Body awareness and psychological flexibility as resilience factors against somatic symptoms and poor physical and mental health
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Introduction: Somatic symptoms and its consequences are associated with substantial functional impairment and healthcare utilization. Psychological flexibility and body awareness may be a focus in the treatment of somatic symptoms. Heightened body awareness can, however, be adaptive or maladaptive. To get insight into psychological flexibility and body awareness as potential resilience factors against somatic symptoms and poor physical and mental health, this cross-sectional study examined associations between these variables. Methods: Participants (N=319) completed an online survey, measuring psychological flexibility (FIT-60), body awareness (SBC), somatic symptoms (PHQ-15) and mental and physical functioning (RAND-36). Hierarchical regression analyses examined these associations. Results: Significant associations of medium and large effect size were found between psychological flexibility and somatic symptoms, physical functioning, and mental well-being. Especially people with low scores on psychological flexibility showed more somatic symptoms and less physical functioning. The components acceptance and cognitive defusion in particular displayed the strongest associations with the three health status measures. Neither body awareness nor the interaction of psychological flexibility with body awareness was associated with somatic symptoms, physical functioning, and mental well-being. Discussion: Psychological flexibility (but not body awareness) is associated with less somatic symptoms and better physical functioning and mental well-being. To the extent that this correlation reflects a causative relation and given that psychological flexibility is a trainable skill, these findings indicate the potential protecting role of psychological flexibility against somatic symptoms and poor physical and mental health.