Brief mindfulness meditation practice—as little as 25 minutes per day for 3 days—can reduce the perception of stress during nerve-wracking tasks, says a study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology (2014; doi: 10.1016/j.jpsyneuen.2014.02.007).
This is good news for those discouraged by lengthier recommendations—such as the 45 minutes of daily practice recommended in the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program popularized by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD.
“More and more people report using meditation practices for stress reduction, but we know very little about how much you need to do for stress reduction and health benefits,” said lead study author J. David Creswell, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, in a Carnegie Mellon University news release.
Researchers assigned 66 male and female participants aged 18–30 to either a mindfulness meditation program or a control group that received analytic cognitive skills training. After 3 days of 25 minutes of training per day, all subjects participated in a challenging task. Investigators collected data on self-reported stress levels and on measures of salivary cortisol levels and blood pressure.
Compared with the cognitive skills group, meditators had lower self-reported stress levels but higher blood cortisol levels. Creswell offered a theory to explain this result: “When you initially learn mindfulness meditation practices, you have to cognitively work at it—especially during a stressful task. And these active cognitive efforts may result in the task feeling less stressful, but they may also have physiological costs with higher cortisol production.” Creswell thinks that as mindfulness becomes more automatic and requires less concentration over time, cortisol production will decrease. More research is needed.