the SCIENCE

Managing Stress with an Online Mindfulness Program

Can people reap the same benefits from online programs as they do from face-to-face mindfulness courses?

Model photo: Colourbox.com

By Hooria Jazaieri

Although many critics blame the Internet (and technology more generally) for shrinking our attention spans and upping the amount of stress in our lives, a recent study suggests it can also be used to help us successfully manage stress.

The study, published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, examined the effectiveness of an eight-week, Internet-based program teaching mindfulness, the moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, emotions, and environment.

Although prior research suggests mindfulness-based programs can help people combat stress, these face-to-face programs require resources—a trained instructor, the means to cover registration fees, childcare and transportation, to name a few—that are not necessarily available to everyone. The new study designed an online mindfulness program that would overcome many of these barriers.

Researchers assigned roughly 550 adults to either the eight-week Internet-based stress management group or a control group where participants did nothing for eight weeks. At the beginning and end of those eight weeks, then again four weeks later, all participants answered questions measuring various qualities such as levels of mindfulness, self-acceptance, and vitality (e.g., energy and alertness).

Each week of the online training program centered on a different theme and practice, such as the body scan, where participants systematically focus on what they’re sensing in each part of their body. Each class also offered readings, 20-25 minutes of guided audio meditation, stress management tips, and inspirational quotes on that theme.

When compared with the control group, participants who received the eight-week online program felt greater mindfulness, more accepting of themselves, and significantly less stressed. Importantly, these improvements were sustained for four-weeks following the program. What’s even more interesting is that participants who practiced mindfulness meditation more often during the eight weeks showed less stress and greater mindfulness, suggesting that meditation practice plays an important role in these improvements.

The results from this study are comparable to those from traditional (in person) mindfulness programs, offering preliminary evidence that online mindfulness/stress management programs can be as effective as real-world programs, delivered at a fraction of the cost. The authors suggest that, based on their results, online programs could make mindfulness more accessible to underserved populations—as long as they have a computer and an Internet connection.

Hooria Jazaieri, MFT, is a researcher and cognitive-behavioral therapist at Stanford University. As a member of Dr. James Gross’ Stanford Psychophysiology Laboratory, she is a part of the Clinically Applied Affective Neuroscience group where she studies how functional neuroimaging (fMRI) can be used to better understand the effects of emotion regulation and brain functioning with different therapies.

This article originally appeared on Greater Good, the online magazine of UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center as part of their Mindful Mondays series, which provides ongoing coverage of the exploding field of mindfulness research. To view the original article, click here.