A new study suggests that mindfulness meditation can help mitigate the negative mental health consequences of the pandemic. The study was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
The COVID-19 pandemic was an unforeseen public health crisis that led to increased distress among the general public and required drastic social distancing. Study authors Alessio Matiz and colleagues point out that this type of event highlights the need for self-guided interventions to reduce stress and anxiety when in-person health services may be temporarily closed. The researchers wondered whether a mindfulness-based intervention might be an effective tool for such cases.
The study, which began on February 11, 2020, was originally set up to explore the potential for mindfulness to improve Italian teachers’ well-being and reduce burnout. When it was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, it gave researchers the unique opportunity to investigate the effectiveness of a mindfulness intervention specifically during a public health emergency.
A sample of 58 teachers in Italy, with an average age of 50, took part in an 8-week Mindfulness-Oriented Meditation (MOM) training program. The course included teachings on meditation, group discussions, and 30 minutes of daily at-home meditation practice. The first two lessons were conducted among in-person groups, but social distancing measures caused the remaining six meetings to be replaced by 30-minute video lessons that the teachers accessed from home.
Participants completed a range of psychological assessments before beginning the mindfulness training and were then re-assessed at the end of the program to capture any changes.
The researchers found that, overall, the teachers showed improvements in anxiety, depression,
psychological well-being (as measured by autonomy, environmental mastery, and positive relations with others), affective empathy, harm avoidance, and teacher burnout. Furthermore, the teachers’ evaluations of the course indicated that the meditation practice helped them “very much” during the period of isolation, and not having these practices would have made this time period “a little worse.”
As Matiz and associates say, these encouraging results may be partly due to the teachers’ high levels of adherence to the at-home practices. Research suggests that the effectiveness of MOM programs is linked to the amount of meditation practiced, and the women in the study completed about 88% of the at-home practices. The intervention may also have been particularly effective since it was partly preventative, given that the intervention began prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The researchers point out that their study offers evidence that not only can mindfulness-based interventions potentially mitigate the consequences of a public health crisis, but they can do so even when distributed remotely — since 6 weeks of the program was administered through online videos.
Since there was no control group, the researchers cannot confirm that the positive changes seen were due to the mindfulness course. In light of this, the authors emphasize the remarkability of the findings, saying, “we are not aware of any studies reporting improved psychological well-being when comparing persons during the Covid-19 outbreak with their precedent condition.”
The study, “Positive Impact of Mindfulness Meditation on Mental Health of Female Teachers during the COVID-19 Outbreak in Italy”, was authored by Alessio Matiz, Franco Fabbro, Andrea Paschetto, Damiano Cantone, Anselmo Roberto Paolone, and Cristiano Crescentini.