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Lions Roar : January 2018
of studies has grown, so has scientific skepticism about these initial claims. For example, a 2014 meta-analysis pub- lished in JAMA Internal Medicine exam- ined 47 randomized controlled trials of mindfulness meditation programs, which included a total of 3,515 participants. They found that meditation programs resulted only in small to moderate reduc- tions in anxiety and depression. Further- more, there was also low, insufficient, or no evidence of meditation programs’ effect on positive mood and feelings and substance use (as well as physical self-care like eating habits and sleep). According to the authors, meditation programs were not shown to be more beneficial than active treatments—such as exercise, therapy, or taking prescrip- tion drugs—on any outcomes of interest. The upshot? Meditation is generally good for your well-being, yes, but so far it doesn’t appear to be actually better than many other steps you can take to stay healthy and happy. It should definitely be considered an adjunct to, not a replace- ment for, other kinds of treatment for mental conditions like bipolar disorder. Mindfulness could have a positive impact on your relationships. There are many, many studies that find a positive link between mindfulness and relationship quality, which is probably a byproduct of the effects we’ve already described. For example, in one 2016 study, researchers measured mindfulness of 88 couples. Then they took cortisol levels in each couple before and after they dis- cussed a conflict in their relationship. Unsurprisingly, cortisol levels spiked during the discussion, a sign of high stress. But levels in the most mindful people—both men and women—were quicker to return to normal after the con- flict ended, suggesting they were keeping their cool. This result is echoed in many studies of mindfulness in romantic relationships from beginning to the very end—in fact, there are quite a few studies which find that mindfulness makes breakup and divorce easier. Mindfulness is also linked to better relationships with your kids. Studies have found that mindfulness practice can lessen stress, depression, and anxiety in parents of preschoolers and children with disabilities. Mindful parenting is also linked to more positive behavior in kids. A small 2016 pilot study used neural imaging to see how mindfulness prac- tice changes the brains of parents—and then asked the kids about the quality of their parenting. The results suggest that mindfulness practice seemed to activate the part of the brain involved in empa- thy and emotional regulation (the left anterior insula/inferior frontal gyrus) and that the children of parents who showed the most activation perceived the greatest improvement in the parent– child relationship. We must remember, however, that these studies are often very small, and the researchers themselves says results are very tentative. Mindfulness seems to reduce many kinds of bias. We are seeing more and more studies suggesting that practicing mindfulness can reduce psychological bias. PHOTOBYLIZAMATTHEWS