Mindfulness practice for protecting mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Zhu, Julie Lei 
Vatansever, Deniz 
Xi, Dayou 
Yan, Junjie 

Emerging evidence shows that the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is negatively affecting mental health around the globe. Interventions to alleviate the psychological impact of the pandemic are urgently needed. Whether mindfulness practice may protect against the harmful emotional effects of a pandemic crisis remains hitherto unknown. We investigated the influence of mindfulness training on mental health during the COVID-19 outbreak in China. We hypothesized that mindfulness practitioners might manifest less pandemic-related distress, depression, anxiety, and stress than non-practitioners and that more frequent practice would be associated with an improvement in mental health during the pandemic. Therefore, we assessed pandemic-related distress and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress, as well as the frequency of meditation practice at the peak of new infections (Feb 4-5; N = 673) and three weeks later (Feb 29-30; N = 521) in mindfulness practitioners via online questionnaires. Self-reported symptoms were also collected from non-practitioners at peak time only (N = 1550). We found lower scores of pandemic-related distress in mindfulness practitioners compared to non-practitioners. In general, older participants showed fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. In younger practitioners, pandemic-related distress decreased from peak to follow-up. Importantly, increased mindfulness training during the preceding two weeks was associated with lower scores of depression and anxiety at both assessments. Likewise, practice frequency predicted individual improvement in scores of depression, anxiety, and stress at follow-up. Our results indicate that mindfulness meditation might be a viable low-cost intervention to mitigate the psychological impact of the COVID-19 crisis and future pandemics.

Humans, Depression, Stress, Psychological, Anxiety, Mental Health, China, Pandemics, Mindfulness, COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2
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Translational psychiatry
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Shanghai Science and Technology Development Foundation (Shanghai Science and Technology Development Fund) (16JC1420402)
Science and Technology Commission of Shanghai Municipality (Shanghai Municipal Science and Technology Commission) (2018SHZDZX01)
National Natural Science Foundation of China (National Science Foundation of China) (NSFC91630314)