If you though meditation or yoga was going to calm the nerves and stress of the world around us, you might want to reconsider your approach.
While 2020 has been just about as stressful as any year can be, many people have been seeking ways in which to be more mindful in managing the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, the election, and just about everything else that has happened. Activities like yoga were being conducted virtually through Zoom, while meditation apps like Headspace and Calm aimed to bring some solace to your day-to-day.
Although mindfulness is often linked to these therapeutic forms, a new study claims that mindfulness might not actually be helping you manage your stress the way in which you had hoped.
Researchers from the University at Buffalo recently uncovered that mindfulness has little to no benefit when it comes to helping with active stressors. The study, published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, had 1,001 participants perform a stress test to see if mindfulness could offer stress relief and coping benefits.
However, that wasn’t the case. While previous research has suggested that mindfulness can help people control present stressors, researchers said that participants were handling stressors through cardiovascular responses, which means they weren’t actually practicing mindfulness.
“What’s surprising, and particularly striking about our results, is that mindfulness didn’t seem to affect whether people had a more positive stress response in the moment,” Thomas Saltsman, the paper’s lead author, said in a press release. “Did more mindful people actually feel confident, comfortable and capable while engaged in a stressful task? We didn’t see evidence of that, despite them reporting feeling better about the task afterward.”
Saltsman said the purpose of the study wasn’t to bash mindfulness, but to point a light on its “possible limitations.” Mindfulness is said to have its power over the longterm, but for short term objectives — like taking a test or even taking a job interview — it seems to be limited in the moment if one’s mind isn’t already changed.
That’s one reason why researchers wanted to measure cardiovascular responses because it focused on the experience during the moment of stress, which can be measured through heart rate and blood pressure.
“Although those benefits seem unambiguous, the specific ways in which mindfulness should impact people’s psychological experiences during stress remain unclear,” said Saltsman. “So we used cardiovascular responses to capture what people were experiencing in a moment of stress, when they’re more or less dispositionally mindful.”
Mark Seery, an associated professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo, said that the results hopefully clear up some information regarding how mindfulness can actually be different from what one expects.
“One thing these results say to me, in terms of what the average person is expecting when they casually get into mindfulness, is that what it’s actually doing for them could very well be mismatched from their expectations going in,” Seery said. “And this is an impressively large sample of more than a thousand participants, which makes the results particularly convincing.”