Acceptance Seen As Critical to Mindfulness App's Effectiveness

New research supports the use of mindfulness meditation mobile apps as a method to reduce the body’s response to biological stress.

The Carnegie Mellon University-led study discovered that one component of mindfulness interventions is particularly important for impacting stress biology. Acceptance, or learning how to be open and accepting of the way things are in each moment, is critical for the training’s stress reduction effects.

Researchers believe their findings provide the first scientific evidence that a brief mindfulness meditation mobile app that incorporates acceptance training reduces cortisol and systolic blood pressure in response to stress.

“We have known that mindfulness training programs can buffer stress, but we haven’t figured out how they work,” said Dr. David Creswell, associate professor of psychology in Carnegie Mellon University’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

The study, published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, was led by Emily Lindsay, Ph.D., and provides initial evidence that the acceptance training component is critical for driving the stress reduction benefits of mindfulness training programs.

Investigators studied 144 stressed adults. The participants were randomly assigned to one of three smartphone-based interventions: training in monitoring the present moment with acceptance, training in monitoring the present moment only, or active control training.

Each participant completed one 20-minute daily lesson for 14 days. Then, they were placed in a stressful situation while their cortisol levels and blood pressure were measured.

The results showed that the participants in the combined monitoring and acceptance program had reduced cortisol and systolic blood pressure reactivity. Their blood pressure responses were approximately 20 percent lower than those in the two interventions that did not include acceptance training. Their cortisol responses were also more than 50 percent lower.

“Not only were we able to show that acceptance is a critical part of mindfulness training, but we’ve demonstrated for the first time that a short, systematic smartphone mindfulness program helps to reduce the impact of stress on the body,” said Lindsay, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Pittsburgh.

“We all experience stress in our lives, but this study shows that it’s possible to learn skills that improve the way our bodies respond to stress with as little as two weeks of dedicated practice. Rather than fighting to get rid of unpleasant feelings, welcoming and accepting these feelings during stressful moments is key.”

Source: Carnegie Mellon University