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Effects of Length of Mindfulness Practice on Mindfulness, Depression, Anxiety, and Stress: a Randomized Controlled Experiment

Abstract

Objectives

Mindfulness-based programs (MBPs) vary in length of mindfulness practices included. It might be expected that longer practice leads to greater benefits in terms of increased mindfulness and decreased psychological distress. However, the evidence for such dose–response effects is mixed and generally does not support such strong causal conclusions given its correlational nature. Therefore, the current study sought to clarify which length of mindfulness practice led to greater benefits using an experimental design.

Methods

Participants (N = 71; 71.8% female), who were healthy adults with limited prior mindfulness practice experience, were randomized to either (i) four longer (20-min) mindfulness practices, (ii) four shorter (5-min) mindfulness practices, or (iii) an audiobook control group. All sessions were held in-person over a 2-week period, each group listened to the same total length of material each session, and participants refrained from formal mindfulness practice outside of sessions.

Results

Both longer and shorter practice significantly improved trait mindfulness, depression, anxiety, and stress compared with controls. Unexpectedly, shorter practice had a significantly greater effect on trait mindfulness (d = 2.17; p < .001) and stress (d = − 1.18; p < .01) than longer practice, with a trend in the same direction for depression and anxiety. Mediation analysis findings were mixed.

Conclusions

Even a relatively small amount of mindfulness practice can be beneficial and shorter practices may initially be more helpful for novice practitioners in MBPs with minimal teacher contact. Further research is needed to examine such dose–response effects when teacher involvement is greater and over the longer term.

Trial Registration

ClinicalTrials.gov pre-registration identifier: NCT03797599

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to express their gratitude to the participants who took part in this study.

Data Availability Statement

Materials used in the study are either referenced in the reference list or, where they were new to the study (i.e., transcripts of mindfulness practice recordings), are provided in the supplementary materials. Participant permission was not sought to make raw data available, though it is planned to do so for future studies.

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Contributions

All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation and data collection and analysis were performed by SS. The first draft of the manuscript was written by SS and all authors commented on versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sarah Strohmaier.

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This research was reviewed and approved by a Canterbury Christ Church University Research Ethics committee. All participants provided informed consent.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Strohmaier, S., Jones, F.W. & Cane, J.E. Effects of Length of Mindfulness Practice on Mindfulness, Depression, Anxiety, and Stress: a Randomized Controlled Experiment. Mindfulness 12, 198–214 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01512-5

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Keywords

  • Mindfulness
  • Mindfulness-based programs
  • Mindfulness practice length
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stress