Reduced Anxiety Following Mindfulness and Adaptive Working Memory Training in Women with Breast Cancer

Abstract

Objectives

Breast cancer is a life-threatening disease that leaves survivors vulnerable to clinical levels of psychological disorder. Expanding on recent research that indicates both mindfulness and working memory training can reduce levels of emotional vulnerability separately, we investigate how the combined effects of these interventions impact emotion regulation in female survivors of breast cancer.

Methods

Participants completed a 10-day course of either mindfulness-based meditation (Mindfulness), mindfulness-based meditation and working memory training (Mindfulness N-Back), working memory training (N-Back) or, for the control group, a 1-back task (1-back). Assessment of emotional vulnerability took place at pre- and post-intervention, as well as at 1- and 6-month follow-up time points to assess whether any observed effects would persist.

Results

Findings indicated that an independent course of either mindfulness-based meditation or working memory training, as well as a combined course of both, can result in reductions in anxious symptomatology compared to an active control group. Whilst effects were sustained for all experimental training groups (Mindfulness, N-Back, Mindfulness N-Back) at 1-month post-intervention, at 6-month follow-up effects were only apparent for the independent groups (Mindfulness, N-Back).

Conclusions

This study suggests that the engagement of attentional control processes through both independent and combined courses of mindfulness-based meditation and adaptive working memory training can result in sustained reductions in anxiety symptomatology in women diagnosed with breast cancer.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by a 1 + 3 ESRC PhD Studentship awarded to Jessica Swainston and a Wellcome Trust ISSF funding awarded to Nazanin Derakshan. The research was carried out under the supervision of Nazanin Derakshan. We would like to thank Headspace for providing app subscriptions to study participants.

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Contributions

JS and ND: research question, funding, study design and analysis plan. JS: preparation of data, data collection and drafting initial and final version of the manuscript. JS and ND: statistical analysis and critical review of early and final versions of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jessica Swainston.

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All procedures performed in this study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Research Ethics Committee of Birkbeck, University of London, as well as the Economic and Social Research Council. Informed written consent was obtained from all participants included in the study.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Swainston, J., Derakshan, N. Reduced Anxiety Following Mindfulness and Adaptive Working Memory Training in Women with Breast Cancer. Mindfulness 12, 1928–1939 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-021-01651-3

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Keywords

  • Mindfulness
  • Attentional control
  • Working memory
  • Cognitive training
  • Breast cancer
  • Emotional health