Study Shows Mindfulness and Biofeedback are Effective Preventive Strategies to Treat Chronic Stress

By Patrick Steffen, Professor of Psychology and Director of Clinical Training at Brigham University

Chronic Stress is Very Harmful in Everyday Life

In short, what is the study about?

This article was written for political policy makers, addressing current problems with depression and anxiety treatment. Research shows that in spite of effective treatments for depression and anxiety (medications, psychotherapy), these problems not only continue but are increasing, with the World Health Organization estimating that depression will be the leading cause of disability in the world by the year 2030 (it is currently the third leading cause).

Given that chronic stress plays a major role in the development of both depression and anxiety and that chronic stress is also increasing in the United States (see APA reports over the last 10 years on chronic stress at, we argue in our article that we should address chronic stress directly, taking a broad, public health-based approach.

What would be the most important take-home messages from the study?

The main idea is that if we can reduce chronic stress generally, we can reduce the rising tide of depression and anxiety. Focusing on stress early using a preventative strategy has the potential to reduce depression and anxiety as well as related treatment costs down the road.

How are these findings important in practice?

There are two key implications. First, most people with depression and anxiety never receive appropriate medications or psychotherapy, even after receiving a professional diagnosis. Stigma and cost are two key issues in standard treatment approaches. Stigma and cost are lower, however, for stress reduction interventions such as mindfulness and biofeedback. Second, current research shows that addressing stress directly in psychotherapy using mindfulness and biofeedback techniques as adjuncts improves outcomes. And given that the modal number of psychotherapy sessions in the United States is one, reducing stress early and directly may increase client desire to continue.

What other studies can be recommended to further an understanding/application of the findings?

More research studies examining how stress reduction interventions can be implemented at a population level are needed. Additionally, more research is needed on how stress reduction interventions can be integrated into standard treatments such as psychotherapy and medication use.

About Patrick Steffen, Professor of Psychology, Brigham Young University

Alternative Text

Patrick Steffen’s broad research interests lie in the areas of health psychology and behavioral medicine, with specific interests in culture, spirituality, and health. He is particularly interested in the Hispanic Paradox and how disadvantaged groups display resiliency and positive adaptation in spite of significant stressors. He has authored and co-authored articles in Psychosomatic Medicine, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, Journal of Behavioral Medicine, American Journal of Hypertension, Ethnicity and Disease, and Mental Health, Religion, and Culture; and co-authored chapters in the Oxford Handbook of Health Psychology and the Handbook of Primary Care Psychology. Dr. Steffen is currently an associate professor and associate director of clinical training in the Brigham Young University clinical psychology program. Before coming to BYU, Steffen was a postdoctoral research fellow in cardiovascular behavioral medicine at Duke University Medical Center. He received his PhD and master’s degrees at the University of Miami in clinical health psychology, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology with minors in statistics and philosophy from Brigham Young University.

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More on: Anxiety, Depression, Mindfulness, Research
Latest update: November 17, 2017