Mindfulness Incorporates Psychological Flexibility Which Lessens Post-Traumatic Stress during Covid-19
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” ― Albert Einstein
Mindfulness training has been shown to be effective in improving physical and psychological health and particularly with the physical and psychological reactions to stress. Mindfulness also decreases the individual’s tendency to use tried and true solutions to problems and thereby improves cognitive and psychological flexibility. Psychological flexibility includes:”(1) acceptance – openness to inner experiencing, (2) defusion – observing feelings and thoughts without attachment, (3) present moment awareness – mindful awareness of the present, (4) self-as-context – flexible self-awareness and perspective taking, (5) values – connection to personal values, (6) committed action – values-guided effective action.” It is clear that there is considerable overlap between the ideas of mindfulness and psychological flexibility. It is possible that many of the effects of mindfulness are actually due to flexibility. So, there is a need to investigate the relative effectiveness of mindfulness and flexibility on psychological distress.
In today’s Research News article “Post-traumatic growth in people experiencing high post-traumatic stress during the COVID-19 pandemic: The protective role of psychological flexibility.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9420208/ ) Landi and colleagues examined Italian survey responses before and after a Covid-19 lockdown measuring psychological flexibility, Post-Traumatic Stress symptoms, and post-traumatic growth.
They found that there were significant intercorrelations between the various components of psychological flexibility. They found that for participants who were high in Post-Traumatic Stress symptoms on the pre-lockdown survey, psychological flexibility in the first survey was significantly predictive of post-traumatic growth after the lockdown. Further, for the high traumatic stress participants, psychological flexibility components of present moment awareness, defusion, values, and committed action at the first survey were significantly predictive of post-traumatic growth after the lockdown.
So, for flexibility and also mindfulness (present moment awareness) to be beneficial the participants need to have high stress levels to begin with. Those with low stress levels may be capable of post-traumatic growth without additional characteristics. These findings suggest that flexibility and mindfulness mitigate the effects of a Covid-19 lockdown on psychological well-being of people who are experiencing high levels of post-traumatic stress.
“When the whole world is entrenched in the bunker of physical and often emotional isolation, only flexibility and ingenuity can revive us to remain grounded and imbibe the bolstering sunlight piercing through the canvas of chaos. (Because the world has corona)” ― Erik Pevernagie
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Twitter @MindfulResearch
Landi G, Pakenham KI, Mattioli E, Crocetti E, Agostini A, Grandi S, Tossani E. Post-traumatic growth in people experiencing high post-traumatic stress during the COVID-19 pandemic: The protective role of psychological flexibility. J Contextual Behav Sci. 2022 Oct;26:44-55. doi: 10.1016/j.jcbs.2022.08.008. Epub 2022 Aug 28. PMID: 36060527; PMCID: PMC9420208.
The COVID-19 pandemic evokes high levels of post-traumatic stress (PTS) in some people as well as positive personal changes, a phenomenon known as post-traumatic growth (PTG). Experiencing an adverse event as traumatic is crucial for triggering PTG, therefore higher PTS is often associated with higher PTG. This longitudinal study examined the protective role of psychological flexibility in fostering PTG in a group of people reporting high PTS related to COVID-19 as compared to those with low PTS. We hypothesized that higher psychological flexibility will be associated with higher PTG in those with high PTS and that psychological flexibility would be unrelated to PTG in those with low PTS. Secondary data analysis was conducted on data from a larger project investigating the psychological impacts of COVID-19. Adult Italians (N = 382) completed online surveys at Time 1 (three months after the first national lockdown, July 2020) and Time 2 (three months later when the number of COVID-19 cases increased, October 2020). Based on the Impact of Event Scale–Revised cut-off score, two PTS groups were identified at Time 2: low PTS (below cut-off) and high PTS (above cut-off). As predicted, moderation analyses showed that after controlling for Time 1 PTS and PTG and confounding variables, Time 1 psychological flexibility was associated with higher Time 2 PTG in the high PTS group, whereas psychological flexibility was unrelated to PTG in the low PTS group. Four psychological flexibility sub-processes (present moment awareness, defusion, values, committed action) at Time 1 were related to higher Time 2 PTG in only the high PTS group. Findings advance understanding of the role of psychological flexibility in trauma reactions and pandemic mental health adjustment. Evidence-based approaches that target psychological flexibility, like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, are likely to foster PTG and ultimately adjustment in people with high PTS during and after the pandemic.