Everyone gets stressed, and we all deal with our stress in different ways — meditation, exercise, or eating chocolate, to name a few examples. But new research out of Carnegie Mellon’s psychology department shows that mindfulness meditation, a state of focusing on the present and interacting nonjudgementally with thoughts, may physically change your brain and help you feel better.
Mindfulness meditation is a form of focus exercise that can take many forms, but a common one involves sitting upright with closed eyes and focusing on breathing. When the mind wanders, one passively acknowledges thoughts and returns to focus on breathing. The idea is to focus on the present moment instead of thinking about the past or the future.
Over the past few decades, research into mindfulness meditation has shown that it helps improve a broad range of stress-related physical health, disease, and psychiatric outcomes, such as depression and anxiety, but little is known about the neurobiological mechanisms behind these positive health outcomes.
A new study published in Biological Psychiatry and led by David Creswell, an associate professor of psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, shows that mindfulness meditation reduces interleukin-6, a biomarker of systemic inflammation, in high-stress, unemployed adults more so than simple relaxation techniques.
“Not only did we show that mindfulness meditation training could reduce a health biomarker of inflammation, but we also showed what mindfulness training-related brain changes drove these beneficial health effects,” Creswell said.