Mindfulness training has been shown to reduce rates of depression, anxiety, and perceived stress, but its impact on stress and emotion regulation in real-world settings in the college-aged population is unknown. This study examines the effect of an 8-session-long mindfulness training on first-year college students’ daily experiences of stress and emotion regulation.
Fifty-two first-year students were randomized to the mindfulness training or the waitlist-control group during the fall academic semester. Before, during and after the trial, students completed 10 days of ecological momentary assessments (EMAs), reporting on family and school or work stress, negative emotion, rumination, and interference by unwanted thoughts and emotions up to four times a day. Multilevel regression analysis compared levels of momentary stress and emotion regulation difficulties, as well as the strength of the moment-level association between stress and emotion regulation, by intervention condition, before, during and after the trial.
Controls showed an exacerbation of family stress-related negative emotion, rumination, and interference, across the fall semester. However, intervention youth showed stable levels of emotion regulation responses to family stress across the semester. Emotion regulation responses to school or work stress did not differ by intervention condition.
Mindfulness training helps to prevent the depletion of emotion regulation capacity in this sample of relatively healthy first-year college students. EMAs allow the assessment of emotion regulation in the context of naturally occurring stress and enhance the specificity and external validity of evaluations of psychological interventions.