Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Social Anxiety

Article summary provided by Kathryn Zumberg



Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is a structured program that combines meditation practices, such as sitting and walking mediation, and yoga in order to change suffering associated with mental disorders, stress, and chronic diseases (Kabat-Zinn, 1990). Evidence suggests that this brief program may provide some relief to individuals struggling with social anxiety disorder. Details about the treatment are discussed below. In addition, there are links to resources, including a link to get a free chapter from the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction workbook.



What is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction?

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.  as a treatment aimed at helping individuals to ease suffering by embracing their life in their present moment through mindfulness. Mindfulness is hard to define, but one definition that exists states the following: “mindfulness is awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment“ (Kabat-Zinn, 2003, p. 145).

In a nutshell, the treatment helps individuals to notice their thoughts and feelings, without judgment, which aids in building compassion for themselves (Keng, Smoski, Robins, Ekblad, & Brantley, 2012). Also, by staying in the present moment, it helps individuals to reduce the tendency to replay negative thoughts and experiences over and over in their head (Jain et al., 2007).

What does research say about its efficacy?  

Overall, research has clearly shown that MBSR programs produce reliable and meaningful change on a number of important outcomes:

  • Anxiety (Miller, Fletcher, & Kabat-Zinn, 1995; Vøllestad, Sivertsen, & Nielsen, 2011)
  • Coping with negative thoughts and emotions (Goldin & Gross, 2010), negative mood (Miller et al., 1995)
  • Physical health (Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt, & Walach, 2004).


Importantly, Koszycki, Benger, Shlik, and Bradwejn (2007) examined the efficacy of MBSR for those struggling with generalized social anxiety (social anxiety that impacts someone in most situations) and found that it was comparable to another well-established treatment for social anxiety disorder for improving negative mood and overall quality of life.

 How can I learn more about MBSR?

To learn more about MBSR, you can talk to your treatment provider about some of the potential benefits of engaging in a MBSR program, creating a mediation practice (e.g., setting aside time for daily mediation), or doing yoga. In addition, you can click the following link to try a free sample chapter from the MBSR workbook or buy the book.


To find a local MBSR group, please click the following link:




Goldin, P. R., & Gross, J. J. (2010). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. Emotion, 10(1), 83-91. doi: 10.1037/a0018441

Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S., & Walach, H. (2004). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits: A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57(1), 35-43. doi: 10.1016/S0022-3999(03)00573-7

Jain, S., Shapiro, S. L., Swanick, S., Roesch, S. C., Mills, P. J., Bell, I., & Schwartz, G. E. R. (2007). A Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation Versus Relaxation Training: Effects on Distress, Positive States of Mind, Rumination, and Distraction. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 33(1), 11-21. doi: 10.1207/s15324796abm3301_2

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. . New York: Dell Publishing.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 144-156. doi: 10.1093/clipsy/bpg016

Keng, S.-L., Smoski, M. J., Robins, C. J., Ekblad, A. G., & Brantley, J. G. (2012). Mechanisms of change in mindfulness-based stress reduction: Self-compassion and mindfulness as mediators of intervention outcomes. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 26(3), 270-280. doi: 10.1891/0889-8391.26.3.270

Koszycki, D., Benger, M., Shlik, J., & Bradwejn, J. (2007). Randomized trial of a meditation-based stress reduction program and cognitive behavior therapy in generalized social anxiety disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45(10), 2518-2526. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2007.04.011

Miller, J. J., Fletcher, K., & Kabat-Zinn, J. (1995). Three-year follow-up and clinical implications of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention in the treatment of anxiety disorders. General Hospital Psychiatry, 17(3), 192-200. doi: 10.1016/0163-8343(95)00025-M

Vøllestad, J., Sivertsen, B., & Nielsen, G. H. (2011). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for patients with anxiety disorders: Evaluation in a randomized controlled trial. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 49(4), 281-288. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2011.01.007

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