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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 23, Issue 6

Focus on Yourself to Alleviate Social Pain

A training program in mindfulness reduces loneliness and social anxiety
yoga, meditation, MBSR



EVA TATCHEVA

Many people who suffer the pain, depression and negative health effects associated with social anxiety or loneliness do not respond to common therapy tactics or drugs. Two new studies offer hope from an unlikely source: rather than focusing on your relationships with others, turn inward for relief.

Mindfulness meditation—which has been around for well over 2,000 years—has many forms, but an extensive body of research supports the effectiveness of one training program in particular. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is an eight-week program developed in 1979 by a U.S. physician. Initially created to help patients suffering from chronic pain, the program has been found to reduce symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety, even among people with cancer and HIV.

In one of the new studies, published in the October 2012 Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 55- to 85-year-old adults were randomized to either receive MBSR or be put on a waiting list for the program. The loneliness of the participants who received MBSR decreased after training, whereas the loneliness of the wait-listed control subjects increased slightly. MBSR also reduced inflammation—the cause of loneliness-related health risks such as heart attack or stroke—as measured by levels of stress proteins and proinflammatory gene expression.

The other study, published online in August 2012 in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, found that MBSR reduced negative emotions in people with social anxiety disorder.

Mindfulness training teaches people to be fully attentive to their present experience in a nonjudgmental way, which is believed to help reduce the rumination common to mood disorders. “A mindful perspective teaches people how to apply a brake between a single lonely thought and what could be a resulting chain of distressing thoughts and feelings,” says psychologist J. David Creswell of Carnegie Mellon University, co-author of the study on loneliness. To find an MBSR program in your area, go to http://tinyurl.com/findMBSR.

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