A growing body of research finds that mindful people tend to be happier and feel less stressed. We’re not entirely sure why this happens. One possible explanation is that mindful individuals have an easier time taking life’s challenges in stride, and are more flexible in the ways they deal with difficulties. This, in turn, may improve their health and well-being.
To find out if this might be true, researchers asked 157 undergraduate students at the University of Connecticut to fill out an online mindfulness questionnaire at the beginning of the school year. The following month, students completed a daily online questionnaire at the end of each day for seven days.
The daily survey included a list of 17 potential stressors. Students indicated which of those stressors they’d experienced that day, then rated which event was the “worst or most bothersome.” They then answered questions about the “worst” event that day, such as how stressful it was and how much control they felt. Next, they were given a list of possible coping strategies like acceptance, positive reappraisal, self-blame, or giving up, and asked which of these they’d used to deal with their “worst” stressor of the day. Lastly, they rated their mood using a list of emotions like inspired, active, determined, afraid, upset, or ashamed.
How mindfulness helps you cope with stress
Similar to prior studies, results revealed that people who rated themselves as being more mindful rated their experiences as less stressful, and were less likely to fall into a negative mood when facing difficulties. This suggests that being mindful of one’s immediate situation may impact how stressful it is perceived to be, creating a buffer from negative emotions like shame, anxiety, or fear. Notably, the current study found that more mindful people didn’t necessarily feel more positive. They just felt less negative.
Being mindful of one’s immediate situation may impact how stressful it is perceived to be, creating a buffer from negative emotions.
In terms of how they coped, more mindful people reported using less self-blame and being better able to accept situations that they couldn’t change. Mindfulness, the authors suggest, “predisposes individuals to increase their use of acceptance coping versus problem-focused coping in relatively uncontrollable situations, with greater increases in problem-focused approaches when a stressor is appraised as more controllable.” In other words, mindful people work to fix problems when they can, but are inclined to accept circumstances they can’t change.
In general, findings of the study suggest that being mindful of life’s ups and downs and how much we can control them may bolster our resilience to stress. This, in turn, may lead to more intentional and flexible coping strategies and prevent us getting stuck in negative mood states.