Background: Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a clinically standardized meditation that has shown consistent efficacy for many mental and physical disorders. Less attention has been given to the possible benefits that it may have in healthy subjects. The aim of the present review and meta-analysis is to better investigate current evidence about the efficacy of MBSR in healthy subjects, with a particular focus on its benefits for stress reduction.
Materials and methods: A literature search was conducted using MEDLINE (PubMed), the ISI Web of Knowledge, the Cochrane database, and the references of retrieved articles. The search included articles written in English published prior to September 2008, and identified ten, mainly low-quality, studies. Cohen's d effect size between meditators and controls on stress reduction and spirituality enhancement values were calculated.
Results: MBSR showed a nonspecific effect on stress reduction in comparison to an inactive control, both in reducing stress and in enhancing spirituality values, and a possible specific effect compared to an intervention designed to be structurally equivalent to the meditation program. A direct comparison study between MBSR and standard relaxation training found that both treatments were equally able to reduce stress. Furthermore, MBSR was able to reduce ruminative thinking and trait anxiety, as well as to increase empathy and self-compassion.
Conclusions: MBSR is able to reduce stress levels in healthy people. However, important limitations of the included studies as well as the paucity of evidence about possible specific effects of MBSR in comparison to other nonspecific treatments underline the necessity of further research.