Study shows self-administered mindfulness meditation reduces stress

In a recent study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, a large international team of researchers surveyed various mindfulness practitioners and conducted a multi-site study to determine what types of self-administered mindfulness meditation interventions effectively reduced stress and what the boundary conditions and effects of the selected mindfulness meditation exercises were.

Study: Self-administered mindfulness interventions reduce stress in a large, randomized controlled multi-site study. Image Credit: fizkes / ShutterstockStudy: Self-administered mindfulness interventions reduce stress in a large, randomized controlled multi-site study. Image Credit: fizkes / Shutterstock


One of the meditation interventions for stress reduction that has become popular in recent years due to its affordability and simplicity is self-administered mindfulness meditations. The ease of accessing these interventions through guided videos and audio, smartphone applications, computer programs, and self-help books has made these methods more appealing than professional-administered interventions such as mindfulness-based stress-lowering programs.

Mindful meditation involves the process of focusing on the present through awareness of bodily sensations, breathing, emotions, and thoughts. It can be self-administered and does not require complicated apparatus, settings, or postures. However, despite being practiced by millions of users, the effectiveness of self-administered mindfulness meditations in lowering stress remains debated. Furthermore, among the plethora of available exercises, the question of which intervention types are effective in reducing stress remains unclear.

About the study

In the present study, the researchers aimed to first understand what interventions were truly effective and which of the many self-administered mindfulness meditations might be suitable for lowering stress levels. They surveyed practitioners of various types of mindfulness meditation interventions to find answers to these questions.

Based on the responses from the survey, they selected four self-administered mindfulness meditation exercises and designed a highly-powered, multi-site study to determine boundary conditions and effects of these four exercises.

As part of the survey, they requested mindfulness practitioners to recommend the widely used and most prominent exercises in their areas of practice. A list of the popular exercises recommended by the practitioners was then cross-referenced against a published inventory of popular self-administered mindfulness meditation exercises.

Four mindfulness meditation exercise types were selected after the cross-referencing: mindful walking, mindful breathing, loving-kindness meditation, and body scan. As the name suggests, mindful breathing involves focusing on one’s breath, while mindful walking involves walking indoors or in a quiet place devoid of distractions while paying attention to instructions.

Body scanning involves the trainers inviting the participants to be aware of and scan various parts of their bodies, bringing their attention and awareness back to scanning each part of their body every time their mind wanders from the process. The process of loving kindness meditation involved encouraging the participants to experience feelings of loving kindness for themselves and someone else.

While the mindfulness conditions in the study involved listening to the trainers' instructions, the control conditions involved listening to excerpts from three popular books. Each excerpt was in standard English and contained no passages involving significant plot changes that would cause strong emotions in the listener.

Various standardized scales were used to measure neuroticism, stress, and emotion dimensions. The researchers also explored whether the effects of these mindfulness meditation exercises were moderated by the participants’ proficiency in the English language and their levels of neuroticism.


The results indicated that mindfulness meditation exercises might help lower stress levels among English-speaking adults living in high-income countries such as Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Europe.

Compared to the control conditions, the four types of mindfulness exercises, namely, mindful walking, mindful breathing, loving-kindness meditation, and body scan, were found to be more effective in lowering the participants' stress levels.

The study also showed that short mindfulness meditation exercises are valuable in situations of stress, such as road rage or an imminent stressful exam, that require short-term solutions to manage stress. Furthermore, the ability to use short-term stress management tools such as these short mindfulness exercises need not negate the understanding that only through prolonged practice can long-term positive results be achieved.

For individuals deterred from long-term commitments to mindfulness meditation exercises due to problems with motivation, capacity, or time, learning to reduce stress through shorter mindfulness meditation exercises could be a beneficial skill.


Overall, the study found that four types of mindfulness meditation exercises — mindful walking, mindful breathing, loving-kindness meditation, and body scan — are highly effective in the short term in lowering stress levels among English-speaking adults residing in high-income countries. Further research is required to determine whether these results are generalizable to other socioeconomic population groups.

Journal reference:
  • Sparacio, A., IJzerman, H., Ropovik, I., Giorgini, F., Spiessens, C., Uchino, B. N., Landvatter, J., Tacana, T., Diller, S. J., Derrick, J. L., Segundo, J., Pierce, J. D., Ross, R. M., Francis, Z., LaBoucane, A., MaKellams, C., Ford, M. B., Schmidt, K., Wong, C. C., & Higgins, W. C. (2024). Self-administered mindfulness interventions reduce stress in a large, randomized controlled multi-site study. Nature Human Behaviour. DOI: 10.1038/s41562024019077,
Dr. Chinta Sidharthan

Written by

Dr. Chinta Sidharthan

Chinta Sidharthan is a writer based in Bangalore, India. Her academic background is in evolutionary biology and genetics, and she has extensive experience in scientific research, teaching, science writing, and herpetology. Chinta holds a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the Indian Institute of Science and is passionate about science education, writing, animals, wildlife, and conservation. For her doctoral research, she explored the origins and diversification of blindsnakes in India, as a part of which she did extensive fieldwork in the jungles of southern India. She has received the Canadian Governor General’s bronze medal and Bangalore University gold medal for academic excellence and published her research in high-impact journals.


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