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Effects of Mindfulness Training on Daily Stress Response in College Students: Ecological Momentary Assessment of a Randomized Controlled Trial

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Abstract

Objective

Mindfulness training has been shown to reduce rates of depression, anxiety, and perceived stress, but its impact on stress and emotion regulation in real-world settings in the college-aged population is unknown. This study examines the effect of an 8-session-long mindfulness training on first-year college students’ daily experiences of stress and emotion regulation.

Methods

Fifty-two first-year students were randomized to the mindfulness training or the waitlist-control group during the fall academic semester. Before, during and after the trial, students completed 10 days of ecological momentary assessments (EMAs), reporting on family and school or work stress, negative emotion, rumination, and interference by unwanted thoughts and emotions up to four times a day. Multilevel regression analysis compared levels of momentary stress and emotion regulation difficulties, as well as the strength of the moment-level association between stress and emotion regulation, by intervention condition, before, during and after the trial.

Results

Controls showed an exacerbation of family stress-related negative emotion, rumination, and interference, across the fall semester. However, intervention youth showed stable levels of emotion regulation responses to family stress across the semester. Emotion regulation responses to school or work stress did not differ by intervention condition.

Conclusions

Mindfulness training helps to prevent the depletion of emotion regulation capacity in this sample of relatively healthy first-year college students. EMAs allow the assessment of emotion regulation in the context of naturally occurring stress and enhance the specificity and external validity of evaluations of psychological interventions.

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Funding

This project was supported by grants from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, Clinical and Translational Science Institute, UL1 TR000127 and TR002014, National Institute on Drug Abuse, T32 DA017629, and the Bennett Endowment Fund at Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center.

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Authors

Contributions

SB: led the conceptualization, literature review, data analysis, and writing of the current study. SE: led the conceptualization, design, and data collection of the current study and contributed to its literature review and editing. MK: contributed to the design, data collection, literature review, and editing of the current study. KD: led the conceptualization, design, and data collection of the larger RCT and contributed to the literature review, data collection, data analysis, and editing of the current study. MTG: co-led the conceptualization, design, data collection of the larger RCT and the conceptualization, literature review, data collection, data analysis, and editing of the current study.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sunhye Bai.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Pennsylvania State University’s institutional review board and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments.

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Informed consent was obtained from all participants included in the study.

Research Involving Human Participants and/or Animals

Study procedures have been approved by the university ethics committee and have therefore been performed in accordance with the ethical standards laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments.

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Bai, S., Elavsky, S., Kishida, M. et al. Effects of Mindfulness Training on Daily Stress Response in College Students: Ecological Momentary Assessment of a Randomized Controlled Trial. Mindfulness 11, 1433–1445 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01358-x

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