Reduce Negative Emotions with Brief Mindfulness Training
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“meditation is very helpful when it comes to engaging with negative emotions. These emotions are a natural part of our human experience: Waves of sadness, pain, jealousy, and anger are there to remind us that we are alive, and that we still have unresolved questions to address. At that point, meditation becomes a valuable tool to engage with these emotions.” – Itai Ivtzan
Emotions are important to our well-being. They provide the spice of life, the joy, the love, the happiness. But they can be negative and troubling producing anger, sadness, hurt and fear. They can also be harmful such as the consequences of out of control anger or suicidal depression. We need emotions, but we must find ways to keep them under control. Emotion regulation is the term used to describe the ability to control emotions. It is not eliminating or suppressing them. Far from it, emotion regulation allows for the emotion to be fully felt and experienced. But it maintains the intensity of the emotion at a manageable level and also produces the ability to respond to the emotion appropriately and constructively. Clearly, emotion regulation is a key to a happier life.
Mindfulness practices have been shown to improve emption regulation and reduce negative emotions. There has accumulated considerable research evidence on this. So, it is reasonable to pause and summarize what has been found. In today’s Research News article “Brief mindfulness training for negative affectivity: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6441958/), Schumer and colleagues review, summarize, and performed a meta-analysis of the published research studies investigating the effectiveness of brief mindfulness training (2 weeks or less) for the reduction of negative emotions. These emotions included anger, anxiety, depression, distress, irritability, sadness, shame, stress. They identified 63 published randomized controlled trials.
They found that brief mindfulness training with meditation naïve participants produced a significant decrease in negative emotions. The effect was larger for community samples compared to student samples. This makes sense as students are frequently required to participate due to college curriculum requirements, making them far less motivated. They also found that mindfulness trainings containing multiple mindfulness exercises produced better results than focused meditation or body scan alone. Training a variety of mindfulness exercises may make it more likely that the most effective technique for the individual participant is included.
There is considerable research that mindfulness training reduces negative emotions such as anger, anxiety, depression, distress, irritability, sadness, shame, and stress. The importance of this meta-analysis is that it demonstrated that even when mindfulness training is brief it still produces a reduction in negative emotions. There are numerous situations in the busy modern environment, such as in high stress jobs, where time is limited and only brief trainings are practicable. Demonstrating that even these brief trainings can be beneficial suggests that squeezing in mindfulness training when the situation allows is still helpful to the psychological health of the practitioner. The findings also suggest that the mindfulness training itself should be heterogenous, containing multiple mindfulness exercises to be maximally effective.
So, reduce negative emotions with brief mindfulness training.
“The first step in dealing with feelings is to recognize each feeling as it arises. The agent that does this is mindfulness. In the case of fear, for example, you bring out your mindfulness, look at your fear, and recognize it as fear. You know that fear springs from yourself and that mindfulness also springs from yourself. They are both in you, not fighting, but one taking care of the other.” — Thich Nhat Hanh
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Schumer, M. C., Lindsay, E. K., & Creswell, J. D. (2018). Brief mindfulness training for negative affectivity: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 86(7), 569–583. doi:10.1037/ccp0000324
Over the last ten years, there has been a dramatic increase in published randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of brief mindfulness training (from single-session inductions to multi-session interventions lasting up to two weeks), with some preliminary indications that these training programs may improve mental health outcomes, such as negative affectivity. This meta-analysis aimed to evaluate whether brief mindfulness training reliably reduces negative affectivity.
PubMed, PsycINFO, and the Mindfulness Research Monthly Newsletter were systematically searched for brief mindfulness intervention RCTs assessing negative affectivity outcomes (e.g., depression, rumination, anxiety, stress). 65 RCTs, including 5,489 participants predominantly without experience in meditation (64.64% female, mean age = 24.62), qualified for the meta-analytic review.
The meta-analysis revealed a small but significant effect of brief mindfulness training on reducing negative affectivity compared to control programs (g=.21, p<.001). The overall effect size was significantly moderated by participant characteristics: community samples (g=.41, p<.001) produced larger training effects compared to student samples (g=.14, p=.001) (Qbetween p=.03). No significant effect size differences were found between clinical and non-clinical samples. However, when accounting for publication bias, the overall effect size of brief mindfulness training programs on negative affectivity was significantly reduced (g=.04).
Brief mindfulness training programs are increasingly popular approaches for reducing negative affectivity. This meta-analysis indicates that brief mindfulness training modestly reduces negative affectivity. Quantitative analyses indicated the presence of publication bias (i.e., unpublished null effect studies), highlighting the need to continue rigorous evaluation of brief mindfulness interventions.