SAN DIEGO— During a Psych Congress 2019 presentation, speakers discussed the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation to improve symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders.

Psych Congress Steering Committee member Saundra Jain, MA, PsyD, LPC, identified the effectiveness of the practice of meditation and how it was associated with an increase in gray matter volume in 4 areas of the brain in brain imaging research. It was also was observed in other beneficial changes in the activation of parts of the brain.

“Mindfulness meditation practices are effective interventions, and sometimes for mild to moderate conditions—depression and anxiety—super-effective as front lines,” said Dr. Jain, Adjunct Clinical Affiliate, School of Nursing, The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Jain noted that mindfulness meditation practices can also be used as an adjunctive treatment for patients already on medication.

According to Michele Hauser, MD, Director, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, Austin, Texas, mindfulness practices were used Europe in the 1700s and 1800s, becoming popular in the West in the mid-20th century. But since 1999, scientific research in the field has surged.

Practitioners of mindfulness meditation choose a secular “target” to focus on, such as their breath or a mantra. As their attention wanders to other thoughts, they observe and acknowledge the thoughts then let them go and return to the target. Using a visual example like clouds in a sky or leaves in a stream can help patients with the process of letting their thoughts go, Dr. Hauser said.

The practice helps reset the balance in the brain that is often disrupted in people with mental health disorders, Dr. Jain said, adding “think about mindfulness as a way to soften, dampen, or quiet that internal chatter.”

This particular practice of meditation teaches people how to actively respond to stressful thoughts and situations instead of just reacting to them, according to Dr. Hauser.  “Instead of spiraling downward into increasing anxiety and depression, we’re able to stop that spiral and respond in a more appropriate fashion,” she explained.

The benefits are seen with as little as 10 minutes a day, research has shown that is sig beneficial when it is practiced every day.