Mind wandering and stress: When you don't like the present moment

Emotion. 2020 Apr;20(3):403-412. doi: 10.1037/emo0000548. Epub 2019 Feb 4.


Buddhist philosophy and existing empirical evidence suggest that being engaged in-and accepting-the present moment is associated with greater well-being. However, engaging with the present moment experience and ignoring unwanted thoughts is difficult given the nature of our minds and the competing demands for our attention. This may be especially true when experiencing psychological stress, during which acceptance of current experience may be particularly difficult. This study examines inter- and intraindividual variability in how psychological stress influences daily mind states, and how mind states are related to affect. For 21 days, women (n = 183; half chronically stressed, half low-stress controls) reported levels of mind wandering, engagement with and rejection of their current experience, positive and negative affect, and quality of connection to their partner. Women under chronic stress reported more evening mind wandering, less engagement, and more rejection of the moment, compared to low stress controls. These mind states were in turn associated with more negative evening mood. Daily contextual factors, specifically, having a stressful event (objectively coded) and quality of connection with spouse that day (a known stress buffer), influenced evening mind states. Results provide evidence that chronic and daily psychological stress interfere with daily presence while positive social connection enhances presence in the moment. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Young Adult