Researchers from North Carolina State have found that people with the capacity to balance living in the moment with planning for the future have an advantage. When it comes to coping with day-to-day stress, people with this sense of balance are better at managing their negative moods.
Science has provided a few well-researched methods that can help reduce stress and anxiety. Perhaps most notably, research shows various types of mindfulness meditations and strategies for living in the moment can significantly calm our reactions. Mindfulness is often thought of as bringing non-judgmental attention to the present state, and cultivating this style of thinking has been shown to reduce depression, levels of stress, anxiety, and social anxiety. Alternatively, proactive coping, having a plan when approaching the future, also provides relief in reducing these same symptoms. The current research looks at the best of both worlds: living in the moment (rather than ruminating about the past or being anxious about the future) and proactively coping by setting goals that will help us engage more effectively in the time ahead.
Think of a good cook whose thoughtful attention to the chopping of vegetables is in concert with the focus needed for the meal preparation. The cook is present-focused while chopping the carrots, yet also being thoughtful about preparing for what comes next.
In studying emotional reactivity to daily stressors Melody G. Polk and her colleagues followed 223 participants from the United States (116 older adults, ages 60-90, and 107 younger adults, ages 18-36) through their daily diaries for nine days in a row. Those with high proactive coping skills were found to be more emotionally reactive to daily stressors on those days when they were less mindful. “Our results show that a combination of proactive coping and high mindfulness result in study participants of all ages being more resilient against daily stressors,”
Why is this finding so important? Through voluntary activities, learned hopefulness cultivates perspectives optimizing the belief we can influence the future. Goal setting and recalibration of goals when there has been a setback are essential to feeling a sense of agency—of being connected, engaged, and motivated. Proactively coping means having a plan—even if it involves micro-goals for getting through the day: preparing a meal, cleaning the closet, washing the dishes.
On the other hand, dispositional mindfulness, shifting our focus to living in the moment in a non-judgemental way, also increases our engagement and attention. This immersion into the present moment allows us to reduce the distractions from the past and future worries that increase our sense of stress. By combining proactive coping with mindfulness, we optimize our ability to influence the future— the very essence of hope.
As we enter a time when there is so much out of our control, there can be extraordinary miracles in ordinary daily life. By being mindful of our current task and thoughtful of what needs to happen next, we can move into a place where we feel present and engaged with what is happening in our life. This will generate hope. Having a plan for your day, the next few hours, or preparation for the next meal can use the elements this research says can reduce our stress and become more resilient. Mindfully chopping carrots as you prepare for dinner may never be more important than now.
North Carolina State University. (2020, March 25). To stay positive, live in the moment — but plan ahead. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 5, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/03/200325130650.htm