With heart disease one of the world's very biggest killers, new approaches to prevention and treatment are always welcome. In fact, most heart disease can be prevented by changes in people's behaviour and attitudes. The same holds true for the effective treatment of those who have already developed the disease.
Many health psychologists have focused on developing effective ways to change behaviours that increase the risk of heart disease, such as smoking. But there's also growing interest in the relationship between health and particular aspects of self-awareness and illness. A recent study in the International Journal of Psychology explores what the effects of mindfulness - which has its roots in Buddhist and Hindu meditation - and integrated self-knowledge might be in preventing or treating heart disease.
But what do these two concepts mean? "Mindfulness" involves having an enhanced awareness about experience in the here and now, and being fully present in the moment. The focus is on perception of what is going on inside and outside our bodies, rather than on the analysis of those perceptions. "Integrative self-knowledge" (ISK) combines living in the present with reflection on changes in experience over time, our own standards about our functioning, and our goals. It identifies inconsistencies between experiences as well as conflicts between what we experience and what we want to experience. ISK can also motivate us to bring our present experience and the experience we desire into line by changing our behaviour or attitudes.
Past health studies have tended to focus on the effects of one or other of these types of self-awareness. The team behind the International Journal of Psychology report measured both. They looked at whether mindfulness and ISK were related to mental health (perceived level of stress, and symptoms of anxiety and depression) and to an angry and hostile way of reacting to other people that has previously been shown to be a risk factor for the development of heart disease.
The authors studied two groups of men: those who had not been diagnosed with a serious illness (who would be a good target for heart-disease prevention interventions) and those who were about to undergo surgery for heart disease (a good target for treatment and management interventions).