Comparing Brief Stress Management Courses in a Community Sample: Mindfulness Skills and Progressive Relaxation

John D. Agee,, PhD1 , Sharon Danoff-Burg, PhD2, Christoffer A. Grant, MA2

In a study conducted by John d. Agee, PhD, Sharon Danoff-Burg, PhD, and Christoffer A. Grant, MA, a five-week mindfulness meditation (MM) course was compared to a five-week course that taught progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). Forty-three adults from the community were randomly assigned to either MM (n = 19) or PMR (n = 24) courses. Mindfulness meditation participants practiced meditation significantly more often than PMR participants practiced relaxation during the intervention period. Interestingly, the two conditions did not differ significantly in their posttreatment levels of relaxation or mindfulness. Although there were no differences between groups on any of the primary outcome measures, across both treatment conditions there were statistically significant reductions from pretreatment to posttreatment in general psychological distress. Thus, although MM did not emerge as clearly superior to PMR, results of this study suggest that a brief mindfulness skills course may be effective for stress management.


What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is focusing on one thing in the present moment.  It is to simply allow oneself to experience the activity of the moment while excluding worries, self-doubts, and distractions.  Mindfulness is non-judgmental, avoiding opinions of good or bad.  It is also effective, focused on what works, rather than what is right or wrong.  

Achieving this focus requires practice, in order to gain control of attention.  The skill of mindfulness involves observing and describing on purpose, in a particular way.

References on Mindfulness and Meditation-Related Activities

David Fontana, (2001). Discover Zen, A Practical Guide to Personal Serenity. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, (1994). Wherever You Go, There You Are:  Mindfulness Meditation In Everyday Life.  New York:  Hyperion.

Larry Rosenberg, (1998). Breath By Breath, The Liberating Practice of Insight Meditation. Boston, MA: Shambhala.

Marsha Linehan, (1993). Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: Guilford Press.

Norman Waddell (translator), (1996; originally published circa 1744). Zen Words for the Heart, Hakuin's Commentary on the Heart Sutra. Boston: Shambhala.

Paul Reps & Nyogen Senzaki, (1998). Zen Flesh, Zen Bones. Boston: Tuttle Publishing.

Thich Nhat Hanh, (1995). Living Buddha, Living Christ. New York: Riverhead Books.

Thich Nhat Hanh, (1975). The Miracle of Mindfulness, A Manual on Meditation. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Thich Nhat Hanh, (1991). Peace is Every Step, The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life. New York: Bantam Books.

Thomas Merton, (1996; originally published 1971). Contemplative Prayer. New York: Image Books.

Relaxed Parents are Mindful Parents

Relaxation and parenting may seem incompatible at times. As parents, we’ve all been there. The baby is crying, the older kids are hungry, the toddler is refusing to sit at the table and you’ve been up since 5am and are exhausted, stressed, and at the end of your rope. You may be shorter with the kids than you’d like or more stubborn than you need. At that moment, you may feel that the kids “should” listen to you or behave. You may tell yourself that they “know better”. One aspect of mindfulness is the practice of focusing on being effective in your thoughts and actions. As parents, we often run into road blocks that take the form of anything from a temper tantrum or employer demand, to a cheeky 5 year old refusing to go to bed.
In mindfulness, effectiveness is figuring out how to get where we want to go, despite the road block. Getting angry because the block shouldn’t be there, wasn’t there yesterday, or is unfair does not get us any closer to where we want to be and often makes things worse (i.e. the tantrum intensifies, an employer becomes rigid, or the 5 year old becomes more stubborn). Being effective is waiting for the block to go or finding another route to your destination. To be effective you must 1) understand what goal is being blocked, 2) look at and understand the situation non-judgmentally, and most importantly, 3) meet your goal without making things worse, which usually means you have to change your tactics.