Mindfulness and compassion sessions linked to reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression

An approach that can be easily adopted in a range of contexts.

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COVID-19 social distancing requirements have led to higher rates of loneliness, a feeling associated with a range of adverse outcomes for both mental and physical health. Studies indicate that mindfulness-based programs are an effective way to lessen loneliness.

Compassion, a component of many mindfulness practices, has also been associated with lower levels of loneliness. While research suggests single-session interventions (SSIs) may be helpful for concerns such as depression, substance use, and anxiety, few studies have examined the efficacy of short-term interventions for loneliness.

Newer research suggests SSIs may be helpful for COVID-19-related distress. It evaluated a novel mindfulness-based SSI and tested whether the incorporation of a compassion component led to more meaningful decreases in loneliness and related mental health concerns.

Three distinct player groups participated in this study, organized like a game. The first group engaged in mindfulness practices, the second group was involved in mindfulness and compassion practices, and the third group was placed on a waiting list without engaging in any practices.

Each participant was evaluated three times at the beginning of the game, one week after they began practicing (or waiting), and two weeks later. Data for the study was gathered between May 25, 2020, and November 26, 2021.

Remarkably, at one week, neither of the interventions significantly reduced loneliness compared to the waitlist, and at two weeks, there were no differences between the active programs. However, by the end of the two weeks, both groups’ levels of loneliness had somewhat decreased. However, more research is required to determine if this change results from the therapies or develops organically over time, as we needed a reference group.

Our further analyses revealed that, compared to the waitlist, the mindfulness with compassion group demonstrated significant reductions in reported stress, despair, and anxiety after one week, but not the mindfulness-only group. However, there were no differences between the two mindfulness groups one or two weeks later. This implies that, in comparison to no intervention, a one-hour mindfulness program, including a compassion part, may help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.

As is typical with short-term interventions, the effects were less than in studies with prolonged interventions. The compassion portion was brief (5–10 minutes), which could account for the lack of differences between the mindfulness groups. Longer compassion components may be tested in future studies to see whether they improve stress and loneliness more than shorter therapies.

Researchers noted, “These findings suggest that a single session mindfulness intervention can lead to meaningful reductions across a range of clinical concerns, including perceived stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. This brief single-session mindfulness intervention offers an approach that can be easily adopted in a range of contexts.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Rubin M, Fischer CM, Telch MJ (2024) Efficacy of a single session mindfulness based intervention: A randomized clinical trial. PLoS ONE 19(3): e0299300. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0299300
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