Posted 10.12.2016 | by AMRA

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Our everyday hassles — traffic jams, minor arguments with coworkers— can add up to significantly affect our overall sense of well-being. It’s possible that mindfulness may increase our resilience to the impact of these daily stressors. It may be that the more one is mindful during negative events, the greater one’s odds of responding wisely to them rather than merely reacting out of habit and emotion.

Donald et al. [Journal of Research in Personality] tested whether increased levels of present-moment awareness—one component of mindfulness—increased the likelihood of acting in accordance with one’s values and one’s sense of efficacy during stressful events. They measured these variables through self-ratings in the participants’ daily diaries.

The authors recruited 143 Australian university students and staff (average age = 34, 76% female, 74% Caucasian) to participate in the study, which was part of a larger study involving a mindfulness-based intervention (the interventional part of the study was not relevant to the results reported here.) Participants of both the intervention and wait-list control groups completed 20 daily diaries over a four-week period in which they selected the most challenging or stressful event of each day to report on.

They then rated six variables: 1) the degree of threat posed by the event, 2) the degree of their present-moment awareness during the event, 3) their confidence in being able to effectively handle the event, 4) the degree to which their response to the event was consistent with their values, 5) the degree to which they relied on distraction to take their mind off the event during the day, and 6) the extent of their negative emotions during the day. The researchers then explored the interrelationship between these ratings.

The authors hypothesized that being more present-moment aware during stressful events would increase behaving in accordance with one’s values and one’s confidence in being able to handle the stressor. They also theorized that greater present-moment awareness would decrease the need to distract oneself to take one’s mind off the stressor. They predicted that these relationships would hold true both on the day the stressful event occurred and on the next day as well. They based this on the presumption that present-moment awareness helps conserve scarce coping resources by reducing worry and rumination, and that these conserved resources “spill over” to help one cope with stress on the following day.

In comparing differences between participants, the higher a participant’s self-rated average present-moment awareness during a stressful event, the significantly greater the likelihood of his or her responding in accordance with values (β=.16) and feeling confident of being able to handle the stressor (β=.09).

Similarly, in comparing variations in present moment awareness within individuals across different days, the higher their present-moment awareness during any stressful event, the significantly greater their responding in accordance with values (β=.16) and feeling confident about their ability to cope (β=.09). There was a similar effect for one’s present moment-awareness on one day, and one’s values-consistent responding (β=.06) and self-confidence about coping (β= .08) on the next day. Present-moment awareness did not significantly impact reliance on distraction. The positive effects of present-moment awareness were evident regardless of one’s mood during the day or the degree of threat posed by an event.

Using a daily diary approach with twenty measurement points, the study’s results suggest that present-moment awareness of one’s actions, thoughts, and feelings during stressful events promotes feelings of self-efficacy and acting in accordance with one’s values, and that these beneficial effects extend into the next day. These results support the value of trying to maintain mindful attention during moments when we experience challenge and stress.

The study is limited by its reliance on single questions to quantify variables, although the decision to do so was a reasonable one in terms of limiting the time burden on participants. It is also limited by its reliance on memory recall to estimate present-moment awareness.

Reference:

Donald, J. N., Atkins, P. W., Parker, P. D., Christie, A. M., & Ryan, R. M. (2016). Daily stress and the benefits of mindfulness: Examining the daily and longitudinal relations between present-moment awareness and stress responses. Journal of Research in Personality.

[Link to abstract]