Mindfulness is a practice that emphasizes awareness of thoughts, feelings, sensations as a means of gaining more insight, increasing attention, improving concentration, and enhancing self- control, among many other benefits. The ultimate idea being that via mindfulness producing improvements in these areas, positive changes can be made to influence our attitudes and behaviors for the better.
When it comes to situations and stimuli that can trigger fear and uncertainty, mindfulness can be a powerful tool in one’s arsenal to combat it. There are several specific ways mindfulness can promote mental health during times of fear and uncertainty, ultimately promoting overall wellness too.
Research shows that regularly practicing mindfulness can reduce stress. Since increased stress is an effect of both short-term and long-term exposure to fear, reduction of stress is a valuable benefit. A 2010 study explored this by randomly assigning participants to an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction group and comparing this group against controls on self-reported measures of depression, anxiety and psychopathology, and on neural reactivity as measured by fMRI after watching sad films.
Researchers concluded that the participants who experienced mindfulness-based stress reduction had significantly less anxiety, depression and somatic distress compared with the control group. Thus, this demonstrated that mindfulness meditation increased positive affect and decreased anxiety and negative affect (Davis & Hayes, 2012).
Mindfulness is also known to improve attention overtime. This can be hugely beneficial when trying to cope with fear and uncertainty, because one can use mindfulness as means of shifting focus away from the source of the fear and towards something healthier and more positive. A 2009 study by Moore and Malinowski explored how mindfulness affected participants’ ability to focus attention and suppress distracting information.
In the study, a group of experienced mindfulness meditators was compared with a control group that had no meditation experience. The conclusion was that the meditation group had significantly better performance on all measures of attention and had higher self-reported mindfulness.
Mindfulness meditation practice and self-reported mindfulness were seen to be directly related to attentional functioning and cognitive flexibility (Davis & Hayes, 2012).
Less Emotionally Reactive
Often, fear causes panic, poor judgment, and poor reasoning. This can cause people to respond to times of fear and uncertainty very emotionally without adequately thinking things through.
However, research on mindfulness meditation shows that it decreases emotional reactivity. In a study that looked at people with experience in mindfulness meditation anywhere between one month to twenty-nine years, evidence revealed that mindfulness meditation helped people disengage from emotionally upsetting images and allowed them to focus on cognitive tasks better as compared to people who saw the same images but did not practice mindfulness meditation (Davis & Hayes, 2012).
The final conclusion was that the meditation helped participants respond more appropriately emotionally (i.e. calmly) when presented with an image that for all intents and purposes should have created a negative emotional reaction like fear or stress.
Rumination can be defined as deep or considered thought about something. While not necessarily a bad thing, when faced with fear and uncertainty, ruminating on the situation or the issue can lead to mental and emotional distress. However, several studies have shown that mindfulness reduces rumination. In one study by Chamber et. al. in 2008, participants who were new to meditation were asked to participate in a 10-day intensive mindfulness meditation retreat.
Following the retreat, the meditation group reported significantly higher mindfulness and a decreased negative affect compared with a control group. They also experienced fewer depressive symptoms and less rumination (Davis & Hayes, 2012).
Ultimately, each of these positive impacts promotes mental health, especially during times of fear and uncertainty. When we are less stressed, less emotionally reactive, have better attention, and spend less time ruminating on fearful situations/stimuli we are in a better space to make decisions, engage with others, and navigate through life with positivity.
Thus, finding ways to practice mindfulness via meditation and similar practices can prove to be a strong strategy for improving and maintaining mental health during times of fear and uncertainty.
Davis, & Hayes. (2012). What are the benefits of mindfulness? https://www.apa.org. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner