Objective: Mindfulness training has been shown to improve psychological well-being and physical health. One proposed pathway for the positive effects of mindfulness training is through the development of new emotion regulation strategies, such as the ability to experience emotions by observing and accepting them without judgment. Theoretically, this should facilitate recovery from negative emotional states; however, this has rarely been examined empirically. The goal of the current study was to determine whether mindfulness training is associated with more efficient emotional and cardiovascular recovery from induced negative affect.
Methods: The current study tested emotional and cardiovascular recovery from induced negative affect during a personal recall task in women randomly assigned to 6-weeks of mindfulness training (n=39) compared to women assigned to a wait-list control condition (n=32). During baseline, task, and post-task rest, blood pressure and heart rate were monitored at fixed intervals and heart rate variability (HRV) and pre-ejection period (PEP) were monitored continuously. This study was embedded within a randomized trial that evaluated the effects of mindfulness training in a sample of younger breast cancer survivors, a group in need of access to effective psychosocial intervention as they can experience high stress, anxiety, and physical symptoms for many years in to survivorship.
Results: In response to the personal recall task, women in both the intervention and control groups showed significant increases in sadness, anxiety, and anger, with the intervention group reaching higher levels of sadness and anger than controls. Further, the intervention group showed a significantly steeper decline in sadness and anger, as well as steeper initial decline in diastolic blood pressure compared to women in the wait list control condition. Groups did not differ in their self-reported feelings of anxiety, or in blood pressure, heart rate, or pre-ejection period (PEP) responses to the task. The control group demonstrated an increase in heart rate variability (HRV) during the task (indexed by the root mean square of successive differences in heart rate; RMSSD) while the intervention group remained flat throughout the task.
Conclusion: Compared to the control group, women in the intervention group experienced greater negative emotions when recalling a difficult experience related to their breast cancer, and demonstrated an efficient emotional and blood pressure recovery from the experience. This suggests that mindfulness training may lead to an enhanced emotional experience coupled with the ability to recovery quickly from negative emotional states.
Keywords: Cancer survivorship; Cardiovascular health; Emotion regulation; Mindfulness meditation; Stress reactivity.
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