Taking time to find your Zen may do more than help you manage stress. It could help you minimize the spread of COVID-19. One day it may even help you fight climate change.
No, really. According to a new study in Preventive Medicine Reports, the more that people participated in "contemplative practices," such as mindful meditation or fostering compassion for themselves and others, the longer they complied with California's Stay Home Order during the height of the pandemic.
Usually, when studies delve into contemplative practices, they explore how those practices affect us as individuals. For example, do they reduce depressive symptoms? Do they help lower our blood pressure? But during the pandemic, Tia Rich, PhD, the founder and director of Stanford's Contemplation By Design program, researchers from the University of Oxford and Stanford's WELL for Life team, asked a different type of question.
"The pandemic and the shelter-in-place orders offered this opportunity to look at how contemplative practices support the capacity to serve a collective well-being," said Rich. In other words, could contemplative practices help increase compliance with quarantine guidelines meant to protect communities?
The power of pause
Rich and the team collected data via Stanford's COVID-19 Well-being Study -- an ongoing study that employs surveys to gauge how people's health and wellness change over time. For their analysis, the scientists reviewed responses from just over 1,000 people who responded to three surveys administered in the spring of 2020.
Participants who engaged in contemplative practices were less likely to report distress or depression. The more often they practiced, the more protected they seemed to be from negative emotions. Moreover, while all participants said they ventured out of their homes more over time, those who engaged in the contemplative practices stayed home longer, complying with California's Stay Home Order, and ventured out less than those who didn't practice contemplation.
"What's really unique and exciting about this finding is that it stemmed from a natural experiment that showed the relationship between contemplative practice and the capacity to consider what's good for other people," said Rich. "It also showed how these practices can help people to be resilient and bear the distress, that, for many, was associated with staying at home."
It's important to note that the participants are not representative of the overall population, said Rich. First, more than three quarters were women and two-thirds were white. Nearly half had a post-graduate or professional degree. Still, Rich says the findings have broad implications.
"We have complex issues that we face -- that humanity faces -- that require cooperation and collaboration, whether it's reducing the rate of COVID-19 infection or supporting behaviors that would address climate change," she said. "There's an untapped potential of contemplative practices as a daily lifestyle habit that can promote public health."
Photo by Ksenia Makagonova