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Can Mindfulness Training Improve Resilience In Marines Preparing To Deploy?

23 Jul

Researchers from the University of California at San Diego examined whether mindfulness training can improve resilience in active duty Marines preparing for deployment.

Eight Marine infantry platoons (N=281) were randomly selected. Four platoons were assigned to receive mindfulness training (N=147) and four were assigned to a training-as-usual control condition (N=134).

Platoons were assessed at baseline, 8 weeks after baseline, and during and after a stressful combat training session approximately 9 weeks after baseline.

The mindfulness training condition was delivered in the form of 8 weeks of Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT), a program comprising 20 hours of classroom instruction plus daily homework exercises.

MMFT emphasizes internal body awareness, attentional control (focus), and tolerance of present-moment experiences. The main outcome measures were heart rate, breathing rate, plasma neuropeptide Y concentration, score on the Response to Stressful Experiences Scale, and brain activation as measured by functional MRI.

Marines who received MMFT showed greater heart rate reactivity (heart rate [d=0.43]) and enhanced recovery (heart rate [d=0.67], breathing rate [d=0.93]) after stressful training; lower plasma neuropeptide Y concentration after stressful training (d=0.38); and attenuated blood-oxygen-level-dependent signal in the right insula and anterior cingulate.

The investigators conclude that mechanisms related to stress recovery can be modified in healthy individuals prior to stress exposure, with important implications for evidence-based mental health research and treatment.

Citation: Johnson DC, Thom NJ, Stanley EA, Haase L, Simmons AN, Shih PA, Thompson WK, Potterat EG, Minor TR, Paulus MP. Modifying resilience mechanisms in at-risk individuals: a controlled study of mindfulness training in Marines preparing for deployment. American Journal of Psychiatry. 2014 Aug; 171 (8): pages 844-53. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2014.13040502.

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Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award.