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NMSU research team emphasizes mindfulness to deal with stress, life challenges

Several years ago, New Mexico State University professor Eve Adams began feeling stressed and in need of something to improve her well-being.


Photo of woman in a crimson shirt meditating in a classroom
NMSU student Peggy Lu Jane participates in a five-minute meditation session during an Introduction to Mindfulness undergraduate class in O’Donnell Hall. NMSU professor Eve Adams is leading a group of faculty and student researchers in exploring mindfulness and its effects on students, minorities and socially oppressed populations. (NMSU photo by Adriana M. Chavez)
Photo of students writing and talking
A group of NMSU students write in journals and participate in a discussion during Jeremy Rutherford’s Introduction to Mindfulness undergraduate class in O’Donnell Hall. (NMSU photo by Adriana M. Chavez)
Photo of a woman writing in a notebook
NMSU student Linda Dutchover writes a journal entry in her workbook during Jeremy Rutherford's undergraduate Introduction to Mindfulness class in O'Donnell Hall. (NMSU photo by Adriana M. Chavez)

“I was pretty much burnt out and feeling like I needed something to help replenish me,” Adams said.

Adams used her sabbatical leave to attend workshops on mindfulness, and a new idea for research on the subject was born.

“I felt like it made a huge difference in my life and it continues to help,” Adams said. “I think it helps me be more creative in decision making, so it’s not just about stress reduction, it’s actually more about being able to really see the big picture even when we get constrained by difficult circumstances.”

Mindfulness is an approach many doctors, mental health professionals and researchers are focusing on to help people reduce stress and anxiety. Adams said mindfulness is the ability to “be present and notice just what’s happening in the present moment, and doing it in as non-judgmental a way as possible.”

Adams used her experiences with mindfulness to develop a mindfulness course and create a mindfulness research team based out of the Counseling & Educational Psychology Department at New Mexico State University’s College of Education. The team consists of faculty members Adams and Tracie Hitter, and students Jeremy Rutherford, Ben Neeley, Liz Black, Gabriela Ramirez and Wiley Stem.

Mindfulness is a topic that many universities across the country are studying, but the NMSU mindfulness research team has focused on how mindfulness affects the Latino population as well as socially oppressed groups and those in the “helping” professions such as counselors.

“A lot of these measures and research has mainly been done on white populations, but because we have a large Latino population here at New Mexico State, we’re looking to see if some of those measures are as accurate in measuring those constructs with a Latino population,” Adams said. “One construct in particular that we’re looking at is anger rumination. When people are discriminated against they ruminate about their injustice, and we’re looking at if mindfulness helps reduce the effects of that and people can still have a high satisfaction with life even as they’re dealing with issues of discrimination.”

Adams described a research study she conducted with Neeley, her student. In their sample of Latino students at NMSU, they found that the more people ruminate the less satisfied they are with their life. This relationship between rumination and life satisfaction is even stronger with people who are lower in self-compassion. However, when people have more self-compassion, the relationship between rumination and life satisfaction is minimized.

Virginia Longoria, an assistant professor in the Counseling & Educational Psychology Department and graduate of the doctoral Counseling Psychology program, collaborated with Adams on Longoria’s dissertation research on mindfulness-based therapies used with diverse groups of people. Longoria said the research explored the usefulness of these therapies with groups of minorities and people who are constrained by daily oppressive realities.

“We got a lot of very rich data that really highlighted the potential for these practices to have a very big impact on people’s lives not only in stress reduction and self care, but also bringing mindfulness to the experience of oppression and how to learn to deal with the anger that comes with living with injustice in your life,” Longoria said.

In the qualitative study, teachers of mindfulness spoke of how mindfulness creates a path to freedom that doesn’t depend on how others view or treat you.

NMSU students have an opportunity to learn more about mindfulness by taking an undergraduate course, Introduction to Mindfulness. A graduate course on mindfulness is also offered. Adams and Hitter are collecting data on how the class affects students’ well-being on a number of measures, and Adams also offers a weekly mindfulness workshop to faculty, staff and students. And NMSU students can take advantage of mindfulness therapy groups offered by the NMSU Counseling Center.

Jeremy Rutherford, a third-year doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology program, has taught the undergraduate mindfulness course for two semesters. He said he was introduced to mindfulness by a professor in a master’s program who emphasized mindfulness and self-compassion as a tool for self-care and to work with clients.

“Mostly I found it beneficial in my own life in working with stress, thoughts, emotions and relationships in a new way,” Rutherford said. “It seems to me that most students find some benefit in learning the science and practice of mindfulness, given that we do so many different kinds of mindfulness exercises such as sitting, yoga, qi gong, walking, etc. There always seem to be a handful, if not more, of the students that really take to the idea and practice of mindfulness and find it to be helpful in their lives.”

In his two semesters teaching the mindfulness course, Rutherford said he’s noticed a change in students from the beginning of the semester to the end.

“One thing that I have noticed as a change in students from the beginning to the end of the semester is their increased ability to adopt a nonjudgmental stance towards their internal experience,” Rutherford said.