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The stress-reductive effect of mindfulness practice is well-established, yet less is known about the cognitive mechanisms underlying this salutary outcome. We conducted a prospective observational study of 339 participants (mean age 45.7 ± 13.4) undergoing an 8-week mindfulness-based stress and pain management course and found support for our hypotheses that a) pre-post intervention increases in dispositional mindfulness are reciprocally linked with increases in positive reappraisal coping and b) the stress-reductive effects of increases in dispositional mindfulness are mediated by increases in positive reappraisal independent of changes in catastrophizing. Positive reappraisal and mindfulness appear to serially and mutually enhance one another, creating the dynamics of an upward spiral. Through mindfulness practice, individuals may engender a broadened state of awareness that facilitates empowering interpretations of stressful life events, leading to substantially reduced distress. Study findings have implications for cognitive therapy that couples mindfulness practices with restructuring techniques oriented toward benefit finding and positive reappraisal.

Vagal tone (VT), an index of autonomic flexibility, is linked to social and psychological well-being. We posit that the association between VT and well-being reflects an “upward spiral” in which autonomic flexibility, represented by VT, facilitates capitalizing on social and emotional opportunities and the resulting opportunistic gains, in turn, lead to higher VT. Community-dwelling adults were asked to monitor and report their positive emotions and the degree to which they felt socially connected each day for 9 weeks. VT was measured at the beginning and end of the 9-week period. Adults who possessed higher initial levels of VT increased in connectedness and positive emotions more rapidly than others. Furthermore, increases in connectedness and positive emotions predicted increases in VT, independent of initial VT level. This evidence is consistent with an “upward spiral” relationship of reciprocal causality, in which VT and psychosocial well-being reciprocally and prospectively predict one another.