Theses Doctoral

Enhancing Spiritual Awareness Among Undergraduate Students: Improving Physiological Reactivity to and Recovery from Everyday Stressors

Anderson, Micheline R.

Chronic stress contributes to a global burden of disease that include mental illness, cardiovascular disease and early mortality. One pathway linking stress responses to health outcomes involves cardiovascular response to psychological stress. Specifically, vagal response as indexed by heart rate variability (HRV) can be used to examine autonomic processes, dysfunction of which can predict cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. The competitive academic climate on undergraduate campuses and insufficient time for recreation, rest and study, combined with inadequate coping skills can equate to consistent stressors that lead to subsequent stress and psychopathology among college students.

Research demonstrates that reduced HRV can be observed among students during exam time, whereas increased HRV is observed in times of rest, suggesting that academic stress contributes to real-time physiological changes that, when prolonged, can be pathogenic in nature. Interventions aimed at influencing these processes via relaxation or other mind-body approaches have shown that enhancing meta-cognitive skills and other coping strategies have proven helpful in both improving perceived stress and psychological distress as well as improving HRV when compared with controls.

This study investigates potential positive physiological effects of an eight-week Spiritual-Mind-Body (SMB) intervention, Awakened Awareness for Adolescents (AA-A), for undergraduate students. Specifically, we explore changes in HRV during resting, stress and recovery phases before and after the eight-week intervention. Additionally, we examine the association between change in self-report on measures of personal spirituality and psychological variables (pre-post AA-A), and changes across a host of HRV indices. Results include improvements in HRV recovery from stress and that a process of spiritual recovery is associated with these changes. SMB interventions that aim to improve spiritual and psychological functioning may promote psychophysiological resilience from stress.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Miller, Lisa Jane
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 8, 2021