Therapy FAQ

Which is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is Right for You?

Stress management is an important part of mental health. If stress goes unaddressed, it can eventually cause physical and psychological symptoms like health problems, pain, trouble sleeping, depression, anxiety, and more. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is one approach to reducing stress. It helps you use mindfulness practices to ease physical and mental strain. MBSR is […]

therapist william snyder By William Snyder, LPC

Updated on Feb 14, 2024

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Stress management is an important part of mental health. If stress goes unaddressed, it can eventually cause physical and psychological symptoms like health problems, pain, trouble sleeping, depression, anxiety, and more.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is one approach to reducing stress. It helps you use mindfulness practices to ease physical and mental strain. MBSR is part of a group of interventions called mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs). These interventions include MBSR and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).

Joshua Goldman, a licensed clinical social worker with Grow Therapy, describes MBSR as “a structured program to learn mindfulness techniques and simple meditations to help reduce stress, better cope with the challenges of everyday life, and improve mental health and overall well-being.”

An MBSR program is typically an eight-week process of learning mindfulness practices, usually some type of meditation. You’ll spend about two hours per week at a mindfulness treatment session led by a trained professional, then do daily mindfulness exercises on your own.

What is Mindfulness?

At its simplest, “mindfulness” means directing your attention toward the present moment. To practice mindfulness means paying attention to your immediate experiences, acknowledging your physical sensation, emotions, and thoughts.

“In most moments, people are not directly confronted with challenges,” Goldman says. “But if we are in our heads still thinking about those challenges instead of embracing the present moment, then it feels like those challenges are always with us and we stay stressed. Mindfulness helps us to live more fully in the present moment instead of in our thoughts, so that we do not remain in a stressed state.”

Mindfulness encourages you to be curious about your moment-to-moment experience rather than allowing your mind to “wander” or judging what you “should” or “shouldn’t” feel.

Is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Effective?

MBSR is an evidence-based and effective form of treatment for many behavioral health issues. Research shows that MBSR and MBCT are effective at helping people manage symptoms of anxiety and depression, stress, chronic pain, and psychological or emotional distress. In fact, research suggests that mindfulness-based interventions are about as effective as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Mindfulness is certainly nothing new to the behavioral health world. Other familiar types of therapy, like Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) already incorporate some elements of mindfulness, so its principles may already feel familiar to people with previous experience in therapy.

How Does MBSR Work?

“Since mental health largely involves a client’s thoughts, mindfulness is an important piece of addressing mental health as it has the power to pull clients out of negative thought patterns and allow them to live more fully in the moment,” Goldman says.

MBSR helps you tap into the body’s relaxation response. The relaxation response lowers heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones. Meditation and mindfulness practices are among the most popular techniques to induce the relaxation response.

The type of slow, deep breathing often employed in meditation techniques helps regulate the autonomic nervous system in a positive way, although researchers are still searching to understand exactly why it has this effect. The autonomic nervous system takes care of bodily functions that aren’t under your conscious control, such as your heartbeat and digestion.

What Other Conditions can MBSR Help Address?

MBSR techniques have been shown to be effective for a large number of things in addition to stress:

What are Mindfulness Techniques?

Techniques used in MBSR can include:

Each mindfulness practice offers a way to ground yourself in the present moment and observe your thoughts and feelings with openness and curiosity.

Don’t worry if you find mindfulness practices difficult at first, says Goldman. “For those who struggle with meditation or any of the practices mentioned, I always use the analogy of playing guitar. If you have never picked up a guitar before, you cannot expect to be able to immediately play a song. Just like the guitar, these concepts require practice and dedication. Start by regularly practicing just one minute of meditation or a mindfulness technique, and when that becomes easier, go for two minutes. Eventually, meditation and mindfulness practice will become more natural and the benefits will increase.”

What are the Downsides to MBSR?

In general, negative effects of MBSR are rare. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, “occasionally, people report negative experiences such as increased anxiety, intrusive thoughts, or fear of losing control. There have been rare reports that certain relaxation techniques might cause or worsen symptoms in people with epilepsy or certain psychiatric conditions, or with a history of abuse or trauma.”

It’s important to talk with a trained behavioral health professional before starting any kind of mental health treatment. However, in the majority of cases, MBSR is both effective and safe.

You can find a therapist to guide you through your mental health journey with Grow Therapy. Our network of licensed mental health professionals offer a range of treatment types online.


  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teaches you how to use mindfulness techniques to reduce stress. An MBSR program is typically eight weeks long. MBSR and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) constitute a group of treatment types called mindfulness-based interventions.

  • Many mindfulness techniques exist to help you harness the power of presence and reduce stress. A few of the most popular include mindfulness meditation, breathing exercises, stretching and yoga, body scans, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindful movement (for example, walking).

  • If you are brand new to mindfulness, start small. Pick one mindfulness practice to engage in for just a few minutes per day. As you get better at it, increase the amount of time you spend on it. Like any skill mindfulness may take practice to master.

  • An MBSR program will have stress reduction as its main goal. However, mindfulness has been shown to help improve other mental and physical conditions, like anxiety and depression, social anxiety, chronic pain, sleep disorders, and even chronic illness. Consult your doctor or a mental health provider for help determining whether mindfulness could benefit you.

  • By focusing your attention on the present moment, mindfulness helps trigger your body’s relaxation response and regulate the autonomic nervous system. It puts your focus on the here and now, instead of on past or future situations that you have no control over in the moment.

  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction can have a positive effect on many mental and physical health conditions. Research indicates that an MBSR program works as well as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for stress reduction.

About the author
therapist william snyder William Snyder, LPC

William Snyder is a licensed professional counselor with over 20 years of experience. He specializes in anxiety, trauma, PTSD, depression, and self-esteem.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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