The Physiology of Positivity: Implications of Mindfulness, Hope, and Gratitude in Alleviating Worry

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Lindsey Root Luna

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People experience worry in a variety of intensities throughout daily life. Although a moderate amount of worry is associated with improved performance in certain activities, studies have shown that long-term worry, such as generalized anxiety disorder, leads to decreased quality of life and has a negative impact on human flourishing (Porensky, Dew, & Karp, 2009). Worries may be expressed over past, present, or future events. Previous research supports the induction of time-oriented, positive constructs as treatments for worry (Cheng, Tsui, & Lam, 2015; Delgado, Guerra, Perakakis, Vera, Paso & Vila, 2010; Sears & Kraus, 2009). Therefore, we are investigating gratitude, mindfulness, and hope as three coping strategies used to attenuate the physiological symptoms of worry. Subjects (N=91) participated in mental imagery exercises with short inductions of worry, followed by immediate worry ratings. Then, a coping strategy is introduced, briefly implemented, and worry is rated once more. Physiology (heart rate, cardiac impedance, heart rate variability, blood pressure, skin conductance as well as trapezius and facial electromyography) is monitored during both worry and coping intervention (gratitude, mindfulness, and hope). We hypothesize that the brief inductions of gratitude, mindfulness, and hope will mitigate some of the physiological responses to worry. Of these inductions, we expect mindfulness will be most effective in its reduction of the physiological changes resulting from worry. In previous studies, mindfulness was found to be successful in the treatment of worry (Tacon, McComb, Caldera et. al., 2003). The outcomes of this study will determine the overall effectiveness of coping mechanisms (gratitude, mindfulness, and hope) in managing the physiological consequences of worry. Implications of this study include possible use in clinical settings, personal use in high worriers, and an increase in the general understanding of how worry impacts the various processes essential to normative bodily functions.

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