Mindfulness meditation can offset the worry of waiting -- ScienceDaily
"We try to predict our fate and regain a sense of certainty and control over our life," said Sweeny, who is an associate professor of psychology at UCR. "We know from lots of research that rumination (repetitive thoughts about the past) and worry (repetitive thoughts about the future) are quite unpleasant and even harmful to our health and well-being, so it's important to seek solutions to this painful form of mental time-travel."
Better to focus on the present, Sweeny said, and accept your thoughts and feelings as they arise rather than engage in tactics to avoid them. It means you'll process your emotions differently and -- Sweeny argues -- more effectively.
The study was performed using 150 California law students who had taken the bar exam and were awaiting the exam results. It takes four months after taking the exam before results are posted online. The students completed a series of questionnaires in that four-month waiting period.
There are few "waiting" scenarios more stressful than the potentially career-killing bar exam. The magnitude of the distress is represented in several sample statements Sweeny and her team collected. Among them:
I had a nightmare where I couldn't determine whether I had passed or failed the bar exam and I spent the entire dream trying to find out my results. I have these sort of bar exam nightmares once every couple weeks.
I got sick, like fever flu sick, and I think it's because my anxiety levels have slowly been building up to today!! I was constantly thinking and thinking about the results.
During the four-month waiting period, the students were asked to participate in a 15-minute audio-guided meditation session at least once a week.
Sweeny found the mindfulness meditation served to postpone the phenomenon of "bracing." Bracing is essentially preparing for the worst. Previous research by Sweeny and others shows bracing can be an effective technique for managing expectations, but its benefits erode when it occurs too early in the waiting process.
"Optimism feels good; it just does a poor job of preparing us for the blow of bad news," Sweeny said. "That's where bracing comes in. In a perfect world, we'd be optimistic as long as possible to get all the good feelings we can from assuming the best, and then we'd brace for the worst at the moment of truth to make sure we're prepared for bad news."
The benefits of mindfulness meditation have long been asserted, but Sweeny said this is the first research to demonstrate its effectiveness coping with waiting.
"We know that meditation is a great way to reduce everyday stress, but our study is the first to see if it also makes it easier to wait for personally significant news. This study is also one of the first to identify any strategy that helps people wait better, and it also shows that even brief and infrequent meditation can be helpful," Sweeny said.