Daily stress and the benefits of mindfulness: examining the
daily and longitudinal relations between present-moment
awareness and stress responses
James N Donalda
Paul W B Atkinsa
Philip D Parkera
Alison M Christieb
Richard M Ryana
aInstitute for Positive Psychology and Education, Australian Catholic University,
25A Barker Rd, Strathfield, NSW, 2135, Australia
bResearch School of Psychology, Australian National University, ACT, 0200, Australia
James N Donald
Institute for Positive Psychology and Education
Australian Catholic University
25A Barker Road, Strathfield
NSW, 2135, Australia
Theories of mindfulness claim that a state of present-moment awareness enhances self-
regulation in the presence of negative emotion. However, very little research has tested this
claim in relation to daily stressors. This paper examined whether present-moment awareness
during daily stressful events predicted enhanced responding to a) the same day’s event, b) a
stressful event on the subsequent day and c) stressful events on average, among a sample of
adults (N = 143) over 20 days. We found support for these predictions, controlling for negative
affect and stress-related appraisals. These novel findings extend the personality literature by
showing that present-moment awareness facilitates adaptive stress-responses, independent of
an individual's affective state and the severity of threat experienced.
Keywords: mindfulness; present-moment awareness; daily stress; coping; valued action;
coping self-efficacy; threat appraisal; negative affect
Daily stressors and hassles such as being stuck in traffic, losing keys or arguing with
family may seem relatively benign. But there’s evidence that these relatively minor stressors
have a more negative impact on well-being than bigger life events because of their regularity
and cumulative effects (Almeida, 2005; Chamberlin, & Zika, 1990; Serido, Almeida, &
Wethington, 2004). Oftentimes, people respond to these stressors by seeking to suppress
thinking (Gross & John, 2003), by denying them (Brown & Locker, 2009), or by distracting
themselves (Wilson et al., 2014). While these avoidant strategies often serve short term
adaptive functions (van ‘t Riet & Ruiter, 2013), when used repeatedly they undermine well-
being and behavioural effectiveness (Hayes, Luoma, Bond, Masuda, & Lillis, 2006).
Several individual-difference (e.g., personality, social support, health and
socioeconomic) and intra-individual (e.g., mood, self-efficacy and physical symptoms)
variables have been found to predict reactivity to daily stressors (Affleck, Tennen, Urrows, &
Higgins, 1994; Almeida, 2005; Chamberlin, K. & Zika, 1990; Tennen, Affleck, Armeli, &
Carney, 2000). However, very little research has examined the role of a state of present-
moment awareness (as opposed to somatic or affective states) in predicting responses to daily
stress. Being psychologically present connects an individual to the opportunities available in
any situation, and is therefore likely to broaden the range of possible responses to stress,
meaning that such responses are more adaptive (Brown & Ryan, 2003; Hayes, Luoma, Bond,
Masuda, & Lillis, 2006; Shapiro, Carlson, Astin, & Freedman, 2006).
Present-moment awareness has been defined as the “continuous monitoring of
experience with a focus on current experience rather than preoccupation with past or future
events” (Cardaciotto, Herbert, Forman, Moitra, & Farrow, 2008, p. 205). Research into the
effects of maintaining a state of present-moment awareness has increased rapidly in recent
decades, as a part of the growing research (e.g., Brown, Ryan, & Creswell, 2007) and
practical (e.g. Reb & Atkins, 2015) interest in mindfulness. Dozens of studies have reported
that present-moment awareness as a general disposition is associated with a host of
psychological benefits, such as reduced anxiety and depressive symptoms, lowered perceived
stress, increased mood and improved well-being (Brown et al., 2007; Weinstein, Brown, &
Ryan, 2009). However, much less research has explored how changes in state attention and
awareness predict enhanced responses to stress (Keng, Smoski, & Robins, 2011; Tanay &
We are only aware of one study directly examining the relations of state present-
moment awareness and coping with stress (Weinstein et al., 2009, Study 3). Participants in that
study were prompted to report their momentary level of present-moment awareness three times
per day, and these assessments predicted less avoidance coping measured at the end of each
day over a seven-day period. Several other studies have examined whether state present-
moment awareness positively influences different outcome variables. For example, state
mindfulness (measured with versions of the state Mindful Attention and Awareness Scale
(MAAS); Brown & Ryan, 2003) has been found to predict greater post-conflict commitment,
respect and support of a romantic partner (Barnes, Brown, Krusemark, Campbell, & Rogge,
2007) and improved insight problem solving (Ostafin & Kassman, 2012). More recently,
Hülsheger et al., (2012; Study 2), found that state mindfulness (measured using the state
MAAS) predicted less emotional exhaustion, measured daily over 10 working days, among a
sample of professionals. Taken together, this research suggests that present-moment awareness
should enhance the effectiveness of individuals’ responses to daily stressors as they occur.
The present study examined the effects of present-moment awareness on three stress-
response variables: values-consistent responding, coping self-efficacy and avoidance coping
(following Weinstein et al., 2009). By examining three stress-response variables, we were able
to corroborate findings across outcome variables and therefore draw more robust conclusions
than would be possible by measuring a single outcome alone (Weinstein & Ryan, 2011). The
relations between present-moment awareness and each of values-consistent responding, coping
self-efficacy and avoidance coping are reviewed next.
Present-moment awareness and values-consistent responding to stress
Values-consistent behaviour is freely-chosen behaviour that is consistent with how an
individual wishes to respond within the broader context of their life and long-term goals, rather
than being unduly influenced by the short-term contingencies of the immediate environment
(Smout, Davies, Burns, & Christie, 2014). Values-consistent action predicts less psychological
distress and enhanced well-being (Ciarrochi, Fisher, & Lane, 2011; Ferssizidis et al., 2010;
Smout et al., 2014) and in the context of stressful experiences predicts greater pain tolerance
(Páez-Blarrina et al., 2008) and less defensiveness (Crocker, Niiya, & Mischkowski, 2008).
When an individual is psychologically present, they are more aware of their options as
well as their values, and are therefore more likely to respond in autonomously-motivated and
values-consistent ways (Hayes et al., 2006; Weinstein & Ryan, 2011). Several studies have
demonstrated this. For example, Brown & Ryan (2003; Study 4) found that state present-
moment attention and awareness, measured three times per day over 14 consecutive days,
predicted greater momentary autonomy, controlling for covariates such as gender and time of
day. Autonomy is defined as behaviour that is self-endorsed and volitional (Ryan & Deci,
2000) so it is indicative of values-consistent behaviour. Another study found that trait
mindfulness (measured using the trait MAAS; Brown & Ryan, 2003) predicted more
autonomously motivated behaviour (Levesque & Brown, 2007). More recently, present-
moment awareness has been found to be positively associated with values-consistent behaviour
(Smout et al., 2014; Trompetter et al., 2013).
In the context of every-day stressful events, we therefore expected that present-moment
awareness would predict more values-consistent responses to such events. Consistent with
previous research (e.g., Arch & Craske, 2006; Britton, Shahar, Szepsenwol, & Jacobs, 2012;
Hülsheger et al., 2012; Reber et al., 2012), we expected that present-centred individuals would
be less reactive to negative emotion, and that this in-turn would enable more values-consistent
responses to stressful experiences.
Present-moment awareness and coping self-efficacy
In addition, we expected that present-moment awareness would predict greater
perceived self-efficacy in coping with daily stressful events. Coping self-efficacy describes the
perceived competence the individual has for dealing with a stressor (Schwarzer & Renner,
2000) and has been consistently found to predict greater resilience and less trauma following
stressful events (Benight & Bandura, 2004; Luszczynska, Benight, & Cieslak, 2009).
Conversely, low self-efficacy in relation to challenging experiences is associated with
depression, anxiety and a loss of well-being (Karademas, 2006). Coping self-efficacy is
therefore an important measure of an individuals’ ability to effectively respond to stressful
events (Benight & Bandura, 2004).
In the context of daily stressors, we expected that higher levels of present-moment
awareness would be associated with enhanced coping self-efficacy, as increased present-
moment awareness widens the range of response options available to the person (Hayes et al.,
2006; Shapiro et al., 2006), meaning that an individual’s perception of their ability to influence
such situations should increase. Several studies provide support for this prediction. For
example, a study of post-graduate counselling students found that present-moment attention
(specifically, the ability to sustain and switch attention) predicted greater counselling self-
efficacy (Greason, & Cashwell, 2009). More recent studies of mothers and prospective mothers
found that mindfulness-based interventions resulted in significantly greater maternal self-
efficacy, relative to controls (Byrne, Hauck, Fisher, Bayes, & Schutze, 2014; Perez-Blasco,
Viguer, & Rodrigo, 2013).
Present-moment awareness and avoidance coping with stress
Finally, we expected that present-moment awareness would predict less avoidance
coping with daily stressful events. Avoidance coping has been associated with greater
psychological distress and reduced well-being across the life-cycle and across a range of
stressors (for reviews, see Duangdao & Roesch, 2008; Nicholls & Polman, 2007; Roesch et al.,
2005). As discussed, Weinstein et al (2009; Study 3) found that state present-moment
awareness predicted less avoidance (but not more approach) coping with daily stressful events,
over a seven-day period. Other studies have sought to manipulate present-moment awareness
via mindfulness interventions, and have found reductions in avoidance behaviours (Bergomi et
al., 2013), and greater willingness to be exposed to unpleasant stimuli (Arch & Craske, 2006).
These findings suggest that being in a state of present-moment awareness should be associated
with less avoidance coping with daily stressors.
Controlling for the effects of threat appraisals and negative affect
Being psychologically present is claimed to facilitate more adaptive and less defensive
responses to stressful situations, independent of how much negative emotion such situations
elicit (Brown & Ryan, 2003; Hayes et al., 2006; Weinstein & Ryan, 2011). To test this claim,
the present study controlled for the effects of two affect-related variables, threat appraisal and
daily negative affect, on stress responses. Perceptions of threat have been consistently shown
to predict more avoidant and defensive responding to stressful events (Park, Armeli, & Tennen,
2004; Sherman & Cohen, 2006; Stowell, Kiecolt-Glaser, & Glaser, 2001). When an
individuals’ self-concept is threatened, defensive and avoidant responses are a way of
protecting self-esteem (Sherman & Cohen, 2006). In addition, negative affect has been
associated with less flexible and adaptive responses to stressful events (Fresco, Williams, &
Nugent, 2006) including daily stressors (Affleck et al., 1994; Park et al., 2004). In the present
study, we therefore expected that present-moment awareness would facilitate more effective
responses to daily stressors, independent of an individual’s level of perceived threat associated
with the stressor, and the degree of general negative affect the person experiences on a given
The model we tested in the present study is displayed in Figure 1. Each of these
variables was measured at the end of each day over a 20 day period, using retrospective recall
of daily events.
Figure 1. Flow chart showing basic relationships tested in this study. Note: The solid lines with arrows
were the relationships tested for in this study. The dashed lines with arrows were the relationships we
controlled for in this study. The ‘+’ sign indicates that a positive relationship was predicted; the ‘-‘ sign
indicates a negative relationship was predicted.
We tested the above model in three ways: a) as between-subjects effects, exploring
whether higher average present-moment awareness during daily stressful events was associated
with enhanced responses to daily stressors on average; b) as within-subjects effects, testing
whether within-subject increases in present-moment awareness were associated with enhanced
responses to daily stressful events; and c) as lagged effects, examining whether present-
moment awareness on one day predicted responses to a stressful event on a subsequent day.
Regarding between-subjects effects, our first hypothesis was that differences in present-
moment awareness during daily stressful events will predict more values-consistent
responding, less avoidance coping and greater coping self-efficacy in relation to such events,
independent of individual differences in daily negative affect and event-related stress
Within-subjects analyses enabled the examination of within-day, intra-individual
associations between present-moment awareness in relation to daily stressful events and the
three dependent variables (see Bolger & Laurenceau, 2013). This approach treats each
individual as his or her own control, by assessing whether being above one’s own average level
of present-moment awareness on any given day is associated with enhanced coping responses,
with each days’ association for each individual then averaged across days and individuals
(Bolger & Laurenceau, 2013). Our second hypothesis, in relation to these within-subjects
relationships, was that within-subjects variation in present-moment awareness during a daily
stressful event will predict more values-consistent responding, less avoidance coping and
greater coping self-efficacy in relation to that event, independent of within-subjects variation
in daily negative affect and event-related stress appraisals.
Regressing predictors lagged by a meaningful time-period (e.g., one day) upon relevant
outcome variables enables one to draw stronger inferences about the temporal relations
between variables than the cross-sectional analyses described above (Kleiber & Zeileis, 2008).
This approach has been used in the study of daily stress previously (e.g., Affleck et al., 1994;
Caspi, Bolger, & Eckenrode, 1987; DeLongis & Holtzman, 2005), but not to our knowledge in
relation to present-moment-awareness and stress-responses. In the present study, we tested
whether the effects of present-moment awareness during a stressful event ‘spilled over’ to
influence responses to a separate stressful event the following day. Consistent with the
conservation of resources model of stress (Hobfoll, 1989), we expected that greater present-
moment awareness in relation to a stressor on one day would conserve coping resources (via
less rumination and avoidance), meaning that the individual is better placed to respond to a
subsequent but proximal stressor more effectively. Consistent with previous research on daily
stress responses, we expected this effect to be relatively short-lived, predicting changes in
stress-responses on the subsequent day but not further (Affleck et al., 1994; Bolger, DeLongis,
Kessler, & Schilling, 1989; Tennen et al., 2000). Our third and final hypothesis was therefore
that an individual’s levels of present-moment awareness during a stressful event yesterday will
predict more values-consistent responding, less avoidance coping and greater response self-
efficacy in relation to a stressful event today, independent of negative affect and event-related
stress appraisals yesterday.
Participants were 143 undergraduate and post-graduate students, and university staff
(76.3 per cent female; mean age 33.7). Around 74 percent identified as Caucasian, 14 percent
as East or South Asian and 11 per cent as ‘other’. Ninety five per cent of participants held an
undergraduate diploma or degree and 37 per cent held a master’s or PhD degree.
Participants for the present study were recruited as a part of a larger, multi-purpose
study that included a randomised controlled mindfulness intervention. Students and staff at
three Australian universities were recruited via online advertising for a mindfulness course for
which they paid AUD 100 and were randomly allocated to one of three conditions (mindfulness
(n = 59), mindfulness-plus-values (n = 60), and a waitlist control condition (n = 80)) for the
separate randomised controlled study. This research was approved by the ethics committee of
first authors’ institution.
Consenting individuals in the mindfulness and mindfulness-plus-values conditions
received an AUD 100 refund for the course upon completion of 20 daily surveys described
below. Individuals in the waitlist condition (n=80) were not provided with a financial incentive
to complete the daily surveys. A total of 22 participants from the waitlist condition completed
the daily surveys (27% of the waitlist condition), while all participants in the treatment
conditions completed at least one daily survey, so were all included in this study. Those in the
treatment conditions completed the daily surveys approximately four months prior to those in
the waitlist condition.
Participants completed the 20 daily surveys in four separate weekly-bocks: five daily
surveys over the five working days in the week preceding their first mindfulness training
session; five daily surveys over the five working days in the week immediately following their
second training session (four weeks after the first set of daily surveys); five surveys over the
five working days in the week following their third and final mindfulness training session (four
weeks after the second set of daily surveys); and a final set of five surveys over five working
days, four weeks after their final mindfulness training session. Participants received each daily
survey at 4 pm and were given until 10 am the following morning to complete it. Piloting (n =
15) indicated that each daily survey took approximately 2 minutes to complete. Each daily
survey included eleven items, six of which were for the present study and are described below.
Consenting participants also completed a 10-15 minute baseline survey (linked to the AUD
100 refund for all participants), the responses to which were used to validate the single-item
measures in the present study and are described below.
As this was a daily-diary study, single-item measures were used so as to minimise the
non-response rate across the 20 daily surveys. Although common in daily-diary and experience
sampling research (Fuchs & Diamantopoulos, 2009), the use of single-item measures is a
potential limitation (Cohen, Cohen, West & Aiken, 2003). To address this, several steps were
taken. First, wherever possible, we used single-item measures that had been validated in
previous research (i.e., the measures of threat-appraisal and coping self-efficacy). Second,
where such measures did not exist, we adapted single-item measures from multi-item scales
that have displayed acceptable validity and reliability (i.e., the negative affect (Diener et al.,
2009), valued-action (Smout et al., 2014) and avoidance coping (Carver, 1989) measures).
Third, the constructs measured in this study were relatively concrete, conceptually simple and
unidimensional in nature, making them well-suited to single-item measurement (Fuchs &
Diamantopoulos, 2009). Finally, we validated the single-item measures against multi-item
versions of each construct, and assessed the internal as well as the test-retest reliability of each
single-item measure (see Supplemental Material).
For each daily survey, participants were asked to reflect on their most stressful or
challenging situation of the past day, consistent with previous studies of daily stress to have
done this (e.g., Park, Armeli, & Tennen, 2004; Todd, Tennen, Carney, Armeli, & Affleck,
2004; Weinstein, Brown, & Ryan, 2009), and respond to the following items:
Present-moment awareness. A single-item measure of was adapted from the ‘Act with
awareness’ subscale of the Five Facets of Mindfulness Questionnaire (Baer, Smith, Hopkins,
Krietemeyer, & Toney, 2006), which focuses on awareness of actions, thoughts and feelings
and has 8 items. The single item created for the present study was: “Reflecting on this situation,
how aware were you of your actions, thoughts and feelings at the time?”
Threat appraisal: A single item measure of stress appraisal was taken from Hodgins et
al., (2010) and Tomaka et al. (1993), on a 1 (not at all) to 5 (extremely) Likert scale: “How
threatening was this experience for you?”
Negative affect was measured using a single item adapted from the Scale or Positive
and Negative Emotions (Diener et al., 2009), which asks individuals to rate the frequency of a
range of positive and negative emotions. The item was: “How often did you
experience negative emotions today? (e.g. Unpleasant, sad, angry, upset, bored, disappointed,
nervous)” on a 1 (very rarely or never) to 5 (very often) Likert scale.
Perceived self-efficacy: A single item measure of perceived self-efficacy was taken
from Chwalisz, Altmaier & Russell, (1992): “How confident did you feel about your ability to
deal with this situation?” Subjects rated themselves on a 1 (not at all) to 5 (extremely) Likert
Avoidance coping: Avoidance coping was measured using the item: “To what degree
did you turn to other activities to take your mind off this situation?” on a 1 (not at all) to 5
(completely) Likert scale. The item was taken from the behavioural disengagement subscale of
the Brief COPE Inventory (Carver, 1997).
Values-consistent responding. This item was adapted from the Values-Progress
subscale of the Valuing Questionnaire (Smout, Davies, Burns, & Christie, 2014): “Did you
respond to the situation in a way that you would generally like to respond?” on a 1 (not at all)
to 5 (completely) Likert scale.
As discussed, relatively minor nuisances and hassles can have a larger effect on well-
being than more major life-stressors, due to their cumulative effects across time (Almeida,
2005; Chamberlin, K. & Zika, 1990; Serido, Almeida, & Wethington, 2004). We therefore
included all reports of individuals’ most stressful daily events in our analyses, even those that
were appraised as relatively unthreatening, consistent with similar approaches elsewhere (Park
et al., 2004, Todd et al., 2004, Weinstein et al., 2009).
Two sets of analyses were conducted in this paper: a) between- and within-subjects
analyses (conducted simultaneously); and b) lagged analyses. In multi-level modelling, level 1
variables include both within- and between-subjects variance and this needs to be appropriately
accounted for, otherwise effects at one level confound effects at the other (Bolger &
Laurenceau, 2013; Preacher, Zhang, & Zyphur, 2015). Multi-level power calculations, based
on the effects obtained by Weinstein et al (2009, Study 3) on avoidance coping (β = -.42),
indicated a sample size of N = 108 was required to achieve power of .90 for the within-subjects
anlayses. Brief descriptions of the approach taken for the between- and within-subjects
analyses, as well as the lagged analyses, are provided next, following methods outlined in
Preacher et al. (2015) and Bolger and Laurenceau (2013).
Between- and within-subjects analyses
The between- and within-subjects analysis used in the present study is illustrated in
Equation 1. Here, between-subjects variation in present-moment awareness, γ10 (X.j), and
within-subjects deviations from each subjects’ mean awareness score, γ10 (Xij – X.j), were
regressed on the three dependent variables in this study (i.e., values-consistent action,
avoidance coping and coping self-efficacy), denoted as Yij. We controlled for ‘day’, γ20Dij
(1 to 20 days across the study period, median-centred), and ‘week’, γ30Wij (four, one-week
blocks across the study period, also median-centred), as well as experimental condition, γ04C.j,
and financial incentive, γ05F.j. Lastly, we controlled for threat appraisal and negative affect,
with between-subjects variation in these covariates denoted, respectively, as γ02(TA.j) and
γ03(NA.j), and within-subjects deviations from these individual-means denoted as γ40(TAij –
TA.j) and γ50(NAij – NA.j). These were the fixed effects terms. The remaining five terms were
random effects, where u0j is a random intercept term for each individual, u1j(Xij) is a term for
the random slope of present-moment awareness for each subject, u2j(TAij) is a term for the
random slope of threat appraisal for each subject, u3j(NAij) is a term for the random slope of
negative affect for each subject, and εij is a random residual component, specific to each
00 01 10 – 20 30 40 – 50 –
02 03 04 05 0 1 2 3
. . . .( ) (
. . . .
) ( )
( ) ( )
ij j ij j ij ij ij j ij j
j j j j j j ij j ij j ij ij
Y X X X D W TA TA NA NA
TA NA C F u u X u TA u NA
In order to assess lagged effects of present-moment awareness on the three dependent
variables across time, we lagged present-moment awareness by a single-day (Kleiber & Zeileis,
2008; γ10(X(i-1)j) in Equation 2). In addition, we controlled for the autoregressive effects of the
previous day’s levels of each dependent variable upon levels of the same variable today
(γ20(Y(i-1)j) in Equation 3). We also controlled for experimental condition (γ01C.j), whether or
not participants received a financial incentive (γ02F.j), both level 2 variables, and lagged threat
appraisal γ30(TA(i-1)j) and negative affect (γ40NA(i-1)j), both level 1 variables. Lastly, to control
for the fact that days were clustered within weekly blocks, we included ‘week’ as a fixed effect
control variable, γ50Wij. These were the fixed effects terms. The random effects terms were: u0j,
a random intercept term; three random slope terms for lagged present-moment awareness,
u1j(X(i-1)j), threat appraisal, u2j(TA(i-1)j), and negative affect, u3j(NA(i-1)j), and εij, a random
00 10 1 20 30 40 50 01 02
1 1 1
0 1 2
1 1 1
( ) ( )
( ) ( ) ( )
ij i ij j j
i j i j i j
j j j j ij
i j i j i j
Y X Y TA NA W C F
u u X u TA u NA
The above analyses were conducted using the ‘lmeTest’ (Kuznetsova, Brockhoff, &
Christensen, 2015), ‘lme4’ (Bates, Maelcher, Bolker, & Walker, 2015) and the ‘Hmisc’
packages (Harrell, et al., 2015) in R 3.2.3 (R Core Team, 2015). For these analyses, p-values
were calculated using the ‘lmerTest’ package (Kuznetsova et al., 2015) and all continuous
variables (i.e., predictors and outcomes) were standardized. Missing data were minimal in this
study, ranging from 0.59% for threat appraisal to 0.97% for coping self-efficacy.
We first tested whether there were differences in the dependent variables between those
who volunteered to participate in the study and those who received a financial incentive to do
so. We found significant differences between the two groups on coping self-efficacy (Mpaid =
3.22; Munpaid = 3.04; t = 2.75, p-value = 0.006), though not on any of the other study variables.
We therefore included ‘financial incentive’ as a covariate in subsequent analyses.
In addition, we did not find significant effects of either intervention on values-
consistent action, coping self-efficacy or avoidance coping over time, either as main effects or
as interactions with present-moment awareness. We therefore did not further analyse
experimental effects in this study, though we included ‘experimental condition’ as a covariate
in all inter- and intra-individual-difference analyses.
Consistent with our first hypothesis, higher average present-moment awareness
between individuals was associated with significantly higher values-consistent responding and
self-efficacy in relation to daily stressful events, on average (see Table 1). That is, across
stressful events, having higher levels of present moment awareness means individuals are more
likely to feel they can successfully influence such events, and their responses are more likely
to be consistent with their personally-held values. However, we did not find that higher average
present-moment awareness predicted less avoidance coping on average.
Regarding within-subjects effects (our second hypothesis), an individual being above
his or her own average level of present-moment awareness in relation to a daily stressful event
was associated with more values-consistent responding to this event and greater coping self-
efficacy (see Table 1). These effects occurred after controlling for between- and within-subjects
variation in both threat appraisal and daily negative affect, as well as other control variables.
Notably, within-subjects variation in present-moment awareness was not a statistically-
significant predictor of less avoidance coping, though this effect was close to the p = .05 level.
Between- and within-subjects effects of present-moment awareness predicting values-consistent action, coping self-efficacy and avoidance coping
Threat appraisal (between)
Threat appraisal (within)
Negative affect (between)
Negative affect (within)
Note. * p < .05, *** p < .001. There were N = 143 individuals (level 1) and N = 2332 observations (level 2) in the above models.
Lastly, to test the possibility that there were maturation effects that occurred between
weekly blocks that may have masked or amplified within-subjects effects in the above results
(for example, due to the interventions), we calculated between-week average scores on the
predictor variables (present-moment awareness, threat appraisal and daily negative affect), and
their within-person, within-week deviations. The pattern of results from this sensitivity analysis
were consistent with the above findings and are reported in Supplemental Material.
The above pattern of results was replicated when we tested the lagged effects of present-
moment awareness upon the three dependent variables. Consistent with our third hypothesis,
we found significant effects of present-moment awareness on both values-consistent
responding and coping self-efficacy, controlling for the autoregressive effects of each
dependent variable and the lagged effects of threat appraisal and negative affect (see Table 2).
Notably, the effect sizes for present-moment awareness predicting coping self-efficacy were
similar to the within-day analyses above (.09 versus .08), while it decreased somewhat for
values-consistent action (.16 versus .06). However, present-moment awareness did not predict
reduced avoidance coping across a one-day lag (although this effect was very close to p = .05).
Also of note, neither threat appraisal nor negative affect predicted either of the three
outcomes across a one-day lag. Random effects from both the within-day and lagged analyses
are reported in the Supplemental Material. Due to issues of misspecification in the lagged
models, we took the more conservative approach of running random intercept-only (rather than
random slope and intercept) models for the lagged analyses.
Lagged present-moment awareness predicting outcome variables, controlling for lagged threat appraisal and negative affect
Dependent variable (lagged)
Threat appraisal (lagged)
Negative affect (lagged)
Note.* p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001. There were N = 143 individuals (level 1) and N = 2199 observations (level 2) in the above models.
Theories of mindfulness claim that in the presence of an aversive experience such as
stress, being psychologically present broadens one’s options for responding and facilitates
more adaptive responses to such experiences, independent of how much negative affect the
person experiences (Brown et al., 2007; Hayes et al., 2006; Shapiro et al., 2006). However very
few studies have tested this proposition in the context of daily stressful experiences. There is
evidence that daily stressors, even relatively minor hassles, have a bigger impact on well-being
than acute stressors (Almeida, 2005; Serido et al., 2004), underscoring the practical value of
this line of inquiry.
We expected that present-moment awareness during a daily stressful event would be
associated with more values-consistent responding, greater coping self-efficacy and less
avoidance coping at three levels of analysis: on average, across days; within-subjects, within
the same day; and lagged across a one-day period. We expected each of these effects to be
independent of how threatening the individual appraised the event as being and how much daily
negative affect they experienced.
We found partial support for all three hypotheses. Regarding our first hypothesis, we
found that higher average present-moment awareness during daily stressful experiences was
associated with more values-consistent responding and greater self-efficacy in relation to such
experiences. Regarding our second hypothesis, we found the same pattern of results: for any
given individual, being above their own average level of present-moment awareness on any
one day was associated with more values-consistent responding and greater self-efficacy in
relation to a stressful event on that day. These findings suggest that daily stress responses are
influenced by both general levels of present-moment awareness and also by event-specific
levels of present-moment awareness on any given day. Moreover, at both the between- and
within-subjects levels, the above effects were independent of threat appraisal and daily negative
affect. This suggests that higher present-moment awareness predicts enhanced responses to
stress independent of an individuals’ affective state, consistent with the theoretical predictions
outlined above (Brown et al., 2007; Hayes et al., 2006; Shapiro et al., 2006).
To draw stronger inferences regarding the direction of these effects, we conducted
lagged analyses, which revealed a pattern of results that was consistent with those discussed
above: Present-moment awareness in relation to a stressor on one day predicted more values-
consistent and self-efficacious coping responses to a different stressor the subsequent day.
These effects were again independent of lagged threat appraisals and daily negative affect. We
expect that these effects occurred because greater present-moment awareness regarding a
stressor on one day conserves valuable coping resources which can then be used in responding
to similar, subsequent stressful events, consistent with the conservation of resources model
(Hobfoll, 1989). Of particular note, the effect of present-moment awareness on coping self-
efficacy was similar in size within-days as it was across days. This may be because coping self-
efficacy is a coping resource that is readily conserved (see Hobfoll, 1989 for discussion of self-
efficacy as a stress-response resource) meaning that it is influenced both within- and across
days to a similar degree.
Notably, we did not find within-day or lagged effects of present-moment awareness on
avoidance coping in this study (although the lagged effects were very close to the p = .05
significance level). Mindfulness research suggests that reductions in avoidance behaviours,
especially in the context of stress, may be most effectively targeted by acceptance
manipulations, and that manipulations of present-moment awareness are less efficacious in this
regard (Donald & Atkins, 2016; Levin, Hildebrandt, Lillis, & Hayes, 2012). The findings of
the present study are consistent with this. We expect that this is because acceptance directly
targets the tendency toward avoidance of present-moment expereince, which in-turn is linked
to avoidant coping behaviours, whereas enhancing present-moment awareness less directly
inhibits the avoidance of difficult or unwanted internal states (Cardaciotto et al., 2008; Hayes
et al., 2006).
The relative effects of present-moment awareness and the affective predictors (threat
appraisal negative affect) were also noteworthy in this study. Threat appraisal and daily
negative affect predicted the dependent variables in this study within but not across days. This
suggests that their effects on stress-responses are limited to the context in which they occur. In
contrast, present-moment awareness had small-but-positive effects on stress-responses across
days. This in-turn suggests that remaining psychologically present when faced with a stressor
may be a better ‘investment’ in future responses to similar stressors than seeking to dampen
appraisals of stress-related threat, such as through cognitive reappraisal, or by seeking to
control or inhibit negative emotions. This finding is consistent with the predictions of third-
wave behaviour therapies that the relationship individuals have with their stress-related
thoughts and feelings (i.e., present-moment awareness) matters more than the form or
frequency of such thoughts and feelings (i.e., appraisals and affect; Hayes et al., 2006). It is
also consistent with self-determination theory, which suggests that awareness conduces to
higher quality self-regulation and coping (Ryan, Deci & Vansteenkiste, 2016; Schultz & Ryan,
This study has a number of limitations. First, it used single-item measures of constructs.
While studies have found that single-item measures, such as those used in this study, can
perform as well as multiple-item scales on a range of constructs (Gardner, Cummins, Dunham,
& Pierce, 1998), there are limitations to their use, including in relation to reliability, convergent
validity and discriminant validity (Fuchs, & Diamantopoulos, 2009). Information regarding the
validation of the present study’s measures is in the Supplemental Material.
Second, although this study demonstrated longitudinal effects of present-moment
awareness upon stress responses, and controlled for the autoregressive effects of the dependent
variables in each model, future research could test the effects of manipulations of present-
moment awareness upon such responses, to allow stronger inferences of causality.
Notwithstanding these limitations, the present study makes a novel contribution to our
understanding of the personality factors that enhance individual responses to stressful events
as they occur in daily life. Our findings suggest that simply being psychologically present in
the face of daily stressful events enhances a person’s response to such events, but also buffers
the individual from the harmful effects of similar stressors on subsequent days, above and
beyond the effects of emotional states such as the person’s threat-related appraisals and levels
of negative affect. Given the adverse impacts of daily stress on individual well-being
(Chamberlin & Zika, 1990; Tennen et al., 2000), these findings make an important contribution
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