Using MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) To Decrease Anxiety – A Personal Experiment
My Personal Anxiety Backstory
I have suffered with varying degrees of anxiety probably since my childhood. In my early 30's (as I write this, I'm now 34) I went through a period of severe perceived stress (meaning all stress is relative), and my anxiety through this time went to a whole new level and I also experienced a very overwhelming case of insomnia to go along with it, along with some other harder to categorise symptoms.
Since that period, MOST of the symptoms I experienced have calmed down a lot, but I still have much higher anxiety levels than I used to before the stressful period occurred.
The anxiety manifests itself mainly via the following common symptoms:
- Physical tension (especially in the stomach/chest)
- Excessive worry/Obsessive thinking
- Severely lowered stress tolerance
- Difficult falling asleep, and sleeping through the night
I believe that anxiety can stem from a multitude of causes, and to some degree is a normal function of human life, but in many cases where anxiety is present to the point where it's a problem in someone's life, is due to an “over wiring” of the stress response, which quite often happens at an early age, via traumatic experiences, etc.
The good news is, with the new understanding in Neuroscience known as Neuroplasticity (the brain's “plastic” nature, and it's ability to “rewire” and restructure itself using specific attention based training methods like MBSR which we'll discuss shortly), I believe we can actually rewire this anxiety response (actually it's not only my belief I have to go on, there are a lot of studies into this – some of which I'll link to below).
With that rewiring, we can change our general experience of life to be more calm and more enjoyable, as we learn to shut off the anxiety producing centres of the brain.
How Can Mediation Change Our Anxious Brains?
I've known about the benefits of meditation on and off since my mid-teens, and practiced on and off throughout the years, but have never really developed a strong, disciplined practice which has lasted. More recently I've looked into specific meditation based training which has more objective and science based “proof”, especially when it concerns helping things like anxiety.
The main branch that I came across is known as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, and it's results when it comes to decreasing anxiety and stress over a relatively short period of time are very promising.
Growing Calm, and Decreasing Anxiety With Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction
I have more recently come across the specific branch of mediation known as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) which has a substantial and ever growing amount of published documentation on it's effectiveness in helping people overcome anxiety and depression specifically, and just in general to be much calmer, more happy, and more effective in general.
I have found a free online version of the 8 week MBSR course, and will be doing a personal experiment into how it affects my anxiety and general happiness and contentment over that time. The free online MBSR course that I will be using can be found here: Palouse Mindfulness Free MBSR Online Course
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Scientific Studies On Mindfulness Based Mental Health Improvements
Here are some of the studies that show MBSR's efficacy when it comes to general stress reduction, and improvements in specific mental health areas such as the afforementioned and very common issues of anxiety and depression;
- The shape of change in perceived stress, negative affect, and stress sensitivity during mindfulness-based stress reduction. (Pubmed.gov)
- Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Anxiety and Depression. (Pubmed.gov)
- Yoga, mindfulness-based stress reduction and stress-related physiological measures: A meta-analysis. (Pubmed.gov)
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Older Adults With Stress Disorders and Neurocognitive Difficulties: A Randomized Controlled Trial. (Pubmed.gov)
There are more studies which can be found, for example just doing a search via the pubmed database here for “MBSR” or “Mindfulness based stress reduction” should yield quite a lot of returns. I simply listed a few above to show you an example of the kind of science based evidence that's being developed for this line of meditation.
My Experiment And Log
So I have just began doing the 8 week course (the free Palouse MBSR course posted above) and seeing how it affects my levels of anxiety. I will use this section of this blog post to post my thoughts and comments about the process, and hopefully share my gains. I will organise my notes and log for the course on a week by week basis, as you can see below:
Week 1 Notes & Comments