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Mindfulness-based interventions to address psychological distress during COVID-19: applications and opportunities


International Journal of Complementary & Alternative Medicine
Dana R Garfin,1 Amada L Cipres,2# Rachel M Reyes2

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Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated stressors (e.g., job loss, physical distancing, loss of a loved one, physical illness) have resulted in widespread, ongoing social disruption and related psychological distress for many across the globe. Mindfulness-based Interventions (MBIs), which are programs designed to help strengthen one’s awareness of physical and mental experiences in the present moment without judgment, have demonstrated effectiveness in reducing such psychological difficulties. As such, they may be a low-cost and accessible resource for addressing pandemic-related psychological maladies. Moreover, they can be administered via telehealth modalities including smartphone apps and websites. These tools may help increase accessibility of mental health care while supporting physical distancing recommendations. We reviewed studies evaluating the effectiveness of MBIs for reducing psychological symptoms after prior community disasters including typhoons, tsunamis, and hurricanes. That research demonstrates that MBIs may help alleviate anxiety, post-traumatic stress (PTS) symptoms, and depression in of the wake of such events. However, most of these studies had very small sample sizes and other methodological limitations. More generally, participation in telehealth-delivered MBIs has been associated with decreases in stress, depression, and anxiety symptoms. Importantly, MBIs administered online demonstrate comparable effectiveness to traditional in-person MBIs. Future research on MBIs for community disaster survivors should utilize larger sample sizes and include longer-term follow-up assessments to evaluate the sustained impacts of MBIs for addressing psychological disturbances. This knowledge may help provide accessible and effective coping tools as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for future community disasters and public health crises.

Keywords

COVID-19, mindfulness, intervention, disaster, psychological distress, MBI: mindfulness-based Interventions, PTS: post-traumatic stress, MBSR: mindfulness-based stress reduction, MBCT, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, RCT: randomized controlled trial

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