International Stress Management Association (ISMA), a leading global professional body for workplace and personal stress management has instituted the first Wednesday of every November as National Stress Awareness Day. The Day is held to highlight the importance of stress and raise awareness about its ill-effects on living harmoniously with one’s natural rhythm and health to ensure mental and emotional wellbeing.

The pandemic has had a multiplier effect on people’s stress levels leading to breakdown in emotional and mental wellbeing across most age groups. It has also accelerated the attention and focus by individuals, associations and national and international health and government bodies on addressing issues related to stress and its management.

Stress and lack of quality sleep are considered serious public health challenges despite modern lifestyles, comforts, and technological advances. The COVID-19 pandemic has genuinely brought attention to this pre-existing stress problem, which has been made significantly worse by the pandemic.

The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health has recently published a study conducted by US researchers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study showed that ‘Heartfulness Meditation’, a simple heart-based meditation practice aimed at attaining a balanced state of mind, was associated with significant reduction in perceived stress and improvement in the quality of sleep of participants who completed  the online-based meditation program.

The study by the US researchers aimed to investigate whether using a virtual heart-based meditation program is associated with improved stress levels and quality of sleep. The researchers enrolled 63 participants to receive an eight-week virtually conducted Heartfulness Meditation program. Of these, 36 (57%) completed the entire eight weeks of the Heartfulness meditation program.

The participants were recommended to attend a minimum of two out of a total of eight virtual trainer-guided group Heartfulness relaxation and meditation sessions each week.

The sessions included 5–7 minutes of relaxation followed by 20 minutes of meditation. Participants were also provided instructions on using the phone application called ‘HeartsApp’ on their phones. They could connect as an anonymous seeker with a Heartfulness trainer through the application and meditate without any audiovisual interaction. They were also advised to undertake self-practices to the best of their abilities.

The study showed that following Heartfulness meditation practice, PSS and PSQI — two widely used measurements of perceived stress level in respondents —  improved significantly in the participants. Based on these observations, the researchers suggested that meditation programs offered via virtual platforms can offer a convenient, helpful, and easily accessible tool to a large community to help improve the psychological wellbeing of individuals.

The researchers added that the results enhance understanding on how Heartfulness meditation practice helps reduce stress and improve the quality of sleep. Our qualitative analysis suggests these effects could be because a simple heart-based meditation brought a ‘calming effect’ in our participants, resulting in ‘inner peace’. Such an effect also resulted in inner changes in our participants, including positive thinking, accepting and empathic attitude, and an increase in awareness of one’s own emotions and the needs of others.”

This study adds to the existing literature supporting the benefits of Heartfulness practice, as reported by some previous studies showing the benefit of Heartfulness relaxation and meditation to reduce stress, burnout, loneliness, and improve the quality of sleep.

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