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Buddhist meditation practices have become a topic of widespread interest in both science and medicine. Traditional Buddhist formulations describe meditation as a state of relaxed alertness that must guard against both excessive hyperarousal (restlessness) and excessive hypoarousal (drowsiness, sleep). Modern applications of meditation have emphasized the hypoarousing and relaxing effects without as much emphasis on the arousing or alertness-promoting effects. In an attempt to counterbalance the plethora of data demonstrating the relaxing and hypoarousing effects of Buddhist meditation, this interdisciplinary review aims to provide evidence of meditation’s arousing or wake-promoting effects by drawing both from Buddhist textual sources and from scientific studies, including subjective, behavioral, and neuroimaging studies during wakefulness, meditation, and sleep. Factors that may influence whether meditation increases or decreases arousal are discussed, with particular emphasis on dose, expertise, and contemplative trajectory. The course of meditative progress suggests a nonlinear multiphasic trajectory such that early phases that are more effortful may produce more fatigue and sleep propensity, while later stages produce greater wakefulness as a result of neuroplastic changes and more efficient processing.

The high likelihood of recurrence in depression is linked to a progressive increase in emotional reactivity to stress (stress sensitization). Mindfulness-based therapies teach mindfulness skills designed to decrease emotional reactivity in the face of negative affect-producing stressors. The primary aim of the current study was to assess whether Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is efficacious in reducing emotional reactivity to social evaluative threat in a clinical sample with recurrent depression. A secondary aim was to assess whether improvement in emotional reactivity mediates improvements in depressive symptoms. Fifty-two individuals with partially remitted depression were randomized into an 8-week MBCT course or a waitlist control condition. All participants underwent the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) before and after the 8-week trial period. Emotional reactivity to stress was assessed with the Spielberger State Anxiety Inventory at several time points before, during, and after the stressor. MBCT was associated with decreased emotional reactivity to social stress, specifically during the recovery (post-stressor) phase of the TSST. Waitlist controls showed an increase in anticipatory (pre-stressor) anxiety that was absent in the MBCT group. Improvements in emotional reactivity partially mediated improvements in depressive symptoms. Limitations include small sample size, lack of objective or treatment adherence measures, and non-generalizability to more severely depressed populations. Given that emotional reactivity to stress is an important psychopathological process underlying the chronic and recurrent nature of depression, these findings suggest that mindfulness skills are important in adaptive emotion regulation when coping with stress.

Objective: Chronic pain is a disabling illness, often comorbid with depression. We performed a randomized controlled pilot study on mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) targeting depression in a chronic pain population.Method: Participants with chronic pain lasting ≥ 3 months; DSM-IV major depressive disorder (MDD), dysthymic disorder, or depressive disorder not otherwise specified; and a 16-item Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology-Clinician Rated (QIDS-C16) score ≥ 6 were randomly assigned to MBCT (n = 26) or waitlist (n = 14). We adapted the original MBCT intervention for depression relapse prevention by modifying the psychoeducation and cognitive-behavioral therapy elements to an actively depressed chronic pain population. We analyzed an intent-to-treat (ITT) and a per-protocol sample; the per-protocol sample included participants in the MBCT group who completed at least 4 of 8 sessions. Changes in scores on the QIDS-C16 and 17-item Hamilton Depression Rating Sale (HDRS17) were the primary outcome measures. Pain, quality of life, and anxiety were secondary outcome measures. Data collection took place between January 2012 and July 2013. Results: Nineteen participants (73%) completed the MBCT program. No significant adverse events were reported in either treatment group. ITT analysis (n = 40) revealed no significant differences. Repeated-measures analyses of variance for the per-protocol sample (n = 33) revealed a significant treatment × time interaction (F1,31 = 4.67, P = .039, η2p = 0.13) for QIDS-C16 score, driven by a significant decrease in the MBCT group (t18 = 5.15, P < .001, d = 1.6), but not in the control group (t13 = 2.01, P = .066). The HDRS17 scores did not differ significantly between groups. The study ended before the projected sample size was obtained, which might have prevented effect detection in some outcome measures. Conclusions: MBCT shows potential as a treatment for depression in individuals with chronic pain, but larger controlled trials are needed.