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Harnessing the power of mindfulness to improve health and wellbeing

Friday, 22 April 2022

Two new peer-reviewed publications from Barwon Health and Deakin University researchers have highlighted the potential for mindfulness to improve health outcomes for people with depression, anxiety and Crohn’s Disease.

The research compares traditional therapies with and without mindfulness activities, which are defined as the practice of paying attention to your present thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgement.

Deakin researchers in collaboration with researchers from Barwon Health Mental Health, Drug, & Alcohol Services and IMPACT investigated the effects of a yoga program, a movement practice that fosters mindfulness, when added to the gold standard cognitive behavioural therapy for depression or anxiety. They found that cognitive behavioural therapy is more effective with yoga for reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression in participants at the completion of treatment. The combination may also be more effective than cognitive behavioural therapy alone for sustaining improvements in depression over a three-month period.

A/Prof Melissa O’Shea, lead investigator of the yoga study, said the findings could offer an additional benefit for people who want to get the most out of their cognitive behavioural therapy.

“A compelling rationale is emerging for yoga as a complementary treatment for the management for depression and anxiety,” she said.

Researchers from Deakin University and Barwon Health Department of Gastroenterology examined the impact of a mindfulness program on participants with Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis. People with these conditions commonly experience low levels of subjective wellbeing (a person’s assessment of their satisfaction with life). Their research found that taking part in a regular mindfulness practice increased the odds of a participant with Crohn’s Disease reporting normal levels of subjective wellbeing.

Lead investigator Dr Kimina Lyall said the research was a positive sign for people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) who are at risk of mental health impacts.

“We have known for a long time that people with IBD are at greater risk of mental health challenges, and this study confirms that,” Dr Lyall said.

“It also provides some hope that adjunct treatments and lifestyle changes such as practicing mindfulness can support psychological resilience, particularly for people with Crohn’s disease, which is typically the more complex inflammatory bowel disease condition.”

More research is required to further assess these techniques as clinical treatments; however, both studies support the intriguing relationship between mindfulness and the psychological symptoms that can accompany common conditions affecting a person’s mental and physical health.

Learn more:

  • O'Shea M, Capon H, Skvarc D, Evans S, McIver S, Harris J, Houston E, Berk M. A pragmatic preference trial of therapeutic yoga as an adjunct to group cognitive behaviour therapy versus group CBT alone for depression and anxiety. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2022 Mar 14:S0165-0327(22)00268-3.
  • Lyall K, Beswick L, Evans S, Cummins RA, Mikocka-Walus A. Mindfulness Practice Is Associated With Subjective Wellbeing Homeostasis Resilience in People With Crohn's Disease but Not Ulcerative Colitis. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2022 Feb 28;13:797701.