Effects of 8-week active mindfulness and stress management on decentering and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Department of Biological Sciences; Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences


The novel coronavirus infection has substantially increased over the last year causing a global pandemic. The rate of infection is persistently rising which has forced many authorities to promote stay at home orders. Individuals may experience an increase in anxiety due to spending longer durations at home, working from home, lacking direct social interactions with friends and family, monetary losses, and potentially getting infected from the virus. Increased anxiety for prolonged periods is linked to elevated blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes. To evaluate the influence of the pandemic on psychological health, we conducted a study on effects of mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) and stress management education (SME). To analyze the effects of the pandemic on mental health of our participants, we compared a group which was not affected by the pandemic (NPG) to a group that was affected by the pandemic (PG). The primary aim of this study was to compare the effects of 8-weeks active intervention of MBSR and SME in NPG and PG on state-trait anxiety and decentering. 36 adults participated in the study. All the participants were randomly enrolled in either 8-weeks of MBSR or SME training. The NPG had 19 participants with 10 in MBSR and 9 in the SME group. The PG had 17 participants with 8 in MBSR and 9 in SME group. The MBSR group had weekly group sessions of ~2.5h on body scanning, meditation and light yoga while the SME group had concurrent sessions on nutrition, sleep, and stress management. Both the groups also did home practice daily for ~45 minutes. The NPG met in person for each of the 8 weeks, but the PG completed the last 4-weeks of the course online due to a stay-at-home mandate at the time in Michigan. All the participants filled out a questionnaire on state anxiety, trait anxiety and decentering before and after the 8-weeks. A ReANOVA was used to compare the differences across the 8 weeks, with condition (PG vs. NPG) as a between-subjects factor. The results showed that there was a significant increase in decentering in PG after the 8-weeks (treatment x condition and time x condition both p<0.03). The SME participants (Δ5.6±1.5 a.u., p=0.007) and MBSR participants (Δ3.5±0.7 a.u., p=0.002) significantly improved their ability to decenter during the pandemic. State anxiety did not change across the 8-weeks of SME or MBSR in either the NPG or PG. Trait anxiety was reduced across the 8-week intervention groups (time p=0.043) with MBSR participants decreasing by (Δ3.4±2.8 a.u.) and SME participants decreasing by (Δ0.9±1.7 a.u.). In this small cohort of adults, the 8-week MBSR and SME interventions helped to reduce trait anxiety, and significantly improved the ability to decenter (disconnect from emotions) during the global pandemic. In addition, there was not an increase in state-anxiety during the pandemic, which may be at least partially due to active participation in MBSR and SME. These are encouraging results that indicate MBSR and SME can positively influence psychological health, and to help disconnect from emotions during an unprecedented global health crisis.

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The FASEB Journal