mhfBeing mindful online can dramatically reduce stress, anxiety and depression, according to a new University of Oxford study compiled in partnership with the Mental Health Foundation (MHF).

Across the 273 self-referred participants in the study, there was a 58% reduction in anxiety, 57% in depression and 40% in perceived stress.

Participants undertook an online course consisting of 10 interactive sessions where they learnt to use formal meditation skills (body scan, mindful movement, sitting meditation, 3 minute breathing space) and informal mindfulness techniques (incorporating mindfulness into daily activities, such as mindful eating) through videos, assignments and emails. The course lasted for a minimum of 4 weeks, depending on when participants were able to complete the practice and homework logs.

They also experienced a further decrease in stress, anxiety and depression levels one month after completing the course, suggesting continued practice of the skills they had learnt.

The benefits seen in the study were comparable to Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services and face-to-face mindfulness courses despite the expected benefits of group and therapist interaction for recovery.

Online mindfullness also has the added benefit that an individual’s ability to access support of their own accord and in familiar surroundings can enable them to use the skills learnt more effectively and often to recall them more easily.

Commenting on the research, published in the online journal BMJ Open, Dr Eva Cyhlarova, head of research at the MHF, said: "The concept of mindfulness has really hit the headlines in the last few years.

"Not only is it seen as an accessible, non-stigmatising way of protecting our wellbeing, but now even more evidence points to its ability to improve people’s mental health. We hope this is just the beginning of a range of online interventions which are convenient, appropriate and cost-effective in supporting those seeking mental health support."

Adele Krusche, of the University of Oxford’s school of Department of Psychiatry, added: “The study shows great potential for the role of online technology in delivering mindfulness courses to decrease stress, anxiety and depression.

"This is the first known study to measure how much time spent practicing mindfulness online will bring about a positive change, with more mindfulness practice significantly improving stress, anxiety and depression."

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