Doctoral Candidate Name: 
Maria G Alessi
Health Psychology

Stressed young adults are at greater risk of lifetime higher morbidity and mortality, highlighting a need for feasible and effective approaches to improve stress management in this population. Mindfulness, defined as intentional awareness of the present with an attitude of nonjudgment, is a promising intervention to improve a host of physical and mental health outcomes. The stress-buffering hypothesis posits that mindfulness may mitigate harmful consequences of chronic stress through top-down modulation of stress perception as well as bottom-up regulation of stress response systems (Creswell & Lindsay, 2014). Further, Lindsay & Creswell’s Monitor & Acceptance Theory (MAT; 2017) proposes that experiential acceptance is a key component of these effects, without which stress reactivity may be exacerbated. This study sought to investigate the stress-buffering mechanisms of mindfulness and replicate prior research supporting MAT using a single session dismantling study comparing regulated breathing control, monitor-only, and monitor + accept conditions in a sample of 33 stressed young adults who completed an in-lab social evaluative stressor. A series of linear hierarchical regressions and multilevel models were utilized to compare condition effects on physiological and psychological stress responsivity and reactivity, respectively. Individual-level predictors (e.g., trait mindfulness, self-compassion) that may moderate stress-buffering effects were also examined, and exploratory qualitative analysis of participants’ perceptions was conducted. No hypotheses were supported by the study’s findings, most likely due to the underpowered sample. Qualitative results further suggest that the study’s active control was potentially equally efficacious to the mindfulness conditions in buffering stress. Future research directions include clarifying the minimal amount of mindfulness practice needed to observe stress-buffering effects as well as investigating how mindfulness is most effectively learned in stressed populations.

Defense Date and Time: 
Wednesday, May 22, 2024 - 1:00pm
Defense Location: 
Colvard 4078
Committee Chair's Name: 
Dr. Jeanette M. Bennett
Committee Members: 
Dr. Reuben Howden, Dr. Jennifer Webb, Dr. Susan Johnson