Anyone can protect their brain against the effects of stress and improve their emotional state with mindfulness training.
A study conducted at UCLA compared civilians with military personnel about to leave for Iraq and those who had come back from duty. None of these participants had any previous experience with mindfulness techniques.
There was a control group with no brain training, while others were given an 8-week mindfulness training program. This program focused on attention and experiencing the present moment without being diverted by judgement, elaboration, or emotional reactions.
While test scores were stable in civilians, they degraded significantly over time in military personnel. Military personnel who had mindfulness training still experienced a degradation in their test scores, but not nearly as dramatically as those without brain training.
So training your brain builds a protective barrier against degradation.
Brain training also improved working memory capacity (WMC). WMC helps manage the demands placed on the mind and regulate the emotions generated by an experience.
High stress creates persistent and intensive demands which can tax and deplete WMC. This can lead to a variety of cognitive failures and emotional disturbances.
Mindfulness training is shown to act as buffer to protect against the effects of stress and positively affects a person’s emotional state.
If WMC is low, a person can have difficulty moderating their emotions. Emotions can dominate a person’s thinking, causing a distraction from the experience itself or eating up valuable mental energy.
If emotions are very demanding, it heightens a person’s risk for acute and long-term psychological injury. It also makes a person more susceptible to prejudice, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety disorders.
But a person can improve their WMC with training.
Mindfulness training acted as a shield protecting and strengthening WMC. Training creates a reserve, protecting against mental health disturbances and functional impairments.
This suggests mindfulness training can be used for other high stress positions where there is an an intense increase in cognitive and emotional demands. With brain training, firefighters, police officers, crisis workers and other people who face significant emotional and cognitive stress could be more resilient. And it could used by those who can see demanding and high stress periods of their life, like childbirth or eldercare, on the horizon.
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