Stress is often villainized but it is also inevitable, which means effectively coping with stress is our best defense. According to research published in the journal Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, mindfulness meditation-based interventions may help build long-lasting flexible coping skills that enable us to problem solve effectively in the face of stressful life events.
Researchers at Western Washington University conducted a study to see if mindfulness meditation could enhance coping flexibility, which they defined as the ability to pay attention to, and modify strategies for dealing with stress. Previous research has shown that people who can shift and adapt their responses to stress are more optimistic, and have less depression and anxiety.
Previous research has shown that people who can shift and adapt their responses to stress are more optimistic, and have less depression and anxiety.
For this study, researchers gathered one hundred fifteen male and female undergraduate students with no prior meditation practice. Approximately half were assigned to a meditation group, and the other half put on a waitlist. Everyone, those who meditated and those who did not, completed a survey about their levels of mindfulness, stress, and coping flexibility.
Those in the meditation group received two and a half hours of instruction, which consisted of half-hour-long guided meditations and body scan practices. They were also given a CD with each practice and asked to meditate at home for six days and record when they practiced, as well as their mood and stress levels.
How Much Mindfulness Practice Helps Ease Stress?
After six days, the meditation group participants reported greater “dispositional mindfulness” (the ability to be non-judgmentally aware of your thoughts in the present moment) and considerably less stress than those in non-meditation group.
This effect was strongest for students who practiced for at least one hour at home on top of the guided group instruction. Meditation group members also showed significant improvements in coping flexibility. Again, those who meditated more performed better. Two weeks later, coping flexibility of meditators had increased further, but had dropped in the non-meditation group.
At the end of the study, people on the waiting list were offered the same program. Although some accepted the meditation CDs, none attended the formal training.
Although prior research has found that mindfulness meditation is linked to better coping flexibility, this is the first study showing that a one-week mindfulness intervention can improve coping and dispositional mindfulness and reduce perceived stress both immediately and two weeks later.