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Study shows how online mindfulness interventions can reduce work-related rumination and fatigue, and improve sleep quality


Work these days often comes with long hours, emo­tion­al­ly drain­ing col­leagues, and com­plex prob­lems that require an enor­mous amount of men­tal ener­gy. So it’s no sur­prise that many of us have a hard time leav­ing work-relat­ed thoughts at the office.

Sur­veys have shown that between 16 and 25 per­cent of the work­force have reg­u­lar issues of not being able to switch off and are upset or dis­tressed by work-relat­ed thoughts,” says Mark Crop­ley, a pro­fes­sor of health psy­chol­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Sur­rey. That can lead to a host of men­tal and phys­i­cal health issues, includ­ing dif­fi­cul­ty focus­ing and depres­sion.

But a new study from Crop­ley and his col­leagues sug­gests that a lit­tle prac­tice in mindfulness—non-judgmental, focused atten­tion on our moment-to-moment thoughts, emo­tions, and experiences—can do won­ders for those hav­ing dif­fi­cul­ty unwind­ing after work. While numer­ous stud­ies have demon­strat­ed the ben­e­fits of mind­ful­ness for reduc­ing stress, few­er have shown exact­ly how it works—especially when it comes to recov­er­ing from work.

In the study, 118 indi­vid­u­als who strug­gle with men­tal­ly detach­ing them­selves from work report­ed their ini­tial lev­els of work-relat­ed rumi­na­tion (i.e. repet­i­tive thoughts that focus on issues relat­ed to work), fatigue, and sleep qual­i­ty and were then divid­ed into two groups.

The first com­plet­ed a four-week online mind­ful­ness course orga­nized by the Men­tal Health Foun­da­tion in Lon­don. This instruc­tor-led course focused on both tra­di­tion­al mind­ful­ness tech­niques such as body scan and sit­ting med­i­ta­tion, as well as non-tra­di­tion­al tech­niques includ­ing mind­ful eat­ing and walk­ing; par­tic­i­pants accessed week­ly lessons and were encour­aged to med­i­tate dai­ly. Mean­while, the sec­ond group was placed on a wait­list and served as a com­par­i­son.

The results showed that peo­ple who com­plet­ed the online course report­ed low­er lev­els of work-relat­ed rumi­na­tion and chron­ic fatigue, and improved sleep qual­i­ty, as com­pared to the oth­er group. Impor­tant­ly, these improve­ments per­sist­ed up to six months after the train­ing end­ed.

In order to iden­ti­fy the “active ingre­di­ents” that pro­duced these pos­i­tive effects, the researchers also ana­lyzed more spe­cif­ic mind­ful­ness skills the par­tic­i­pants learned, such as the abil­i­ty to pay atten­tion to moment-to-moment expe­ri­ences, describe inter­nal thoughts and emo­tions, and take a non-judg­men­tal and non-reac­tive stance toward those inter­nal feel­ings

Their analy­sis indi­cat­ed that one skill—the abil­i­ty to con­scious­ly focus on moment-to-moment experiences—fully pre­dict­ed the ben­e­fits of mind­ful­ness for work-relat­ed mal­adies. The authors pos­tu­late that those who became more attuned to present-moment thoughts could more eas­i­ly stop work-relat­ed think­ing in its tracks (as well as the chron­ic fatigue and sleep dif­fi­cul­ty that accom­pa­ny it).

These find­ings are rel­e­vant to employ­ers who are inter­est­ed in improv­ing the psy­cho­log­i­cal well-being of their work­force. Typ­i­cal­ly, offline mind­ful­ness cours­es can be expen­sive and take time out of the work­day. The strength of these results, how­ev­er, demon­strates that a cost-effec­tive online course may be just as use­ful in address­ing work­place stress as con­ven­tion­al train­ings.

Mov­ing for­ward, Crop­ley and his team are inter­est­ed in inves­ti­gat­ing whether more mind­ful­ness prac­tice leads to a greater reduc­tion in work-relat­ed stress as well as how rumi­na­tion can affect high­er-lev­el cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing.

We find that peo­ple who are high rumi­na­tors also have dif­fi­cul­ty plan­ning and have mem­o­ry issues,” says Crop­ley. “So we are look­ing at build­ing inter­ven­tions to help improve con­cen­tra­tion and mem­o­ry.”

The next time you find your­self fix­at­ed on work when you don’t want to be, it might be time to make like the Dalai Lama and med­i­tate.


— Adam Hoff­man writes and works at Greater Good. Based at UC-Berke­ley, Greater Good high­lights ground break­ing sci­en­tific research into the roots of com­pas­sion and altru­ism. Copy­right Greater Good.



The Study:

Inter­net-based instruc­tor-led mind­ful­ness for work-relat­ed rumi­na­tion, fatigue, and sleep: Assess­ing facets of mind­ful­ness as mech­a­nisms of change. A ran­dom­ized wait­list con­trol tri­al (Jour­nal of occu­pa­tion­al health psy­chol­o­gy)

  • Abstract: This study aimed to extend our the­o­ret­i­cal under­stand­ing of how mind­ful­ness-based inter­ven­tions exert their pos­i­tive influ­ence on mea­sures of occu­pa­tion­al health. Employ­ing a ran­dom­ized wait­list con­trol study design, we sought to (a) assess an Inter­net-based instruc­tor-led mind­ful­ness inter­ven­tion for its effect on key fac­tors asso­ci­at­ed with “recov­ery from work,” specif­i­cal­ly, work-relat­ed rumi­na­tion, fatigue, and sleep qual­i­ty; (b) assess dif­fer­ent facets of mind­ful­ness (act­ing with aware­ness, describ­ing, non­judg­ing, and non­re­act­ing) as mech­a­nisms of change; and © assess whether the effect of the inter­ven­tion was main­tained over time by fol­low­ing up our par­tic­i­pants after 3 and 6 months. Par­tic­i­pants who com­plet­ed the mind­ful­ness inter­ven­tion (n = 60) report­ed sig­nif­i­cant­ly low­er lev­els of work-relat­ed rumi­na­tion and fatigue, and sig­nif­i­cant­ly high­er lev­els of sleep qual­i­ty, when com­pared with wait­list con­trol par­tic­i­pants (n = 58). Effects of the inter­ven­tion were main­tained at 3- and 6-month fol­low-up with medi­um to large effect sizes. The effect of the inter­ven­tion was pri­mar­i­ly explained by increased lev­els of only 1 facet of mind­ful­ness (act­ing with aware­ness). This study pro­vides sup­port for online mind­ful­ness inter­ven­tions to aid recov­ery from work and fur­thers our under­stand­ing with regard to how mind­ful­ness inter­ven­tions exert their pos­i­tive effects.

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