Mindfulness can strengthen your mindset after a cardiac arrest
From Alan Mozes HealthDay reporter
WEDNESDAY, 11/10/2021 (HealthDay News)
A new study sheds light on the strong mind-body connection and suggests that cardiac arrest survivors who learn to focus their thoughts on the here and now during recovery are less likely to become depressed or anxious.
The finding centers on a mental health practice known as “mindfulness,” which is a kind of stop-and-smell of roses approach to life.
“Mindfulness can be defined as non-judgmental awareness of the present moment” through techniques such as meditation or yoga, said study director Alex Presciutti, a graduate student in clinical psychology at the University of Colorado Denver.
Essentially, this means leaving behind regrets about the past or fear of the future in order to focus one moment at a time.
This could mean, for example, paying more attention to the taste, texture or smell of food. “Or when you are walking outdoors and paying attention to the sights, sounds, and smells around you,” noted Presciutti.
Even the American Heart Association (AHA) believes this could have cardiovascular benefits, as it noted in a scientific statement released earlier this year that highlighted its potential as a protective tool for reducing stress and promoting the well-being of heart patients.
That could be important, Presciutti says, because “we know that depression and other mental health problems are quite common, even among long-term cardiac arrest survivors.”
His own previous research found that 1 in 5 long-term cardiac arrest survivors had elevated symptoms of depression, 1 in 4 developed anxiety, and 1 in 4 experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
For the current study, Presciutti focused on 129 cardiac arrest patients, equally divided between men and women. Almost all of them were white with an average age of 52 and all were enrolled in an online support group.
On average, the patients were about five years after their cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest in cardiac arrest is sudden and often fatal, although the chances of survival have improved in recent years due to better and more timely interventions (including CPR and defibrillator shocks).
All patients completed an initial mental health exam in 2019 to assess depression, anxiety, and PTSD. A second survey was completed a year later.
The investigators found that those who – out of their own inclination – had adopted a more present-day focused and accepting attitude towards life showed fewer signs of psychological distress. (None of the patients were enrolled in a study-specific mindfulness program.)
Presciutti stressed that the study not actually prove that mindfulness causes depression or anxiety to drop, only that the two appear connected.
âHowever, this is promising news,â he said, âbecause it means that we have identified mindfulness as something that can help cardiac arrest survivors, a population struggling with chronic psychological symptoms. In the future, we need to examine the potential protective function of mindfulness in cardiac arrest survivors in more robust study designs. “
But Neda Gould, director of the mindfulness program at Johns Hopkins University and assistant director of the Bayview Anxiety Disorders Clinic in Baltimore, is already convinced of the potential of mindfulness.
“It is not surprising that mindfulness practice is helpful for this patient population,” said Gould, who did not participate in the study.
âAfter a significant life event, the brain can concentrate on fears about the future or think about the past. These can be important factors in keeping anxiety and depression looking at those unhelpful states of mind, “she noted.
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âIt’s important to remember that mindfulness takes practice,â Gould said. âIt’s like building muscle. We have to take care of it â, be it through self-directed meditative practice or assistance through apps.
âSome people find it helpful to practice as part of a group or community,â noted Gould, âwhich creates a sense of connectedness and responsibility with the practices that can be difficult to follow.
“Of course, when the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD are clinically significant, it is important to seek professional help and use mindfulness as an adjunct to treatment,” she warned.
“[But] I am pleased that many cardiologists and other doctors are recommending mindfulness exercise to their patients as a stress reliever, “said Gould.” I still think it is underutilized and can be a very helpful tool for appropriate patients. “
Presciutti and his colleagues will report their findings at an AHA online meeting later this week. This research is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
There’s more about mindfulness at the US National Institutes of Health.
SOURCES: Alex Presciutti, MA, PhD student in clinical psychology, University of Colorado Denver; Neda Gould, PhD, Assistant Professor and Director, Mindfulness Program, Johns Hopkins University, and Associate Director, Bayview Anxiety Disorders Clinic, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore; American Heart Association Resuscitation Science Symposium, Dec. November 2021, online
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