Mindfulness meditation has always been associated with beneficial effects for certain health conditions, but most of the existing published research has focused on lengthy, weeks-long training programs.

David Creswell, from Carnegie Mellon University (Pennsylvania, USA), and colleagues report that as little as 25 minutes of mindfulness meditation practice for three consecutive days is effective for relieving psychological stress. The team asked 66 healthy individuals, ages 18 to 30 years, to participate in a three-day experiment. Some participants went through a brief mindfulness meditation training program; for 25 minutes for three consecutive days, the individuals were given breathing exercises to help them monitor their breath and pay attention to their present moment experiences. A second group of participants completed a matched three-day cognitive training program in which they were asked to critically analyze poetry in an effort to enhance problem-solving skills. Following the final training activity, all participants were asked to complete stressful speech and math tasks in front of stern-faced evaluators.

Each individual reported their stress levels in response to stressful speech and math performance stress tasks, and provided saliva samples for measurement of cortisol, commonly referred to as the stress hormone.   The participants who received the brief mindfulness meditation training reported reduced stress perceptions to the speech and math tasks, indicating that the mindfulness meditation fostered psychological stress resilience. More interestingly, on the biological side, the mindfulness mediation participants showed greater cortisol reactivity.

Writing that: “brief mindfulness meditation training buffers self-reported psychological stress reactivity, but also increases cortisol reactivity to social evaluative stress,” the study authors submit that: “This pattern may indicate that initially brief mindfulness meditation training fosters greater active coping efforts, resulting in reduced psychological stress appraisals and greater cortisol reactivity during social evaluative stressors.”

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Creswell JD, Pacilio LE, Lindsay EK, Brown KW.  “Brief mindfulness meditation training alters psychological and neuroendocrine responses to social evaluative stress.”  Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2014 Jun;44:1-12.