Mindfulness is Associated with Non-Judging and Positive Emotions which Improve Emotional Health
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Almost any approach for cultivating care for others needs to start with paying attention. The beginning of cultivating compassion and concern, or doing something for the benefit of others, is first noticing what something or someone means to you.” – Erika Rosenberg
Over the last several decades, research and anecdotal experiences have accumulated an impressive evidential case that the development of mindfulness has positive benefits for the individual’s mental, physical, and spiritual life. One way that mindfulness may be producing its benefits is by improving emotion regulation so that mindful people are better able to experience yet control their responses to emotions. This then improves mental health.
Mindfulness, though, is not a unitary concept. It has been segregated into five facets; observing, describing, acting with awareness, non-judgement, and non-reactivity. People differ and an individual can be high or low on any of these facets and any combination of facets. It is not known what pattern of mindfulness facets are most predictive of good mental health. So, it is important to investigate the interrelationships of mindfulness, compassion, and emotions with negative states such as of anxiety, depression, perceived stress, and negative emotions.
In today’s Research News article “Network Analysis of Mindfulness Facets, Affect, Compassion, and Distress.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7689647/ ) Medvedev and colleagues recruited college students and also mailed questionnaires to the general population (response rate 12%). They had them complete measures of anxiety, depression, perceived stress, positive and negative emotions, compassion, and mindfulness, including observing, describing, acting with awareness, non-judgement, and non-reactivity facets. These data were subjected to a network analysis.
They found two major clusters of variables. The maladaptive factors of anxiety, depression, perceived stress, and negative emotions were highly associated and strongly clustered into a tight node. The adaptive factors of positive emotions, compassion, and mindfulness, including observing, describing, acting with awareness, non-judgement, and non-reactivity facets were also clustered but not as tightly into a second node. Examining which variables were the primary bridge between the two nodes revealed that the mindfulness facet of non-judging of internal experience and positive emotions were by far the strongest negative bridges. Compassion was associated with the maladaptive node by a strong connection with positive emotions that were negatively associated with the maladaptive node.
These results are correlative and as such caution must be exercised in reaching causal connections. But mindfulness and its facets have been shown in previous research to reduce anxiety, depression, perceived stress, and negative emotions. So, the associations observed in the present study likely represent causal connections. Nonetheless, the present findings suggest that mindfulness and compassion work to reduce maladaptive emotions through non-judging of internal experience and positive emotions. That is, they increase these bridging factors and thereby reduce the maladaptive emotions.
Non-judging of internal experience involves taking a neutral attitude toward one’s own experience. Accepting one’s internal experiences appears to be the key to reducing anxiety, depression, perceived stress, and negative emotions. In other words, if a thought arises that predicts a future negative event it does not evoke anxiety or depression if that thought is not judged, just allowed to happen. The adaptive characteristics also appear to improve one’s emotional state producing greater positive feelings. This also appears to be an antidote to negative feelings. So, mindfulness and compassion increase positive emotions that act to counteract negative feelings.
So, mindfulness is associated with non-judging and positive emotions which improve emotional health.
“The beauty of self-compassion is that instead of replacing negative feelings with positive ones, new positive emotions are generated by embracing the negative ones. The positive emotions of care and connectedness are felt alongside our painful feelings. When we have compassion for ourselves, sunshine and shadow are experienced simultaneously.” – Kristin Neff
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Medvedev, O. N., Cervin, M., Barcaccia, B., Siegert, R. J., Roemer, A., & Krägeloh, C. U. (2020). Network Analysis of Mindfulness Facets, Affect, Compassion, and Distress. Mindfulness, 1–12. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01555-8
Mindfulness, positive affect, and compassion may protect against psychological distress but there is lack of understanding about the ways in which these factors are linked to mental health. Network analysis is a statistical method used to investigate complex associations among constructs in a single network and is particularly suitable for this purpose. The aim of this study was to explore how mindfulness facets, affect, and compassion were linked to psychological distress using network analysis.
The sample (n = 400) included equal numbers from general and student populations who completed measures of five mindfulness facets, compassion, positive and negative affect, depression, anxiety, and stress. Network analysis was used to explore the direct associations between these variables.
Compassion was directly related to positive affect, which in turn was strongly and inversely related to depression and positively related to the observing and describing facets of mindfulness. The non-judgment facet of mindfulness was strongly and inversely related to negative affect, anxiety, and depression, while non-reactivity and acting with awareness were inversely associated with stress and anxiety, respectively. Strong associations were found between all distress variables.
The present network analysis highlights the strong link between compassion and positive affect and suggests that observing and describing the world through the lens of compassion may enhance resilience to depression. Taking a non-judging and non-reacting stance toward internal experience while acting with awareness may protect against psychological distress. Applicability of these findings can be examined in experimental studies aiming to prevent distress and enhance psychological well-being.