Preliminary Report Prepared by
Tyler D. Staples, MS LMLP
July 31, 2022

METHODS

Specific Research Questions and Hypotheses

The research question of the investigation was as follows:

Would a novel 9-week resilience and mindfulness training curriculum (MRT) provided over a virtual telecommunication platform (Zoom) lead to improvements in resilience and coping flexibility in climate activists?

There were several outcomes hypothesized regarding the originally-proposed research question:

  • Hypothesis 1: There will be a statistically-significant increase in resilience as measured by the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD-RISC) from pretest to posttest.
  • Hypothesis 2: There will be a statistically-significant increase in coping flexibility as measured by the total score on the Coping Flexibility Index (COFLEX) from pretest to posttest.
  • Hypothesis 3: There will be a statistically-significant increase in coping flexibility as measured by the Coping Versatility domain on the COFLEX from pretest to posttest.
  • Hypothesis 4: There will be a statistically-significant increase in coping flexibility as measured by the Reflective Coping domain on the COFLEX from pretest to posttest.

Statistical Analyses

A repeated-measures, pretest-posttest design was utilized. The dependent variables were level of resilience as measured by the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD-RISC; Connor & Davidson, 2012) and coping flexibility as measured by the coping versatility and reflective coping domains as well as total scores on the Coping Flexibility Questionnaire (COFLEX; Vriezekolk et al., 2012).

The recommended statistical analysis for a repeated-measures, pretest-posttest design is a paired-samples t-test (Field, 2018). A t-test was completed for each of the measurements: the CD-RISC and the COFLEX and its two domain scale scores. Paired-samples t-tests determined if participants’ scores were significantly different from pretest to posttest. Paired-samples t-tests accounted for each hypothesis. The paired-samples t-tests were analyzed using IBM’s Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) program. To assess for effect size Cohen’s d was used (Field, 2018).

RESULTS

Training Attendance, Participant Demographics, & Study Participation

In total, 42 activists attended an introductory session prior to the outset of training:

  • 23 participants completed the pre-course assessment
  • 19 participants attended 3 or more of the sessions
  • 11 activists attended the last training.

11 (N) of the study participants completed both pretest and posttest measures.

9 (81.8%) identified as female while 2 (18.2%) identified as male.

When asked about identified race, 9 (81.8%) stated they identified as being White or European and 2 (18.2%) as African or Black (see Table 1).

The average participant age was 55.1 years (SD = 16.22).

Participants reported having had an average of 6.3 years (SD = 4.19) of activism experience at the outset of training.

Study participants attended an average of 8 of the 9 available sessions via Zoom, while 6 participants (54.5%) reported they watched a recording of the Zoom session instead of attending 1 or 2 of the Zoom sessions live.

Participants said they spent an average of 1.35 hours (SD = .747) of extra time per week outside of the sessions practicing the provided skills, with a maximum reported time of 2 hours per week (see Table 2.)

Hypothesis-Testing Results

Hypothesis 1

A paired-samples t-test was conducted to determine if participants’ CD-RISC (Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale) scores were significantly different between pretest and posttest. The analysis revealed a statistically significant difference between participants’ pretest (M = 64.36, SD = 15.91) and posttest scores (M = 72.36, SD = 12.89; t(10) = 2.09, p = .032; see Table 3). See Figure 1 for a graphical representation of the data.

Hypothesis 2

A paired-samples t-test was also conducted to determine if participants’ COFLEX (Coping Flexibility Index) total scores were statistically significant between pretest and posttest. The t-test revealed a statistically significant difference in participants’ scores between pretest (M = 35.55, SD = 4.66) and posttest (M = 40.27, SD = 4.88; t(10) = 4.13, p = .001; see Table 3 above). See Figure 2 for a graphical representation of average COFLEX scores.

Hypothesis 3

To determine if participants’ Coping Versatility domain COFLEX scores were statistically different between pretest and posttest, a paired-samples t-test was conducted. The t-test revealed a statistically significant difference in participants’ scores between pretest (M = 23.36, SD = 3.29) and posttest (M = 27.55, SD = 3.62; t(10) = 4.74, p < .001; see Table 3 above). See Figure 3 for a graphical representation of average COFLEX scores.

Hypothesis 4

A paired-samples t-test was conducted to determine if participants’ Reflective Coping COFLEX scores were significantly different between pretest and posttest. The t-test revealed no statistically significant differences in participants’ scores between pretest (M = 12.18, SD = 3.03) and posttest (M = 12.73, SD = 3.07; t(10) = .855, p = .206; see Table 3 above). See Figure 3 above for a graphical representation of average COFLEX scores.

DISCUSSION

Discussion of Results

The primary aim of the current study was to investigate the impact, if any, of a novel, 9-week resilience and mindfulness training curriculum on measures of resilience and coping flexibility in climate activists. Results showed that the training curriculum did indeed increase resilience, indicated by an average increase of 8 points on the CD-RISC. Additionally, coping flexibility measured by the COFLEX also increased, with an average rise of 4.7 points from pretest to posttest. This rise in overall COFLEX scores was primarily driven by the Coping Versatility domain of the COFLEX, which saw a statistically significant increase of 4.2 points. Conversely, the COFLEX’s Reflective Coping domain scores was the only measurement that did not see a statistically significant change in scores.

Several conclusions can be drawn from this data.

Psychological resilience did appear to be positively impacted by the novel curriculum.

Additionally, participants’ abilities to choose adaptively from a variety of coping skills, as indicated by the COFLEX’s Coping Versatility domain, were also improved. Given the curriculum’s strong focus on mindfulness, acceptance, and adaptive coping, these findings are within the expected realm of results.

On the other hand, the curriculum did not spend much time advocating for reflection following adversity, which could speak to the fact that no observable change was found in participants’ abilities to reflectively cope, as indicated by the COFLEX Reflective Coping domain. As an added note, it may also be that participants had not had an opportunity to practice reflective coping, as the questions within the Reflective Coping domain of the COFLEX inquire about the ability to reflect following adversity. If participants had not experienced adversity throughout the course of the trainings, this skill would of course not have been utilized.

Limitations & Future Directions

The study’s small sample size (N = 11) poses some limitations in interpreting the above data. The comparison data from studies with small sample sizes are highly influenced by changes in the data. The small sample size also hinders the ability to draw general inferences of the data, given that small sample sizes are likely to be non-representative of the population of interest. It is also important to note that the statistical methods by which the data are analyzed change when sample sizes are non-normal and thereby less likely to be representative. These statistical methods were not utilized in the current study. For instance, in future studies that involve a comparison of means such as the current study whereby the sample distribution is non-normal and/or contains outlier cases, a Wilcoxon Signed-Rank test would be utilized (if effect were also to be investigated, Hedge’s Correction would be used).

WHAT’S NEXT?

Because this pilot program demonstrated such statically significant promise for supporting the emotional well-being of climate activists, The Resilient Activist is actively pursuing partnerships with respected research institutions to host this course for a larger study and enhance this intervention based on comments and feedback from participants. As the climate crisis worsens, feelings of futility will continue to rise for climate activists. Studies show that incidences of burnout, depression, addiction, and suicide are on the increase within the activist community.

The Resilient Activist knows that the world needs inspired, visionary activists who have the resilience to see us through these difficult times. We are committed to providing programming such as this that supports this vital mission.

Additional Notes

Organization

This novel 9-week Mindfulness and Resilience Training program was designed and coordinated by The Resilient Activist, a nonprofit whose mission is to support the emotional well-being of climate activists.

Curriculum Overview

The first four weeks focused on developing characteristics shown by research to influence resilience development. These included developing an understanding of what resilience is (and isn’t) as well as practical skill development in the areas of:

  • Constructing achievable goals
  • Planning for distressing situations
  • Addressing unhelpful thinking patterns
  • Handling emotional crises
  • Developing acceptance
  • Defining realistic optimism
  • Introducing relaxation training basics

The second four weeks introduced participants to the key principles of mindfulness, instruction for formal and informal practices including gentle movement and breath work, along with group discussions. With a commitment to involvement, both within and outside of class, participants learned how integrating mindfulness into their daily lives could play a significant role in transforming their experience with troubling emotions and even physical pain.

The final session introduced participants to Visionary Activism, a journaling practice that melds mindfulness, heartfelt activism, and profound nature connection as tools to develop a personal activism plan that nurtures resilience and joy.

Session topics included:

  1. Defining Resilience & Contingency Planning
  2. Unhelpful Thinking Patterns
  3. Mindfulness, Acceptance & (Realistic) Optimism
  4. Maintaining Resilience
  5. Centrality of Awareness, Perception & Creative Responding
  6. The Power of Being Present & Meeting the Unwanted
  7. Awareness of Automatic, Habitual, Conditioned Patterns
  8. Integrating Mindfulness into Daily Life
  9. Visionary Activism

Participants received a digital “Toolbox” with reminders and links to handouts for all important skills and concepts offered during the 9 weekly sessions.

Coordinating Team

Primary Investigator

Tyler D. Staples, MS LMLP. Licensed Master’s Level Psychologist in the state of Kansas, and a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at Kansas City University. He has been practicing psychology since 2015, both in inpatient as well as outpatient settings. In addition to his doctoral studies, Tyler currently works as an adjunct professor at Avila University. His dissertation research is on psychological resilience training in healthcare professionals. Email.

Facilitators

Erik Hulse retired from the Overland Park Police Department in 2016, after 25 years of service. He is a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teacher and teaches for the Midwest Alliance for Mindfulness (MAM), the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center, and Pause First Academy. Erik is in a 2-year chaplaincy training program through Upaya Institute and Zen Center.

Julia Grimm, LMLP, CMT-200, RYT-200 is a Certified Mindfulness Teacher, a therapist, and a trained yoga teacher. She specializes in trauma-informed care & teaching mindfulness to children and adults. Julia graduated with an MSc in Clinical Psychology from Leiden University in the Netherlands. She teaches at Midwest Alliance for Mindfulness and works as a Licensed Master’s Level Psychologist at Jewish Family Services.

Sami Aaron, Founder/Executive Director, The Resilient Activist is a Climate Reality Leader, an Extension Master Naturalist, a yoga and meditation teacher, and an environmental activist working on the restoration of pollinator habitats.

Participant Feedback

“It was very helpful to learn a variety of specific skills (the tools in the toolbox) to help me build resilience and become more mindful. I had never before come across so many specific tools.”

“I appreciated actual tools to whittle down the seemingly insurmountable into something manageable.”

“The guidance and support of the amazing team that put this together were helpful to my understanding and implementation of the ideas I hadn’t encountered before this training. The slide shows, guided experiences, and breakout rooms were all most helpful to my understanding and growth in these 9 weeks.”

“I appreciated the variety of techniques and enjoyed learning about the research and psychological principles behind many of them. Also really appreciated the hints about forming good habits, and really enjoyed the meditation, mindful movement, and yoga.”

“I really liked the ToolKit that you gave us… I have been tinkering with it all day. I can see how easily it can be applied to lots of areas of our lives – not just being an activist. I especially like the part about taking things that you don’t like doing and reworking them so you can support the action in a way that fits more with your values.”

“4 Steps for a Resilient Life is perhaps the most concise tool I’ve seen to ground me, then inspire me.”

Before this program, I would not have considered myself as resilient. I set very high standards for myself, causing me to feel guilty for not being the “perfect activist,” for taking a day off from trying to save the world all the time, and for sometimes feeling overwhelmed by the sadness of it all. After the program, I am looking at myself and my work as an activist in an entirely new light. I see myself with acceptance – I welcome all of my emotions without judgment. I now understand that my impact as an activist – my ability to care for the world around me – begins with self-care. I see that I have been resilient all along, and I now have the tools to cultivate mindful resilience so that I can continue my activism in the healthiest ways.”