Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)

MBSR can help people to cope with and improve physical symptoms caused by long-term illness. It can help to relieve various symptoms and conditions, including:

  • chronic pain (pain that lasts for more than 3 months)
  • stress and anxiety
  • sleep problems and daytime tiredness (fatigue)
  • headaches
  • migraine
  • tension headaches
  • irritable bowel syndrome

MBSR has also been used successfully as another option to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for managing depression.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends MBSR to prevent depression from returning.

MBSR can help to reduce stress hormone levels. This can help to manage simple faints and associated dizziness.

We mainly use MBSR as a complementary treatment (in addition to standard medical care). It can help you to deal with stress caused by things beyond your control, such as:

  • long-term conditions, especially if you have chronic pain or distressing symptoms
  • life events
  • stress at work
  • the stress of being a carer
  • anxiety (regardless of the cause)
  • sleep problems

Mindfulness and MBSR

Mindfulness is about paying attention in the here and now in a non-judgemental way. This means, as best as you can, not judging, analysing or even trying to change your current situation.

Instead, we invite you to explore your difficulties and try to experience the situation for what it is in that moment. A mindfulness-based approach teaches you practical skills to do this. It can take a bit of courage.

MBSR consists of various exercises. You can learn them easily by listening to audio recordings and following the instructions. 

The MBSR exercises are taken in part from traditional meditation, but they are completely non-religious (secular). MBSR is based on the best available, current health evidence. People who want to use their background in a faith-based practice (religious meditation) with MBSR can do so.

How to practise MBSR

To get the best out of MBSR, you need to give it your full attention. It sometimes involves a lot of concentration. You might want to relax for a short time after finishing the exercise.

At first, the MBSR trainer sees you face-to-face and explains the exercises. We give you CDs or you can listen to the exercises on our website, together with a detailed explanation of them. We encourage you to practise the exercises at home.

In all the practices, the aim is to experience the sensations in your body just as they are at that moment. Try to do this:

  • without judging what you feel (for example, as either good or bad)
  • without trying to change a sensation (for example, making a pain feel better by moving)
  • without analysing a sensation (for example, where a sensation comes from)

View and listen to MBSR exercises.

Other treatment options

We usually suggest MBSR in addition to standard medical care. Sometimes, we use MBSR on its own before considering other types of treatments that may have more side effects. The MBSR trainer will talk about your options in full with you at your clinic appointment.

Side effects

Unusual effects of meditation are very rare and generally only last a short time. If you are concerned about anything you experience during your exercises, you can discuss this with your doctor or the MBSR trainer. They can make sure that there is no physical cause for your symptoms.

Sometimes, people may have memories of past unpleasant events during the exercises. These thoughts often go away if you repeat the exercises. The practice allows the thoughts to become less intrusive over time. If you feel that MBSR is an emotionally negative experience for you, you might simply want to stop. You can also speak to your doctor about other ways of dealing with this situation, such as counselling.

Some people feel that MBSR does not match their belief systems. If you feel like this, you may decide not to have the treatment. You can talk about this with your MBSR trainer.

MBSR is an ‘acceptance and commitment’ based therapy. We invite you to accept any sensations in your body for what they are. You need to be committed to participate fully in the exercises. It is normal for there to be various distractions. If you find MBSR difficult because your pain is severe, you can talk about pain relief options with your doctor before starting MBSR.

MBSR should only be used with long-term (chronic) and fully-investigated symptoms, and never with any sudden (acute) pain.

It is your choice whether to try this treatment. If you decide to have the treatment, you can stop at any time without giving a reason. This does not affect your healthcare in any way.

Follow-up appointment

We arrange a face-to-face follow-up appointment with the MBSR trainer for 3 months after your first teaching session. Most people can practise MBSR themselves by listening to the recordings. 

If you have a problem

If you get any unpleasant symptoms that you are not familiar with, please report these to your GP or Dr Ernst.

Resource number: 3759/VER3
Last reviewed: February 2022
Next review due: February 2025 

Trusted Information Creator. Patient Information Forum

Do you have any comments or concerns about your care?

Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

Is this health information page useful?