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The ways of the Iceman.

A number of my friends are extoling the benefits from following the practices outlined by “Dutch Iceman”  Wim Hof – these include breathing exercises to increase the effectiveness of our breathing and building up a tolerance of exposure to cold water or freezing environments.

Hof explains that through breathing exercises and repeated exposure to the cold, his method will lead to real health benefits: more energy, lowered stress levels and an improved immune system. He says this enables him to undertake seemingly superhuman feats of endurance.  Hof says that if we breathe properly, then the oxygen levels in our tissues increase and adrenaline floods the body, granting strength that we didn’t know we had.

“If you oxygenize the body the way we do it, the oxygen gets into the tissue. Regular breathing doesn’t do that. What happens in the brain stem, the brain says, ‘There is no oxygen anymore’ and then it triggers adrenaline to shoot out throughout the body. Adrenaline is for survival, but this time it is completely controlled … the adrenaline shoots throughout the body and resets it to the best functionality.”

You can find out more about Wim Hof’s method at his website here. https://www.wimhofmethod.com.

Now to be clear, it seems that not only is Wim Hoff improving the effectiveness of the breathing, he is controlling oxygen within the body to trigger the release of adrenalin.  This is combined with exposures to cold environments or to cold water baths that will build up a tolerance.   NB: There is a lot of research that shows that exposure to such cold situations can have therapeutic effects, including boosting the immune system – and that these effects are long lasting.

It seems to me that the practice of the Wim Hof’s methods may also increase one’s mindfulness – and so deliver the associated benefits:  breath focus is a practice that quietens the mind… developing an ability to focus and to avoid distractions (external or internal); while authority over one’s emotional reaction to cold shock is about the mind recognising the reactions yet being able to quench the automatic impulses (fight or flight); is developing an authority over ones emotional responses.  Of course, Wim Off is seeking to develop other skills and attributes – yet I believe that these mindfulness skills will help to improve concentration – and even attain “flow states” – as well making one less impulsive and able to develop better executive function.

Wim Hof’s method is much more than mindfulness … but followers will reap the benefits of becoming more mindful

Subliminal Messages?

Is it possible to influence people or even to control them by sending subliminal messages – messages or images delivered in such a way that they bypass the consciousness so that the recipient remains unaware that they have received such messages?

I listed recently to Mathew Syed’s BBC radio 4 programme “Sidesways” focussing on a 1990s court case in Nevada where the families of two young men who had committed suicide accused the rock band Judas Priest of including subliminal messages in their 1975 album track “Better by you better than me”

It is a great listen.  Here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000xdqc

It turned out that the first amendment didn’t protect the right to send subliminal messages… so it was “game on” in court.

The plaintives presented a series of experts who sighted examples of alleged subliminal messaging in sound, images and graphics to trigger violent or sexual thoughts. Further, there was a whole industry in 1980s… and still today…    providing self-help help audios to enable folk to give-up cigarettes and break other auctions, improve your golf… boost your self-confidence etc, etc. Plus, it was a common belief in the USA that the Chinese had used subliminal messaging to brain wash us military prisoners.

The concept, it was thought, relied upon the idea of sending “hidden” or “obscured” messages to subjects, so that their conscious executive function did not register or consider such messages. These messages would then change beliefs and thoughts without subjects even being aware of such messages – brain washing or even controlling individuals… or mass populations.

However, the clear scientific research demonstrated that subliminal messaging does not work.   To persuade people one has to win trust and provide persuasive arguments.

Spoiler: The court ruled that the plaintives had not demonstrated that Judas priest had inserted any subliminal messages into the relevant album – and had not demonstrated that the two young men acted because of the music that they had listened to. The case was thrown out.

Yet the weird thing is that many people still believe in the power of subliminal messaging – positive and negative – being an effective way to control people. Perhaps they have received subliminal messages to that effect!

(NB: If it did work we would be deluged by such subliminal messages from politicians, religions and marketeers).

Just to bring this subject back home I would reflect that MBCT… a mix of mindfulness and CBT… carefully explains how our thoughts and emotions work so that we can become aware of these processes and can exert an authority to prevent ourselves becoming overwhelmed or distracted.  Nothing subliminal about it – it’s right there.

At key moments in sport – be exactly where your feet are.

Last month golfer Phil Mickelson “pulled off the impossible”, by winning the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. In doing so at 50 years of age, he became the oldest player to win a major championship, breaking Julis Boros’ record that stood for 53 years.

Explaining what lay behind his feat Mickelson highlighted his mindfulness practice -,  having previously been honest about his problems focusing. He would hit good shots and even piece together good rounds, but he’d have a hard time stacking good rounds on top of one another or re-focusing when something takes him out of the zone. Yet this scenario is totally normal.

“I’m making more and more progress just by trying to elongate my focus..… I might try to elongate the time that I end up meditating. I’m trying to use my mind like a muscle and just expand it…   because as I’ve gotten older, it’s been more difficult for me to maintain a sharp focus, a good visualization and see the shot.”

Dr. Bhrett McCabe, who works with a number of PGA Tour pros says “As we age, it typically takes more effort to sustain focus. Golf is so hard because the mind is flooded constantly with processes and challenges that make it so hard to stay focused. You add in a major championship… it’s brutal.”

My own view about sports psychology is that it has two applications:– in training and in competition. I have previously looked at research that shows that mindfulness will help athletes to find “flow” in their training and to be more open to coaching… less harsh on themselves and to be more able to deal with setbacks.  Further, in teams sports,  there is research to show that mindful team members are more empathetic and supportive of each other… thereby building a better team spirit.

In this post I want to focus on performance… at key moments in sport. At competition time, mindfulness training can help in two ways – first in enabling athletes to focus so they make better decisions; and secondly to prevent athletes from being distracted by previous failures and or by the significance of the moment.

A few weeks ago, Peterborough United forward Johnson Clarke-Harris scored a penalty kick deep into extra time to secure promotion to the Championship – that was big moment… but, as Clarke-Harris stepped up to take the penalty, any thoughts or worries about the significance of his kick would not have been helpful to him.

I noticed, that in one research trial, volleyball players showed a greater performance improvement than soccer players when introduced to mindfulness (… though the soccer players did improve significantly).  This difference may reflect the case that soccer [mostly] is “continuous” (except for set pieces including penalty kicks) while volleyball is a series of serves and rallies – so perhaps it is more important for the whole volleyball team to settle and to focus as they prepare for each serve.

So – how can sports men and sports women best avoid distraction and focus on just doing their thing?

American sports psychologist Michael Gervais works with athletes in “high stakes, consequential environments.”  You can read a great interview with Michael from GQ magazine here. https://www.gq.com/story/michael-gervais-sports-psychology-interview

In his work Gervais’s helps athletes to be focussed in situations which may be very distracting (the significance of the moment or even the noise of the crowd).  The success of his clients demonstrates Gervais’s view that awareness might actually be a future pillar of elite sports performance (alongside nutrition, recovery, and strength and conditioning, which, Gervais, points out, were once viewed with cynicism, too).

I will just highlight a couple of topics from Gervais’s interview:

Re Confidence: “Confidence comes from one place and one place only: what you say to yourself. It’s not just built on past success. The good news is that ultimately, we are responsible for what we say to ourselves. It’s a trainable skill. So, by default, confidence is trainable, and it’s 100% under our control.”

Re choking (self-doubt that causes athletes to over focus on technique that they have automated): “Usually it’s about “The moment is big and I don’t feel like I have the skills, so I feel small. I don’t have the skills to manage the moment.” So is the moment big? There’s really no such thing as a big moment in my mind. You’ve heard it your whole life: the Super Bowl is a big game. And I can create a narrative where that’s true. But when I strip it down, it’s no different. More people are watching. But the rules are the same. The balls are the same. The consequences are the same. One team wins, one team loses.  The only person that changes the stakes is the person performing. The media need to make it big, because they need eyeballs. That’s their business. As an athlete, most of us, we have to make an informed decision early on. So  the Super Bowl is like every other game. A game is a game. So do you have the ability to be where your feet are? And are you going to change that because people are watching?”

On retaining focus at big moments: “Now there are real changes that can happen after winning…. but really what it comes down to is how you respond to now. So that’s the mission here: figure out how to train your inner world—your mind —so that you can be exactly where your feet are in any environment, in any situation, in any circumstance. If you can do that, the outcomes will take care of themselves.”

I like the way Gervais talks – he can acknowledges that moments may be significant – but an athlete must be able to set all that aside and “be where there feet are” and even tell them selves that they can do that… that they can shut it all out – so that their focus is on their preparation ritual and on their kick, shot, serve, stroke or jump.

Online mindfulness training early can reduce stress, anxiety and COVID-19 concern

We can all observe that  fear, anxiety and stress associated with the COVID-19 pandemic has had a big impact on mental health over the last 15months.  So it is good news that a new study suggests these symptoms may be alleviated through convenient online mindfulness practices.

Here is a neat trail involving 233 participants from across the world. The trail comprised a pre-session survey, a single 15-minute online mindfulness meditation session and a post-session survey. The surveys evaluated momentary stress, anxiety and COVID-19 concern. (Here)

The results were very positive:

  • 89% of participants said the session was helpful
  • 76% of participants reported decreased anxiety
  • 80% reported decreased stress,
  • and 55% had decreased COVID-19 concern

It is worth noting that a fifth participants were retired; suggesting that age did not prevent accessibility or effectiveness.

Online (or app based) self-help is “on demand” and so it is accessible to subjects wherever and whenever they prefer to use it.  We have received many similar such comments for users of our own Rezl app.  If you are someone you know is anxious about the impact of the pandemic  or are worrying about the future then please contact us.

 

Resilience for Covid-19  mental wellbeing problems

The Covid-19  pandemic has caused fear and worry over the possible  impact on our friends, family and ourselves.  It has revealed the world as an uncertain place.  Further… lockdowns, social distancing and media coverage may have added to the impact of the pandemic on our  mental wellbeing.  So it is important that we understand such relationships and how they may be reduced.

In June 2020 researchers from Columbia, Spain and Chile carried out research to understand these mechanisms: the paper “The impact of the Covid-19  pandemic on subjective mental well-being: The interplay of perceived threat, future anxiety and resilience” by Paredes et al and published in the journal of Personality and Individual Differences ,Feb 2021.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7552984/pdf/main.pdf

The researchers questioned 711 people to measure their “subjective mental  wellbeing”, their level of “perceived threat” from Covid-19, their  “future anxiety” (i.e. how they felt about future uncertainty or threats) and their resilience – a personality trait representing their capacity to deal with stressful events..

The research demonstrated that there was strong link between the level of threat perceived and the subjective mental wellbeing of the subjects.  It also demonstrated a significant link between the perceived levels of threat on the future anxiety of the subjects; and that this future anxiety added to the subjective mental wellbeing of the subjects.

The research showed that “resilience” significantly reduced the “future anxiety” within subjects and this in turn significantly improved the mental wellbeing of the subjects.

The researchers commented: “This finding implies that resilience, as a personality trait, prepares individuals to cope with the pandemic’s adverse effects. Individuals with higher levels of resilience reported lower levels of future anxiety and, in turn, lower effects on subjective mental wellbeing, experiencing greater success in coping with the emotional distress provoked by the pandemic.

Interestingly, the research demonstrated that resilience significantly raised the mental wellbeing of both those who experienced a low threat from the Covid-19 pandemic and well as those perceiving a high threat.  So even those who were not so stressed by the pandemic experienced a boost to their mental wellbeing from their resilience.

The researchers went on the highlight “Mindfulness Interventions” as a proven way to boost resilience.  Further, they suggested that, because social media consumption and news outlets may provide confusing information which  increases fear and anxiety, then Governments should implement clear communication strategies. Communication campaigns should promote messages encouraging preventive actions to avoid the spread of the virus. Messages should be concise and focused on practical ways to reduce risk and create tranquillity in the population; and that during, and in the aftermath of, the pandemic it is essential to open communication channels through digital media to provide mental health services.

The researchers concluded that the perceived threats from the pandemic had a detrimental impact on mental health and this impact is reduced by resilience.

“Individuals with higher resilience are less susceptible to the pandemic’s negative psychological consequences because they experience a lower increase in future anxiety, compared to individuals with lower levels of resilience. Our findings imply that mental health intervention strategies aimed at strengthening resilience and preventing future anxiety have a significant potential to mitigate the adverse impact on mental well-being of the Covid-19 pandemic itself and the social measures adopted to curb the pandemic.”

So, to be clear, it is not too late to increase your reliance and so reduced your “anxiety about the future” – the Rezl smartphone app uses Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy to increase resilience.  Please get itn contact if you would like to try it.

Mindfulness Based Interventions for Eating Disorders

The recent death at 38 of Big Brother star Nikki Grahame sadly highlights how those living with anorexia are prone to relapse.  Nikki tried very hard overcome her anorexia.  Yet despite support from her family and friends – and from well-wishers who raised tens of thousands of pounds for her treatment – she was unable to avoid further episodes.

This sad news made me wonder about the possibility of mindfulness being used to enable people to avoid compulsive habits like eating disorders.

I found a 2020 paper from University College London which describes a systematic review of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) on this subject:  “Effects of Mindfulness-Based Intervention on the Treatment of Problematic Eating Behaviors: A Systematic Review” by Yu et al and published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. (Here)

The research identified RCTs investigating the impact of Mindfulness Based Interventions on eating disorders.  Nine out of 426 studies met the quality criteria of the review.  In the majority of qualifying studies, participants in “Mindfulness Based Intervention groups” showed a significant reduction in emotional eating (eating in response to emotional events), external eating (overeating because of availability or adjacency of food), binge eating, and weight and shape concern.

The studies suggested that increasing “mindful awareness of internal experiences” improved self-acceptance and emotional regulation, thereby reducing the problematic eating behaviours.  I.e. subjects became less preoccupied with their body-shape and more able to set aside emotions or negative thoughts… and hence less likely to adopt problematic behaviours.

So, Mindfulness Based Interventions can enhance the individual’s self-acceptance and reduce negativity relating to body appearance through self-criticism and judgment that may trigger uncontrolled eating; and in fact previous research has shown that although mindfulness is not primarily focused on helping people to reach their ideal body shape, it does encourage people to accept their present state and to worry less about it.

However, the results were not so promising for excessive dieting.  Six of the studies included measures of “restrained eating behaviour”. Some of these studies found an increase in dietary restraint within Mindfulness Based Intervention groups as distinct from control groups.

Why should this be? It might be that “restrained eating” has both external and internal drivers, while the MBIs may be more effective in promoting internal awareness and self-regulation they did not address the external drivers for such behaviour.  Personally, I worry that some participants were able to use mindfulness techniques to set aside hunger pangs and thoughts of food – such that mindfulness skills may be a tool that can assist such dysfunctional behaviour.  My own conclusion is that those with anorexia require speciality counselling and should not embark on casual mindfulness interventions.

Overall, the researchers conclude: “Mindfulness practices can boost self-regulation, improve the ability to tolerate distress, and deter psychologically induced dysfunctional behaviours, thereby reducing the amount of problematic eating behaviours.”

So, if someone is prone to overeating, “emotional eating” or “external eating” then mindfulness will help.  It will help people to be lees concerned about body shape and self-image.  Yet where someone is prone to restricting their eating then specialist help should be sought.

Little does she know that I know that she knows that I know she’s two-timing me.

Do any of you remember the 1976 track from the Kursaal Flyers?

I have been thinking about “Theory of Mind”.  This is our ability to recognise the perspective of another person and to understanding that that may not share the same knowledge, thoughts and feelings as we do.  For example: if we see there are two boxes, A & B, and we see a boy and a girl hide some chocolate in box A; but then the boy leaves and while he is gone the girl switches the chocolate to box B . In this situation we expect, that upon his return, the boy will believe that the chocolate in still in Box A… i.e. his perspective is not the same as that of the girl or of ourselves (the observer). There is quick explanation of Theory of Mind here.

Now, being able to “read the thoughts of other”, appreciating that they may have a different understanding of a situation to ourselves, allows us to predict their actions – and similarly, we may look at someone’s actions and infer what their understanding or beliefs about a situation may be. If John leaves his home with an umbrella, we can infer that he believes that it may rain even though we have seen a sunny forecast and that there is no cloud in the sky.  So Theory of Mind does not (necessarily) deal with truth or reality… it deals with our ability to understand what feelings, thoughts or beliefs other people may be experiencing.

Tests show that children develop the ability demonstrate a grasp of Theory of Mind at about 4 years old – it is verbal reasoning; (but interestingly there have been tests that monitor emotional reactions to situations – like “surprise” – that suggest that younger children have some kind of Theory of Mind yet they will give the wrong verbal answer when asked to think about it).

Theory of Mind is beautifully explained by Professor Uta Frith of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London here .

Theory of Mind is important in the study of Autism. It is commonly thought that people on the autistic spectrum lack empathy – yet in many cases their empathetic abilities are intact but they do lack “Theory of Mind”.  This means that they are unable to understand, second by second, the viewpoints of others (i.e. their understanding, worries, objectives, aspirations etc) and so they are unable to respond appropriately to such concerns.  This makes “reciprocal conversation” very difficult; they cannot infer from peoples’ reactions what others may feel or know as a conversation goes on.  Further, it can mean that people with autism may not comply with social norms in conversations – failing to understand that some statements may cause offense or may be upsetting or shocking to the person they are talking to.  Further, most of us are prepared to tell “white lies” to put people at ease or to avoid being offence – “how was your meal?” – “Delicious!” – yet those without Theory of Mind will not do so.

So, for most of us our Theory of Mind – our ability to “mentalize” i.e. to “mindread” what others may be thinking – is completely natural and instinctive. Yet thinking about Theory of Mind made me wonder if, in the same way that some people have an impaired ability to mentalize, then some people might have a  “super” Theory of Mind ability – i.e. to be able to put together all kinds of clues from a person’s behaviours or statements and experiences so that they may automatically (without thought) become aware of exactly what feelings someone may have, what actions someone may take or even the questions that are about to ask… in the short term and even in the longer term.

Before closing I would add that if this post has attracted those with an interest in autism then there is significant research that mindfulness practice can be a real benefit to those with autism and for those caring for people with autism – both to reduce anxieties and to improve social interaction through focus and an enhanced ability to pause rather than reacting instinctively. For example:   https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/06/200603100501.htm   or  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5968048/

Burnout in Big Consulting and Accounting Organisations

A recent piece in the FT highlighted the increase in burnout amongst junior staff in professional services companies: “Junior lawyers and consultants are warning they are suffering burnout after working longer hours in isolation during the pandemic, sparking fears of an exodus from the biggest global law and advisory firms.  Soaring demand for legal and corporate advice during the Covid-19 crisis and a global shift to remote working have resulted in a growing mental health problem among younger professional workers, according to senior partners.” (Here)

We are talking about the big audit firms, management consultancies, corporate lawyers and investments banks – where there is often a culture of working to deadlines – whatever it takes.  The FT mentions that recently, a group of first-year analysts at Goldman Sachs told management they had been working an average of 95 hours per week and suffering from insomnia and anxiety. More widely, this trend is causing fears of an exodus from the biggest global law and advisory firms.

The key signs of “approaching burnout” are insomnia and anxiety along with irritability, emotional swings and restlessness.  Yet many junior workers in these organisations may feel unable to say that cannot meet deadlines – and it is worth noting that internally, such organisations are often very competitive: if you get the promotion, then I don’t.

Let’s be curious and stand back.

The World Health Organisation identifies “burnout” specifically as a “workplace issue”:  officially described as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”:

“It is characterised by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy. Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

Key symptoms of burnout include fatigue; increased anxietyLack of motivation; lack of self-care and the emergence of severe health issues: typically, symptoms may start with back pain, migraines and eye-strain or feeling like you’re drowning in your workload and have led to strokes and even heart attacks for some business professionals who refused to seek help.

It is no surprise that studies on burnout often identify a lack of autonomy as being a feature of environments with a lot of burnout.

Worse – burnout can creep up on you. I expect we all have friends and family who have suddenly suffered from “adrenal breakdown” or from the symptoms listed above – and the onset of such symptoms can often come as a shock… and be bewildering for the sufferer.  Yet a previous post shows (here) that many people significantly over estimate their current level of resilience and so a “burnout episode” can strike from out of the blue.  Worse, I have watched friends in high performing jobs start to suffer from such symptoms and then compound the situation by adding anxiety as they start to experience self-doubt and wonder how that can continue to earn at their current rate given how they feel… what will be the impact on their lifestyle and loved ones?  For many, it may be the first time that that have to admit to themselves, let alone anyone else, that they are not invincible.

The Rezl Toolbox has a tutorial and a mediation to help people to deal with stress in a mindful way:

“I am able to pause, to take stock and to set aside intractable issues   …such as thoughts of unresolvable situations or of anxieties about the future – as these are not helping me right now! I can set aside low priority issues for now. I can show myself self-compassion and understanding.   I can say that this is my experience right now – yet it won’t always be so”.

“I am self-confident… so that I can seek the views and support of others.”   This is so important. Better to be open and to seek support; and for expectations to be reset… giving a feeling of relief.

“I can prioritise the things that require my focus – which may include getting help or resetting expectations…. so that I have the time to resolve the current situation; so that I have a clear way forward and so that I can focus on each task ahead.  All these actions are available to me.   Some involve sharing.  In most cases, the instinct to keep things “bottled up” or hidden just makes things worse and ensures that the situation may be repeated over and over. “

Please get in contact if you would like to try it.

Substance Misuse – Mindfulness and Ecstasy

I noticed some recent newspaper reports suggesting that MDMA (aka the recreational drug Ecstasy) is effective in helping alcoholics to reduced their drinking.  The research was conducted at University College London by Professor David Nutt.  You may recall Professor Nutt was previously the government’s “Drugs Tsar” as chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.  He was fired from this post in 2009 after speaking out to suggest that there was a mismatch between lawmakers’ classification recreational drugs – suggesting that illicit drugs should be classified according to the actual evidence of the harm they caused.  To this end he presented an analysis which revealed that alcohol or tobacco were more harmful than LSD, ecstasy or cannabis.  Further, I have heard Professor Nutt talk about the opportunity to repurpose some drugs that are currently controlled in order to effectively treat mental illness and addictions.

The recent news reports centred on a study by Professor Nutt and his team at University College London showing that Ecstasy can be used to treat alcoholism – as it seems to enable addicts to confront their pasts.

In a trial, addicts were given doses of the Class A drug MDMA during two of eight psychotherapy sessions.  Before the therapy, they had been drinking an average of about 130 units a week – yet nine months later, 79 per cent of those who had taken the MDMA therapy were still consuming less than 14 units of alcohol per week, compared with just 25 per cent of people who had sought standard NHS care.

Prof Nutt’s work made me wonder about trials investigating the possibility of using Mindfulness to help people with substance abuse and addiction problems.

In fact, there are many published papers detailing research into the effectiveness of Mindfulness interventions to help reduced addictive behaviours – alcoholism, binge drinking smoking and drug addictions – to reducing cravings and dependency… and as a mollifiers for stress.  It took me a little longer to find studies looking at the long-term effect (where the effects lasted beyond the period of the study interventions) – but pleasingly there are a number of excellent random controlled trials that show such lasting impact.

One typical example is this 2014 paper “Relative Efficacy of Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention, Standard Relapse Prevention, and Treatment as Usual for Substance Use Disorders A Randomized Clinical Trial (Sarah Bowden et al – from the Addictive Behaviors Research Center, Seattle, Washington – published in JAMA Psychiatry). (Here).

This research contrasted the use of “Mindfulness-based relapse prevention” (MBRP) with a “cognitive-behavioural relapse prevention program“ (RP)  and  also with “treatment as usual” (TAU)  – a 12 step counselling program. A total of 286 eligible individuals who had successfully completed initial treatment for substance use disorders were randomized to MBRP, RP, or TAU and attended eight weekly sessions for their given program.  They were then monitored for 12 months.

The trail showed that in comparison with TAU, both MBRP and RP significantly reduced risk of relapse risk to drug use and heavy drinking at 6 months; and at the 12-month follow-up, MBRP was more effective than both RP and TAU in reducing drug use and heavy drinking.  The researchers commented:

“Targeted mindfulness practices may support long-term outcomes by strengthening the ability to monitor and skilfully cope with discomfort associated with craving or negative affect, thus supporting long-term outcomes.”

This is just one example of many such research projects to show that Mindfulness interventions really can support people to reduce heavy drinking and drug use over the long term.

It will be interesting to see if Professor Nutt’s “ecstasy treatment” requires “maintenance sessions” to continue the progress made – my hope and expectation is that most of his subjects will have changed their habit for the long-term as a result of his program.

One final comment: most of the research I found was centred on the use of drugs, alcohol and/or tobacco – it would be interesting to look at the effectiveness of Ecstasy on other addictive behaviours like gambling, self-harm, eating disorders etc which have also shown a positive response to mindfulness interventions.

MBCT will reduce social anxiety and increase self-esteem in adolescent girls

I have written before about social anxiety: Social Anxiety Disorder is more than just shyness or nervousness.  While many people get nervous or self-conscious on occasions, Social Anxiety Disorder involves an intense fear of certain social situations — especially situations that are unfamiliar or in which people feel that they will be judged by others; and where they are afraid that they won’t “measure up” or that they will be exposed as inferior.  Just thinking about such situations may cause them to get anxious and they may go to great lengths to avoid them, disrupting their lives in the process.

And it is not unusual, nor confined to adults. Social anxiety is one of the most common psychological disorders amongst children and adolescents – and it has profound effects on their psychological states and academic achievements. The lifetime prevalence of Social Anxiety Disorder is 9.5% in females and 4.9% in males; the six-month prevalence rate is about 2% – 3%; yet and among high-school adolescents this rate increases to 5% – 10%.  Children and adolescents diagnosed with social anxiety are prone to academic problems, drug abuse, long periods of disability, and considerable pathologies in their daily lives and social relationships.

In summary, it’s a significant problem for adolescents… and especially for girls.

So, I was encouraged to read of a paper published in 2016 investigating the effectiveness of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) to reduce social anxiety and to increase self-esteem in adolescent females diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. (Here.)

The research identified high school girls (mean age 14) as subjects by using the established  (DSM-VI-TR-Axis) criteria for Social Anxiety Disorder; and then randomly accolated them to an “intervention group” and a control group.  The Intervention group were given eight weekly MBCT sessions and asked to work on MBCT mediations at home.  The two groups were assessed before and after the intervention:  the Social Phobia Inventory was used to assess social phobia and social anxiety; and Rosenburg’s Self Esteem Scale was used to measure the self-esteem of the participants.

Social Phobia Inventory (SPIN) questionnaire was developed in order to assess social anxiety or social phobia. This inventory is a self-assessment scale with 17 items including three subscales of phobia (6 items), avoidance (7 items), and physiological distress (4 items). Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale (RSES) is a 10-item scale is to measure self-esteem. Originally, the scale was designed to assess the self-esteem of high school students. However, since its development, the scale has been used with a wider variety of groups including adults.

So, what did the study show?  The results showed that the social anxiety scores of the intervention group showed a significant decrease compared to their pre-test results, and the mean of the self-esteem scores of the intervention group members showed an increase compared to their pre-test results. These changes were not observed in the control group.  For the intervention group the mean SPIN score was reduced from 26.07 to 21.50 and the RSES scored increased from 0.89 to 2.58.

The researchers concluded: “The results revealed that the MBCT sessions significantly decreased social anxiety and increased self-esteem among the female adolescents suffering from social anxiety.”

So, if you are o someone you know is feeling anxious in social situations and have low self-esteem then MBCT may well be beneficial.  Try it.