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Randomized Controlled Trial
. 2014 Oct;48:11-8.
doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.05.012. Epub 2014 May 27.

It's Not What You Think, It's How You Relate to It: Dispositional Mindfulness Moderates the Relationship Between Psychological Distress and the Cortisol Awakening Response

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Free PMC article
Randomized Controlled Trial

It's Not What You Think, It's How You Relate to It: Dispositional Mindfulness Moderates the Relationship Between Psychological Distress and the Cortisol Awakening Response

Jennifer Daubenmier et al. Psychoneuroendocrinology. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

Objective: The cortisol awakening response (CAR) is a natural metabolic response that can be potentiated by negative cognitive-emotional processes, including stress appraisals, negative affect, and rumination. Psychological distress and the CAR are not consistently related, however. Individual differences in aspects of dispositional mindfulness which reflect how people relate to negative thoughts and emotions may help explain such inconsistencies. We tested whether the tendency to (1) label and describe inner experiences and (2) accept negative thoughts and feelings without judgment moderated the association between psychological distress and the CAR.

Methods: Self-reported dispositional mindfulness, perceived stress, anxiety, negative affect, rumination, and the CAR were assessed among overweight/obese women. Regression analyses were conducted to examine whether dispositional mindfulness moderated the relationship between indicators of psychological distress and the CAR.

Results: While psychological distress was consistently positively related to the CAR, these associations were qualified by significant interactions with both components of dispositional mindfulness. Psychological distress was associated with the CAR at lower levels of dispositional mindfulness but not at higher levels.

Conclusion: These findings are consistent with the idea that the tendency to describe and accept experiences may buffer the impact of psychological distress on physiological arousal. These metacognitive processes may be important moderators in unraveling the complex relationship between psychological distress and physiological stress reactivity. Further research is recommended to replicate this approach in other populations.

Keywords: Acceptance; Cortisol; Cortisol awakening response; Dispositional mindfulness; Meditation; Negative affect; Perceived stress; Rumination.

Conflict of interest statement

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
Interactions between aspects of psychological distress and components of dispositional mindfulness predicting the cortisol awakening response. For Panels A-D, the interaction terms are significant indicating that psychological distress is related to the cortisol awakening response at low levels of dispositional mindfulness (i.e., 1 SD below the mean) but not at higher levels (i.e., 1 SD above the mean). Interactions represented in Panels E and F are of marginal significance (p < .10). Panel A: Rumination is positively related to the CAR at low levels of Describe (p < .0001) but not at high levels (p = .81). Panel B: Anxiety is positively related to the CAR at low levels of Describe (p = .025) but not at high levels (p = .38). Panel C: Negative Affect is positively related to the cortisol awakening response (CAR) at low levels of Accept (p = .003) but not at high levels (p = .91). Panel D: Anxiety is positively related to the CAR at low levels of Accept (p = .003) but not at high levels (p = .14). Panel E: Interaction between perceived stress and Accept (p = .08). Panel F: Interaction between rumination and Accept (p = .09). Note: Graphs of non-centered variables are presented for ease of interpretation. Error bars represent ± 1 standard error of the estimate.
Figure 1
Figure 1
Interactions between aspects of psychological distress and components of dispositional mindfulness predicting the cortisol awakening response. For Panels A-D, the interaction terms are significant indicating that psychological distress is related to the cortisol awakening response at low levels of dispositional mindfulness (i.e., 1 SD below the mean) but not at higher levels (i.e., 1 SD above the mean). Interactions represented in Panels E and F are of marginal significance (p < .10). Panel A: Rumination is positively related to the CAR at low levels of Describe (p < .0001) but not at high levels (p = .81). Panel B: Anxiety is positively related to the CAR at low levels of Describe (p = .025) but not at high levels (p = .38). Panel C: Negative Affect is positively related to the cortisol awakening response (CAR) at low levels of Accept (p = .003) but not at high levels (p = .91). Panel D: Anxiety is positively related to the CAR at low levels of Accept (p = .003) but not at high levels (p = .14). Panel E: Interaction between perceived stress and Accept (p = .08). Panel F: Interaction between rumination and Accept (p = .09). Note: Graphs of non-centered variables are presented for ease of interpretation. Error bars represent ± 1 standard error of the estimate.
Figure 1
Figure 1
Interactions between aspects of psychological distress and components of dispositional mindfulness predicting the cortisol awakening response. For Panels A-D, the interaction terms are significant indicating that psychological distress is related to the cortisol awakening response at low levels of dispositional mindfulness (i.e., 1 SD below the mean) but not at higher levels (i.e., 1 SD above the mean). Interactions represented in Panels E and F are of marginal significance (p < .10). Panel A: Rumination is positively related to the CAR at low levels of Describe (p < .0001) but not at high levels (p = .81). Panel B: Anxiety is positively related to the CAR at low levels of Describe (p = .025) but not at high levels (p = .38). Panel C: Negative Affect is positively related to the cortisol awakening response (CAR) at low levels of Accept (p = .003) but not at high levels (p = .91). Panel D: Anxiety is positively related to the CAR at low levels of Accept (p = .003) but not at high levels (p = .14). Panel E: Interaction between perceived stress and Accept (p = .08). Panel F: Interaction between rumination and Accept (p = .09). Note: Graphs of non-centered variables are presented for ease of interpretation. Error bars represent ± 1 standard error of the estimate.

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