Unintended consequences of mindfulness

The baby quail are growing up. Bird watching, especially the babies, helps me relax.

I have two mindfulness apps on my phone. They are supposed to help me with anxiety and stress. One is called Mindfulness, the other Headspace. I’m not very good about using them. I’ll go through a phase where at the end of the day, I’ll sit down and turn on the app for a five minute mindfulness session. Then the next week, I forget about them.

I saw a headline in the Washington Post that caught my eye:

An unintended consequence of mindfulness

Sometimes it pays to contemplate other people’s feelings — not merely your own by Andrew C. Hafenbrack

Here’s an excerpt:

You’ve had a stressful day at work, so, like millions of other people, you open up Calm or Headspace on your smartphone and do some mindful meditation — concentrating on your bodily sensations, “observing” your thoughts in the moment. Research has shown that this is likely to have benefits: Mindful meditation reduces anxiety, depression and stress; more pragmatically, it can also improve sleep, decision-making, focus and self-control. This helps to explain why so many companies have jumped on the mindfulness bandwagon, incorporating it in corporate wellness programs (and why Calm was valued at $2 billion in 2020). But what if, in the course of your stressful day, you acted like a jerk toward a colleague at a meeting? Could all of that inward focus cause you to downplay the harm you caused that person, letting it float away like a leaf on a stream?

That’s exactly what my research colleagues Matthew LaPalme and Isabelle Solal and I found in a series of eight studies, involving more than 1,400 participants in the United States and Portugal, slated to be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Across a range of laboratory scenarios and online experiments, we found that asking people to engage in a single session of 8 or 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation — focusing their attention on the physical sensations of breathing — reduced their self-reported levels of guilt (about incidents warranting guilt). It also reduced their willingness to take “prosocial” steps to remedy harms they’d done. The research suggests that people ought to be careful about when they use mindfulness meditation, lest the comfort they derive from it come at the cost of their connections with other human beings.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2022/05/18/mindful-meditation-guilt-amends/

The writer is an assistant professor at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. In his studies he discovered that Meditation led feelings of guilt to subside, along with the desire to rectify the situation.

So meditation is good at making us feel calm, but it may get rid of guilt when we hurt someone else’s feelings. Sometimes feeling guilty is good, especially if it’s warranted. The emotion of guilt can prompt us to do the right thing like apologize. The inward trend of mindfulness can lessen our empathy to those around us.

I had never heard this perspective before and I found it interesting.

What are your thoughts about mindfulness? Do you find it helpful? Do you think it alleviates feelings of guilt or not?

cardinal in Arizona back yard
Cardinal in my backyard.

The end of solitude

My husband and kids giving their Adams family look while visiting our daughter for a swim meet in college.

My quiet weekend alone ended in a flurry of phone calls Sunday afternoon, causing my anxiety to escalate. Poof! I lost the sense of peace just like that.

I was getting inundated with calls from my daughter, my husband, my son and two close friends. From my end, I felt like everybody was venting to me. My daughter was upset with my husband. My husband didn’t understand why our daughter was angry and crying. I wasn’t there so I felt helpless but wanted everyone to be happy.

Then my husband called again and said our daughter took him to the airport, but he was worried about the kids returning the U-haul. He didn’t have the time to do it himself before his flight home. He said the U-haul was difficult to drive, had poor visibility and that it had to be returned quite a distance away on the freeway.

So I took that burden of worry, too. I waited anxiously to hear that the kids returned it and were safely back in their homes.

I juggled with an onslaught of calls. Hanging up on one person to answer the call of another. Calling the person back that I hung up on, so they weren’t offended.

I was looking at news stories on my laptop and read there was a bomb threat and the campus had been evacuated where my son’s girlfriend’s brother was at school. I called my son to let him know. There were three campuses with bomb threats yesterday. Reading the news definitely wasn’t helping me.

The topper was the call back from my son. He said he and his sister were on the side of the freeway with a flat tire. They got the U-haul returned without a hitch, but then had a a blow out on the way back. My daughter was worried she was going to miss her comedy writing class that was scheduled to begin soon. They called AAA and were waiting for the tow truck.

Then my husband called from the Phoenix airport upset because he couldn’t find where he had parked the car after searching for 45 minutes. I took that to mean that it was my fault because I didn’t want to drive him there or pick him up. To be honest, I’m terrified of the freeways here. There are accidents every time I’ve been on them. And always someone driving 100 MPH weaving in and out of traffic. People drive crazy here. My daughter lived here for a year and she said she’d see five wrecks on her drive from Tempe to Scottsdale for work — every single day.

By the time my husband got home, my nerves were fried. I called to check on the kids and they were okay. They were safely back in their homes 700 feet apart. I tried to read and sat outside in the backyard missing the quiet happy feeling that I had bathed in only hours earlier. The peace that defined my weekend vanished as though it was a desert mirage.

Then Monday morning came and my husband woke up with the flu. I called the kids and they said that one of my son’s housemates had the flu. Ugh. I should stay in the casita and turn my phone off. I hope I’m not next for the flu. I haven’t been sick since February 2020.

On to tackle my Monday and back to NaNoWriMo.

Any suggestions on how to handle phone calls where things seem to be spiraling out of control? How do you not let other people’s problems become yours?

Troubles in paradise

husband and wife
Back when we were young — pre kid days.

Have you ever been around a couple who isn’t getting along? We have close friends who are going through a difficult time. When the four of us are together, you’d never know anything is wrong. We laugh, enjoy each other’s company and reminisce when we became friends before kids.

But when I’m alone with my friend, she confides to me that things are not all rainbows and sunshine. It’s been this way more than a year at least and seems to be getting worse.

I brought it up to my husband and he said he’s hearing similar things from the husband.

He wants to ignore it and enjoy our friendship. Compartmentalize it. Somehow it seems fraudulent, but I’m going along. I’m not a making waves type.

I feel like if my girlfriend is complaining to me and it’s that bad, why doesn’t she do something? Get counseling or stand her ground? Or, are they stuck in ugly relationship patterns? I do complain a bit about my husband, too. It’s something many wives do. I’m going to stop that because I see how it looks from the receiving end. But this feels different to me.

We’ve had two or three couples we’ve hung out with who got divorced. One divorce ended a relationship with one of my husband’s childhood friends, because after coming to my husband for advice, my husband confided that the wife made a pass at me! She did. Then my husband’s friend made up with his wife and they blamed US for their problems. Eventually they got divorced.

The other couple wasn’t as close to us and I realized that when we talked to the husband, he’d use whatever we said to attack his wife. So I kept my distance and my mouth shut.

I guess our single friends are easier to be around.

How involved do you get with your friends’ relationships? Have you ever offered advice that has come back to bite? Do you give relationships advice or avoid it? Have you been around friends who aren’t getting along?

My love hate relationship…

….with my fitbit. I thought my fitbit was a game changer when I first got it. It was a Christmas present in 2019.

view of AZ desert
The hiking trails across the street from our new home.

I still like some of the things as much as I did when I first started using it. I like knowing when I reach my 10,000 steps a day. I like the gentle reminders to get up and move every hour.

It feels heavy on my wrist and sometimes I wake up up in the middle of the night and take it off. Then in the morning, I check how well I slept. If I take it off, then it misses a lot of the hours that I did sleep. Looking at a poor night of sleep changes how I feel during the day. Even if I leave it on all night, and I had a bad night’s sleep, the tiredness I feel is worse than it would have been without looking at the data.

The other thing I don’t like is I’ve been riding my bike a few mornings after I walk. I often forget to press the exercise button and scroll to the bike icon. So, I don’t get the satisfaction of having my bike rides recorded. I’ve tried to log into exercise for the day and add the ride in, but it won’t let me. Then I feel cheated. This morning, I stopped during my bike ride to start the fitbit, but I guess I did something wrong and the ride was not recorded.

I may try a few days without the fitbit and see if it feels better without it. Maybe it will be freeing. Or will I miss the little celebration when I hit 10,000 steps?

A view of Mt. San Jacinto from the Wellness Park on my morning walk when I lived in Palm Springs.

Do you use an exercise tracker like an Apple watch or fitbit? What are you feelings about it? Is it helpful or not?