Decrease Sadness with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Meditation can be helpful. . . We are like a plant in winter: cold, dark, dormant. If we can accept this feeling as a natural part of having a human heart—that it breaks sometimes—we can give it the attention and love it needs. It may be painful, but being with the sadness without trying to do much with it is the best way to let the winter pass of its own accord.” – Mindful
Sadness is labelled as a negative emotion. It is, however, a natural and normal reaction to loss, or lack, or loneliness. But, if sadness if overly intense or prolonged, it can turn into an intense misery, e.g. grief. Sadness is sometimes confused with depression. But they are quite different states. Sadness occurs normally in response to a situation, while depression occurs without an external referent. The mindfulness approach to emotion is to simply observe it, not deny or suppress it, but let it arise and then watch it dissipate. How the individual reacts to n emotion can results in an amplification of the magnitude of the emotion. Acceptance of the emotion then can eliminate the magnification of the emotion. This mindfulness approach has been shown to improve the ability to regulate most emotions. So, it would seem reasonable to hypothesize that mindfulness training would be able to reduce sadness.
There are other strategies to control emotions including suppression and reappraisal. Suppression is an active attempt to inhibit both the physical and psychological aspects of an emotion. On the other hand, reappraisal is an active process of reinterpreting the cause of the emotion and thereby reduce its impact. It is not known which of these three strategies would be most effective in dealing with sadness.
In today’s Research News article “Effects of mindfulness, reappraisal, and suppression on sad mood and cognitive resources.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5509409/, Keng and colleagues recruited college students and randomly assigned them to receive instructions for dealing with emotions with mindfulness, suppression, or reappraisal. They listened to a pre-recorded (10 minute) audio instruction. The instructions for the mindfulness condition, emphasized registering thoughts and emotions as they are without judging them. Instructions for the reappraisal condition were to reframe the meaning of an emotional event to reduce its emotional impact. Instructions for the suppression condition emphasized suppressing both the experience and expression of emotions.
A sad mood was induced by asking the participants to recall and spend 10 minutes writing about sad events in their lives while listening to sad music. The participants were then asked to use their assigned strategy, mindfulness, suppression, or reappraisal to deal with the sad emotion. They rated their sadness every minute during the application of the strategy. Before and after inducing the sad mood, the participants were measured for sadness, and attentional ability (Stroop task). Only participants who had a significant increase in sadness resulting from the induction were included in the final sample.
They found that over time sadness declined, but it declined faster with the mindfulness strategy than with either the suppression or reappraisal strategies. In addition, mindfulness resulted in better attention performance. So, although this was a somewhat artificial laboratory experiment, the results suggested that mindfulness was a superior strategy for dealing with sadness and maintaining attentional ability than either suppression or reappraisal. So, experiencing emotions as they are without judgement appears to be better at reducing the strength of the emotion than trying to eliminate or reinterpret it.
So, decrease sadness with mindfulness.
“Despair is what happens when you fight sadness. Compassion is what happens when you don’t.” – Susan Piver
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Keng, S.-L., Tan, E. L. Y., Eisenlohr-Moul, T. A., & Smoski, M. J. (2017). Effects of mindfulness, reappraisal, and suppression on sad mood and cognitive resources. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 91, 33–42. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2017.01.006
The present study investigated the relative effects of mindfulness, reappraisal and suppression in reducing sadness, and the extent to which implementation of these strategies affects cognitive resources in a laboratory context. A total of 171 Singaporean undergraduate participants were randomly assigned to receive brief training in mindfulness, reappraisal, or suppression prior to undergoing a sad mood induction. Individual adherence to Asian cultural values was assessed as a potential moderator of strategy effectiveness. Participants rated their mood and completed a Color-Word Stroop task before and after mood regulation instructions. Analyses using multi-level modelling showed that the suppression condition caused less robust declines in sadness over time compared to mindfulness. There was also a nonsignificant trend in which mindfulness was associated with greater sadness recovery compared to reappraisal. Suppression resulted in lower average sadness compared to mindfulness among those high on Asian cultural values, but not those low on Asian cultural values. Both mindfulness and reappraisal buffered against increases in Stroop interference from pre-to post-regulation compared to suppression. The findings highlight the advantage of mindfulness as a strategy effective not only in the regulation of sad mood, but also in the preservation of cognitive resources in the context of mood regulation.