Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

Reviewed by therapist.com Team

What Is MBSR?

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is an eight-week group program based on the principles of mindfulness. It has been shown to help people struggling with anxiety, stress, and chronic pain.

A Brief History of Mindfulness

Mindfulness has a long history of practice among communities of faith in the East, particularly followers of Buddhism and Hinduism. Meditation and other mindfulness practices have been part of Hinduism for millennia. In Buddhism, mindfulness (“sati”) is the first factor of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment.

Rooted in ancient Eastern religions, the introduction of mindfulness to Western, secular audiences is comparatively recent. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of MBSR, developed his first MBSR program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in the late 1970s.

7 Principles of Mindfulness

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, there are seven principles of mindfulness:

  1. Non-judging: Observing yourself and others without judgment
  2. Patience: Allowing life to unfold at its own pace without rushing
  3. Beginner’s mind: Adopting an open-minded posture and seeing everything as if for the first time, without any preconceived notions
  4. Trust: Believing in yourself and understanding your own agency
  5. Non-striving: Giving up the constant desire for and pressure of achievement
  6. Acceptance: Seeing life as it is in the present moment instead of denying or resisting what is occuring
  7. Letting go: Giving up that which prevents you from living a mindful life

What Is Stress?

Stress is both a physical and mental response to change. It is a normal part of life that occurs in response to both positive and negative life experiences.

Your body’s stress response is healthy and natural in short-term situations. However, chronic stress can negatively affect both your physical and mental health. Mindfulness-based stress reduction can help you reduce or prevent the negative effects of stress, such as:

  • Insomnia 
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) issues
  • Chronic pain or muscle tension

How Does MBSR Reduce Stress?

MBSR is an eight-week program that teaches participants how to practice mindful meditation. Participants typically meet for two and half hours each week. The program also includes a one-day retreat.

Although stress can never be entirely avoided, MBSR helps participants learn to accept the ups and downs of life and become aware of how they react to stress. This increased awareness allows people to choose healthier responses that are in line with the teachings of mindfulness, thereby reducing stress.

Practicing Mindful Meditation

Meditation can feel like a foreign concept for many people. The idea of meditation might bring to mind certain sitting positions, clothing, furniture, accessories, words, phrases, or religions. While meditation certainly has its roots in certain practices, rituals, and faith communities, people of all faiths or no faith at all can practice mindful meditation. All you need are a few minutes of free time, a quiet place, and an open mind.

Mindful meditation is the practice of becoming fully present to your mind and body without judgment. Common types of mindful meditation taught and practiced during MBSR include:

  • Body scanning: Lying down and methodically bringing your attention to different body parts, typically starting from either your head or toes and working up or down the body, noticing the sensations that occur in each body part without assigning judgement
  • Loving-kindness meditation: Meditating on phrases rooted in self-compassion (e.g., “May I be safe”) and compassion toward others (e.g., “May you be safe”)
  • Gentle movement: Engaging in mindful movements, such as stretching, and exercises, such as yoga

Benefits of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

MBSR offers multiple benefits that last long after treatment, including:

  • Increasing awareness: MBSR helps you become more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and patterns of behavior, all while emphasizing the need for self-compassion and non-judgment.
  • Moving from reaction to response: Instead of simply reacting to stressors, MBSR teaches participants how to pause and choose responses that are in line with their values.
  • Alleviating stress: No one can ever completely avoid stress, but with MBSR, you can alleviate the negative effects of stress on your life and prevent overwhelming or chronic stress when possible.
  • Relieving pain: Studies have shown that MBSR can help alleviate chronic pain.
  • Practicing self-compassion: Many people can easily extend love and compassion to others but struggle to do the same for themselves. MBSR helps you learn how to love and accept yourself as you are.
  • Learning to regulate emotions: MBSR helps people learn how to self-regulate and choose healthy responses even when their emotions run high.

Is Mindfulness Effective?

Since its initial development more than 40 years ago, extensive research has demonstrated the effectiveness of MBSR. Multiple studies have shown that MBSR can help improve symptoms of certain mental health disorders and chronic illnesses.

How to Practice Mindfulness

Find an MBSR Program Near You

Want to learn more about how mindfulness can help you live a healthier life both physically and mentally? Click here to find an eight-week MBSR program near you.

Mindfulness and Stress Management Techniques for Daily Life

MBSR offers a structured eight-week program for learning the principles of mindfulness. However, you can also easily incorporate mindfulness into your daily life. Try one or more of the following practices to get started:

  • Mindful eating: If you want to practice mindful eating, eliminate distractions during mealtime and allow yourself to become fully present to enjoy every sensory aspect of your food.
  • Three-minute breathing space: First, observe your current physical and emotional state for one minute. Then, focus on your breath for another minute. Finally, focus your attention on your body’s physical sensations for one minute.
  • Mindful stretching: Start your day by taking deep breaths and stretching your body. Without judgment, observe how it feels as your body moves.
  • Walking meditation: Walking, especially in nature, is a great opportunity for mindful meditation.
  • Self-care activities: Many self-care activities, such as journaling or spending time outdoors, can easily be tweaked to incorporate a more intentional, mindful approach.

Other Mindfulness-Based Therapies

In addition to MBSR, there are other therapies and programs that draw from the principles of mindfulness, including: