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Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)

Reviewed by Stephanie Steinman, PhD, CSAC

A group meditating in a class.

What is mindfulness-based stress reduction?

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is an eight-week group program that teaches the practice of mindfulness meditation. Participants usually meet for 2.5 hours each week and attend a one-day retreat. Studies show that MBSR can decrease symptoms of certain mental health disorders and chronic illnesses, including anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.1

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment without judgment or expectation. It has roots in Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religious and secular traditions.

The founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction, Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, has described seven attitudes that form the basis of mindfulness:

  • Nonjudging: Observing yourself and others without judgment
  • Patience: Allowing life to unfold at its own pace
  • Beginner’s mind: Being open-minded and seeing everything as if for the first time, without bias
  • Trust: Believing in yourself and your feelings
  • Nonstriving: Giving up the constant desire for (and pressure of) achievement
  • Acceptance: Seeing life as it is in the present moment, instead of denying or resisting what’s happening
  • Letting go: Giving up things that stop you from living a mindful life

The benefits of MBSR

Mindfulness-based stress reduction provides mental health benefits that can last long after treatment, including:

  • Increased self-awareness: Knowledge of your own thoughts, feelings, and behavior patterns
  • Lower stress: The ability to lessen the impact of stress
  • Self-compassion: The capacity to love and accept yourself as you are
  • Emotional regulation: Self-regulation skills that help you choose healthy responses to stress, even when your emotions run high

MBSR has also been shown to offer physical benefits, including better sleep and lower blood pressure.2, 3

How does MBSR reduce stress?

Stress is a normal part of life and can be caused by positive or negative experiences. Your body’s stress response is healthy and natural in the short term, but chronic stress can harm your physical and mental health.

While stress can never be avoided entirely, MBSR teaches you to accept life’s ups and downs and become aware of how you react to them. This practice also helps you learn to pause and respond to stressful situations in ways that fit your values, instead of simply reacting.

Is MBSR helpful for everyone?

Mindfulness-based stress reduction strategies are effective for many people, but they may not be the right fit for everyone.4 To learn more about how this practice works, it’s a good idea to meet with a therapist and review your mental health history before starting an MBSR program.

Meditation techniques

Meditation involves becoming fully present in your mind and body without judgment. While this practice is rooted in the traditions of several faith communities, people of any faith or no faith can practice it. All you need is some free time, a quiet place, and an open mind.

MBSR can teach you meditation techniques including:

  • Body scanning: Lying down and paying attention to each part of your body and the sensations it’s feeling, typically starting from either your head or toes and working upward or downward
  • Lovingkindness meditation: Relaxing, breathing deeply, and repeating compassionate statements about yourself (for example, “May I be safe”) and others (“May you be safe”)
  • Gentle movement: Engaging in intentional, slow-paced movement and exercise, such as stretching or yoga

How to practice mindfulness in daily life

Whether you try MBSR or not, you can easily incorporate mindfulness routines into your day. Try one or more of the following to get started.

  • Mindful eating: Avoid distractions during mealtimes and allow yourself to become fully present. Notice and enjoy your food with each of your senses.
  • Three-minute breathing space: Focus on your physical and emotional state for one minute. Then focus on your breath for one 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. Notice how it feels as your body moves, without judging what you observe.
  • Walking meditation: Go for a walk, paying attention to each step in order to bring yourself into the present moment.

In addition to the above, you can add a mindful approach to many of the self-care activities you may already do, such as journaling or spending time outdoors.

Other mindfulness-based therapies

Beyond MBSR, other therapeutic approaches that use mindfulness include:

How to find help

If you’d like to learn more about mindfulness from a mental health professional, browse our directory to find a licensed therapist near you.

If you’re in crisis, support is available right now:

About the author

The editorial team at therapist.com works with the world’s leading clinical experts to bring you accessible, insightful information about mental health topics and trends.

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