Study results show that stress in early life is associated with increased levels of mindful “non-reactivity” and “awareness” in adulthood

Researchers in Brazil examined the effects of early childhood stress on adult trait awareness and surprisingly found that those exposed to increased stress early in life often scored high on some aspects of trait awareness. The research that appears in BMC Psychologyencourages further exploration of the consequences of trauma in early life leading to mindful behaviors and potentially increasing resilience.

Numerous studies have examined the effects of early childhood stress on the development of brain structures related to the regulation of emotions. These studies have shown that exposure to early childhood stress can lead to mental and physical health disorders in adulthood. Poor living conditions and low socioeconomic status are also associated with adverse health outcomes that can impair cognitive and neurobiological development.

In contrast, mindfulness—which involves conscious attention in the present moment without judgment—can facilitate adaptive emotion regulation strategies that promote healthy functioning. While mindfulness-based interventions have been found to have positive effects on physical and mental health, more research is needed to examine the relationship between mindfulness and stress in early life.

In their new study, Vinícius Santos de Moraes and colleagues attempted to explore the link between early-life stress and levels of mindfulness in adults. The study involved collecting data from 929 employees at a public university in Brazil using a quantitative cross-sectional and correlational research design.

The Childhood Trauma Questionnaire and the Five-Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire were used to assess levels of early childhood stress and mindfulness, respectively. The researchers hypothesized that individuals who had experienced higher levels of early childhood stress would exhibit lower levels of mindfulness. By understanding the relationship between early life stress and mindfulness, interventions can be designed to build resilience and mitigate the negative effects of early life stress on mental and physical health.

Some of the results were consistent with the researchers’ predictions. Those who have experienced it fewer childhood physical neglect tended to score higher on the observing facet of mindfulness, which is characterized by paying attention to internal and external experiences, including thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the environment, without reacting or responding to judge.

Similarly, those who scored higher on the describe facet of mindfulness tended to have experiences fewer emotional neglect, emotional abuse, physical neglect and sexual abuse. This facet includes the ability to describe one’s experiences in words and to accurately label thoughts and emotions.

But experience more Emotional abuse, emotional neglect, and physical abuse in childhood were associated with higher “non-responsiveness to inner experiences,” which describes the ability to let thoughts and emotions arise and pass without becoming caught up in or responding to them.

In addition, a higher “conscious action” was associated with it more emotional abuse, emotional neglect, sexual abuse, physical neglect and childhood physical abuse. This facet involves being fully present and involved in the current activity rather than being distracted or working on autopilot.

The research team acknowledged some limitations of the study, including that the subjects may have been under stress due to recent management changes at their workplace. Second, the study design was self-report and cross-sectional, requiring further research before cause-and-effect conclusions can be drawn.

The research suggests that people who experienced stress in early life tend to perform better in certain areas, suggesting a possible link to the “nonjudgmental inner experience” aspect of mindfulness involved in managing their thoughts and emotions helps. However, individuals with early childhood stress may also become more responsive to their inner experiences, which can lead to reduced coping skills. The study suggests that mindfulness training could be a useful approach to stress management and emotional regulation in individuals with a history of early life stress.

The study “Relationship between stress in early life and mindfulness in adulthood: a correlational study” was authored by Vinícius Santos de Moraes, Mariana Fernandes, Maria Neyrian de Fátima Fernandes, Larissa Bessani Hidalgo Gimenez, Elton Brás Camargo Júnior and Edilaine Cristina da Silva Gherardi‑ Donato.

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