Resilience for Covid-19  mental wellbeing problems

The Covid-19  pandemic has caused fear and worry over the possible  impact on our friends, family and ourselves.  It has revealed the world as an uncertain place.  Further… lockdowns, social distancing and media coverage may have added to the impact of the pandemic on our  mental wellbeing.  So it is important that we understand such relationships and how they may be reduced.

In June 2020 researchers from Columbia, Spain and Chile carried out research to understand these mechanisms: the paper “The impact of the Covid-19  pandemic on subjective mental well-being: The interplay of perceived threat, future anxiety and resilience” by Paredes et al and published in the journal of Personality and Individual Differences ,Feb 2021.

The researchers questioned 711 people to measure their “subjective mental  wellbeing”, their level of “perceived threat” from Covid-19, their  “future anxiety” (i.e. how they felt about future uncertainty or threats) and their resilience – a personality trait representing their capacity to deal with stressful events..

The research demonstrated that there was strong link between the level of threat perceived and the subjective mental wellbeing of the subjects.  It also demonstrated a significant link between the perceived levels of threat on the future anxiety of the subjects; and that this future anxiety added to the subjective mental wellbeing of the subjects.

The research showed that “resilience” significantly reduced the “future anxiety” within subjects and this in turn significantly improved the mental wellbeing of the subjects.

The researchers commented: “This finding implies that resilience, as a personality trait, prepares individuals to cope with the pandemic’s adverse effects. Individuals with higher levels of resilience reported lower levels of future anxiety and, in turn, lower effects on subjective mental wellbeing, experiencing greater success in coping with the emotional distress provoked by the pandemic.

Interestingly, the research demonstrated that resilience significantly raised the mental wellbeing of both those who experienced a low threat from the Covid-19 pandemic and well as those perceiving a high threat.  So even those who were not so stressed by the pandemic experienced a boost to their mental wellbeing from their resilience.

The researchers went on the highlight “Mindfulness Interventions” as a proven way to boost resilience.  Further, they suggested that, because social media consumption and news outlets may provide confusing information which  increases fear and anxiety, then Governments should implement clear communication strategies. Communication campaigns should promote messages encouraging preventive actions to avoid the spread of the virus. Messages should be concise and focused on practical ways to reduce risk and create tranquillity in the population; and that during, and in the aftermath of, the pandemic it is essential to open communication channels through digital media to provide mental health services.

The researchers concluded that the perceived threats from the pandemic had a detrimental impact on mental health and this impact is reduced by resilience.

“Individuals with higher resilience are less susceptible to the pandemic’s negative psychological consequences because they experience a lower increase in future anxiety, compared to individuals with lower levels of resilience. Our findings imply that mental health intervention strategies aimed at strengthening resilience and preventing future anxiety have a significant potential to mitigate the adverse impact on mental well-being of the Covid-19 pandemic itself and the social measures adopted to curb the pandemic.”

So, to be clear, it is not too late to increase your reliance and so reduced your “anxiety about the future” – the Rezl smartphone app uses Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy to increase resilience.  Please get itn contact if you would like to try it.

Mindfulness Based Interventions for Eating Disorders

The recent death at 38 of Big Brother star Nikki Grahame sadly highlights how those living with anorexia are prone to relapse.  Nikki tried very hard overcome her anorexia.  Yet despite support from her family and friends – and from well-wishers who raised tens of thousands of pounds for her treatment – she was unable to avoid further episodes.

This sad news made me wonder about the possibility of mindfulness being used to enable people to avoid compulsive habits like eating disorders.

I found a 2020 paper from University College London which describes a systematic review of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) on this subject:  “Effects of Mindfulness-Based Intervention on the Treatment of Problematic Eating Behaviors: A Systematic Review” by Yu et al and published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. (Here)

The research identified RCTs investigating the impact of Mindfulness Based Interventions on eating disorders.  Nine out of 426 studies met the quality criteria of the review.  In the majority of qualifying studies, participants in “Mindfulness Based Intervention groups” showed a significant reduction in emotional eating (eating in response to emotional events), external eating (overeating because of availability or adjacency of food), binge eating, and weight and shape concern.

The studies suggested that increasing “mindful awareness of internal experiences” improved self-acceptance and emotional regulation, thereby reducing the problematic eating behaviours.  I.e. subjects became less preoccupied with their body-shape and more able to set aside emotions or negative thoughts… and hence less likely to adopt problematic behaviours.

So, Mindfulness Based Interventions can enhance the individual’s self-acceptance and reduce negativity relating to body appearance through self-criticism and judgment that may trigger uncontrolled eating; and in fact previous research has shown that although mindfulness is not primarily focused on helping people to reach their ideal body shape, it does encourage people to accept their present state and to worry less about it.

However, the results were not so promising for excessive dieting.  Six of the studies included measures of “restrained eating behaviour”. Some of these studies found an increase in dietary restraint within Mindfulness Based Intervention groups as distinct from control groups.

Why should this be? It might be that “restrained eating” has both external and internal drivers, while the MBIs may be more effective in promoting internal awareness and self-regulation they did not address the external drivers for such behaviour.  Personally, I worry that some participants were able to use mindfulness techniques to set aside hunger pangs and thoughts of food – such that mindfulness skills may be a tool that can assist such dysfunctional behaviour.  My own conclusion is that those with anorexia require speciality counselling and should not embark on casual mindfulness interventions.

Overall, the researchers conclude: “Mindfulness practices can boost self-regulation, improve the ability to tolerate distress, and deter psychologically induced dysfunctional behaviours, thereby reducing the amount of problematic eating behaviours.”

So, if someone is prone to overeating, “emotional eating” or “external eating” then mindfulness will help.  It will help people to be lees concerned about body shape and self-image.  Yet where someone is prone to restricting their eating then specialist help should be sought.