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While much attention has been devoted to examining the beneficial effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programs on patients' ability to cope with various chronic medical conditions, most studies have relied on self-report measures of improvement. Given that these measures may not accurately reflect physiological conditions, there is a need for an objective marker of improvement in research evaluating the beneficial effects of stress management programs. Cortisol is the major stress hormone in the human organism and as such is a promising candidate measure in the study of the effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programs. In conjunction with other biological measures, the use of cortisol levels as a physiological marker of stress may be useful to validate self-reported benefits attributed to this program. In the current manuscript, we review the available literature on the role of cortisol as a physiological marker for improvement with regards to mindfulness practice, and make recommendations for future study designs.

Demands faced by health care professionals include heavy caseloads, limited control over the work environment, long hours, as well as organizational structures and systems in transition. Such conditions have been directly linked to increased stress and symptoms of burnout, which in turn, have adverse consequences for clinicians and the quality of care that is provided to patients. Consequently, there exists an impetus for the development of curriculum aimed at fostering wellness and the necessary self-care skills for clinicians. This review will examine the potential benefits of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programs aimed at enhancing well-being and coping with stress in this population. Empirical evidence indicates that participation in MBSR yields benefits for clinicians in the domains of physical and mental health. Conceptual and methodological limitations of the existing studies and suggestions for future research are discussed.

Summary Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a program that has been shown to be beneficial for clinical and non-clinical populations. While much attention has been paid to participants’ outcomes, little work has been published concerning processes underlying improvements. Herein, women who had finished medical treatment for breast cancer completed questionnaires pre- and post-MBSR and were interviewed using focus group methodology such that quantitative and qualitative data were combined to explore potential mechanisms underlying changes. It was found that the Mindfulness Attention Awareness Scale was a useful process measure to assess changes in mindfulness and that the Coping with Health Injuries and Problems questionnaire was useful in documenting changes in palliative (self-care) coping over the course of the 8 week program. Moreover, the Sense of Coherence questionnaire suggested that the women viewed life as more meaningful and manageable following MSBR. Our findings fit with Shapiro et al.'s theory that, over time, participants in an MBSR program “reperceive” what they encounter in their daily experiences.