The Mindfulness Skill That Is Crucial for Stress

A study suggests that practicing acceptance helps reduce our stress more than simple mindful awareness.

Mary Long/Adobe Stock

Life can be stressful. Whether it’s the stress that comes with having too much work to do in too little time, fulfilling caregiving obligations, or dealing with a major illness or setback, sometimes it can be hard to cope.

In response to stress, many people today are turning to meditation or mindfulness apps (myself included). But not all mindfulness practice is equally effective for combatting stress, a new study suggests. It’s possible that some of our practices may be missing a vital ingredient: acceptance.

In this study, researchers randomly assigned 137 stressed adults of various ages and ethnicities to one of three programs: an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course, where they learned to mindfully pay attention to their present-moment experiences in an accepting, nonjudgmental way; an MBSR course without instructions on acceptance; or no course. The courses included many lessons—for example, how to pay attention to your breath and your body sensations, and how to eat food or take a walk mindfully—as well as practice time outside of class. Before, during, and afterwards, participants reported five times daily about how stressed…