January 19, 2017
How To Survive Nail-Biter Football Games, According to Science
By Shilo Rea
For the millions of people watching NFL football games this weekend, it is not all fun and games. Rooting for your favorite team can leave you feeling anxious and stressed — right down to the last second.
The good news is that there is a way to help manage your stress reactions during the game. Mindfulness meditation has become an increasingly popular way for people to improve stress management, and Carnegie Mellon University scientists are leading the way to understanding how and why.
"Close your eyes for about a minute and maintain an open awareness of the sensations of breathing at your nostrils. There is no need to do anything special, just continuously observe the sensations of breathing in and breathing out at the nostrils with curiosity and interest," said J. David Creswell, associate professor of psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
He continued, "Even doing a one-minute mindfulness exercise like this can help us notice how our bodies and minds are reacting to a stressor, offering a pause to your typical reactivity patterns. We are starting to see scientific evidence accumulate showing that these mindful moments can foster resilience and help individuals better manage life’s slings and arrows."
Creswell’s own work has shown that that even brief mindfulness meditation practice — 25 minutes for three consecutive days — alleviates psychological stress and fosters stress resilience.
"If you get stressed out watching football or think that you might, set aside a little time before the game or during halftime doing brief mindfulness practices," said Creswell.
Mindfulness meditation has been shown to have a broad range of stress-related health benefits. Creswell has found that carefully crafted mindfulness intervention programs reduce loneliness in older adults, slow HIV progression and improve healthy aging.
And last year, he was the first to discover how this happens. His research provided a window into the brain changes that link mindfulness meditation training with health in stressed adults, showing that that mindfulness meditation training, compared to relaxation training, enhanced brain stress resilience circuits and improved inflammatory health outcomes, in high-stress adults.
"These brain changes provide a neurobiological marker for improved executive control and stress resilience, such that mindfulness meditation training improves your brain’s ability to help you manage stress," Creswell said.
The Today Show’s Jenna Bush Hager even visited CMU to participate in an abbreviated version of Creswell’s study to show the before and after effects of mindfulness meditation on her brain.
So football fans, or anyone facing an audition or job interview or a more severe and prolonged stressful event would be well advised to give mindfulness mediation training a shot.
This work bridges health psychology and neuroscience and falls under the new field of health neuroscience, which Creswell is credited with co-founding. It also is another example of the many brain research breakthroughs at Carnegie Mellon. Building on its strengths in biology, computer science, psychology, statistics and engineering, CMU launched BrainHub, an initiative that focuses on how the structure and activity of the brain give rise to complex behaviors.