Posted from archive: 10.28.2013 | by AMRA

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Laurent et al. [Psychoneuroendocrinology] explored the relationship between dispositional mindfulness (measured by the FFMQ) and salivary cortisol reactivity in male and female members of 100 heterosexual couples who participated in a task designed to elicit acute stress in response to a romantic conflict. The task involved videotaping interactions in which the couples tried to resolve a relationship conflict.

Prior to the stress task, men and women showed differing relationships between the five FFMQ facets and mental health variables. Women exhibited significant negative correlations between FFMQ non-reactivity and non-judging and self-ratings of depression and anxiety, and a positive correlation between those same facets and psychological well-being. FFMQ acting with awareness and describing also correlated negatively with women’s depression and positively with women’s well-being. For men, FFMQ non-reacting correlated positively with well-being; FFMQ acting with awareness correlated negatively with depression; and FFMQ non-judging correlated negatively with depression and anxiety.

The relationship between the stressful task, mindfulness, and cortisol reactivity was complex and dependent on sex. Women reporting high scores on FFMQ non-reacting had higher cortisol levels after relationship conflict. Men who were high on FFMQ describing had less pronounced cortisol reactivity/recovery curves and less steep cortisol recovery slopes. Lower stress-related cortisol levels in women were linked to increased depressive symptoms, whereas lower stress-related cortisol levels and less pronounced reactivity/recovery curves were linked to improved well-being in men.

These results demonstrate different cortisol trajectories for men and women in response to relationship-related stress. Despite these differences, mindfulness seems to help members of each sex achieve an optimal state of stress reactivity, albeit by different pathways. The study suggests that mindfulness can play a protective role in stress adaptation. However, men and women may utilize different facets of mindfulness to regulate their reactions to stressors.

Reference:

Laurent, H., Laurent, S., Hertz, R., Egan-Wright, D., & Granger, D. A. (2013). Sex-specific effects of mindfulness on romantic partners’ cortisol responses to conflict and relations with psychological adjustment. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 38(12):2905-13. [PMID: 23988478]

[Link to abstract]