiety, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, insomnia, post-myocardial infarction treatment, and others. Evidence has also emerged that mindfulness may be an effective tool for medical students and healthcare practitioners in reducing stress and anxiety associated with training and practice. It has also shown promise for improving empathy and job satisfaction, while possibly preventing burn-out.
Objectives: This project aimed to study the role that mindfulness may play as an adjunct therapy for patients with chronic diseases, as well as its benefits for medical students and healthcare practitioners.
Methods: Online lectures and published articles were reviewed for studies that evaluated mindfulness as a treatment for chronic medical conditions and as a part of training for medical students and healthcare workers.
Results: (1) Mindfulness as a therapeutic option for patients with chronic medical conditions: Mindfulness and MBSR have been investigated as potential adjunct therapies for a wide range of chronic medical conditions. Investigation into its role in alleviating suffering has grown significantly, with a growing number of studies published in recent years. While individual trials have shown promising results, meta-analyses describe the challenge of aggregating data due to poor quality or inconsistent methodologies across studies. For example, authors of one meta-analysis found 64 relevant studies but could only include 20 of these in their analysis. (2) Mindfulness and healthcare professionals: The articles identified highlight the negative impact that stress can have on medical students and healthcare professionals. The documented negative effects of stress on healthcare workers include anxiety, depression, decreased job satisfaction, diminished personal relationships, and psychological distress. Professional effectiveness may decrease and patients may not get optimal care when practitioners are under severe stress. Mindfulness has been shown to positively benefit students and healthcare practitioners by reducing stress and anxiety, while increasing empathy and job satisfaction. Limitations to these findings are discussed below.
Conclusions: Mindfulness and MBSR may be beneficial, cost-effective interventions for many chronic conditions, including both mental and physical ailments. The data in support of mindfulness and MBSR as an adjunct therapy was strongest for alleviating pain, anxiety, and a wide range of symptoms associated with chronic medical conditions. Physical and mental conditions have been shown to improve with mindfulness and MBSR treatment. The studies reviewed showed potential benefits of mindfulness and MBSR on medical students and healthcare workers. However, future studies are needed that include more robust sample sizes, limit biases such as self-selecting subjects, include adequate control groups, maintain consistent methodology (such as standardized training of mindfulness and MBSR instructors) and statistical analysis across studies, measure long-term effects, and have more objectively defined study end-points.
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Nature 506 417 doi: 10.1038/506417a