The UK’s biggest ever online test into stress
The BBC’s Lab UK and the University of Liverpool, have revealed that rumination is the biggest predictor of the most common mental health problems in the country.
It’s official! Dwelling on the past and predicting the future can predispose you to Stress, Anxiety and Depression.
The BBC News Magazine online, reported the study last year. Whilst psychologists agree that a little self-reflection can be a good thing, it has now been shown that when introspection goes awry and thoughts get stuck on repeat, playing over and over in the mind it leads to emotional and mental health issues of all kinds.
The new research has demonstrated the scale of negative impact which the ruminating thinking style carries.
The ground-breaking study, published in the journal ‘PLOS ONE’, suggests that brooding too much on negative events is the biggest predictor of depression and anxiety and determines the level of stress people experience. The research even suggests a person’s psychological response is a more important factor than what has actually happened to them.
A total of 32,827 people from 172 countries took part in the online stress test devised by the BBC’s Lab UK and psychologists at the University of Liverpool, making it the biggest study of its kind ever undertaken in the UK.
Peter Kinderman, who led the study and is a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Liverpool says “We found that people who didn’t ruminate or blame themselves for their difficulties had much lower levels of depression and anxiety, even if they’d experienced many negative events in their lives”.
“Dwelling on negative thoughts and self blame have previously been recognised as important when it comes to mental health, but not to the extent this study has shown. The findings suggest both are crucial psychological pathways to depression and anxiety.”
Traumatic life events, such as abuse or childhood bullying, were the biggest cause of anxiety and depression when dwelled upon. But importantly, these events in themselves do not cause depression and anxiety. The influence that these events bear on future mental health and emotional issues, is in leading a person to ruminate on what has happened.
These findings show us how psychological response styles in themselves are causal and integral to the development of problems or later diagnoses, and that people do not merely become ill and then show changes in their psychology as a result.
Is there something we can do to stop rumination?
Indeed there is….
Meditation is a simple practice, which teaches us mastery over our own attention. If we ruminate and over-think, we are unconsciously giving all of our attention to our minds. In brain terms the area of activity is in the Posterior Cinglate Cortex – which is like our ‘self-referential’ thinking default network.
Unbeknown to most of us, our brains can easily be trained, in fact totally re-wired, to quiet down this area of the brain, in order that we can experience ‘effortless awareness’. Our minds can be the most brilliant tool, but sometimes we can end up getting used and abused BY our minds. Meditation helps us to train our attention and reclaim our power over our attention and our thoughts.
Scientific research into people who meditate discovered there were dramatic physiological changes versus non-meditators. MRI scanning has allowed science to look at the brain in a way which was not possible previously. Modern research has looked at how meditation changes the structure of the brain, something which it has always done since it’s origins, but which had not been measured until the last decade.
What goes on in the brain?
The amygdala is the part of the brain which produces the Stress Response. Recent research by neuroscientist Dr Sarah Lazar, Assistant Professor in Psychology at Harvard Medical School, and associate researcher in Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, has shown that with regular meditation, the amygdala gets ‘turned down’ and shrinks, it gets quieter in a way which is consistent with decreased arousal and greater feelings of peace.
What’s interesting is that in the study the external life of the participants had not changed at all, it was simply their response to their external ‘stressors’ which changed. Reducing stress and anxiety need not be about changing your life, it is about changing your relationship to your life.
Mind Calm Meditation
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