Emily Lindsay, PhD, is lead author of an uber-important scientific paper on how to mitigate loneliness through mindfulness and acceptance training.
Lindsay is a research scientist in the Psychology Department at University of Pittsburgh who studies how mind-body practices like mindfulness and meditation affect our physiology and ultimate health outcomes. It's an important field of study, because negative mental and emotional states can be terrible for our health.
It turns out, for example, that loneliness and social isolation may be as bad for your health as smoking, or eating a crappy diet.
Which is precisely the condition that Lindsay and her team sought to address in a recent study.
They got a bunch of folks and gave some of them a 14-day smartphone app that guided them to practice mindfulness and acceptance, and compared the results with an active control group, and another group that was guided to practice mindfulness but not acceptance.
“Acceptance,” by the way, means being OK with whatever happens during the mindfulness practice – their own thoughts and emotions and physical sensations, chief among the phenomenon to practice equanimity about.
One of the techniques that they taught, that I'm immediately incorporating into my life, is to say “Yes” to these phenomena as they arise.
An ache in my back as I meditate? “Yes.”
An anxious thought about some web copy I'm supposed to get to John by 4:30 this afternoon? “Yes.”
An angry feeling toward a driver who just cut me off by running a stop sign? “Yes.”
Without needing to DO anything about the sensations, thoughts, and feelings.
Lindsay's team found that 20 minutes per day of mindful acceptance practice for 14 days significantly decreased subjective feelings of loneliness, and increased self-reported social interactions for the three days following the end of the intervention.
While three days isn't a long time, I surmised on the podcast that the change might well lead to a positive feedback loop that improved social engagement even more as time passed.
We'll definitely be exploring this technique in WellStart Health programs as a convenient and evidence-based approach to one of the pillars of lifestyle medicine: social connection.
In the meantime, I'm thrilled to be able to share this important and beautiful work with you.
Enjoy, add your voice to the conversation via the comment box or audio recording box below, and please share – that's how we spread our message and spread our roots.
NY Times article about Dr Lindsay's research: “Loneliness is Bad for Your Health. An App Might Help”
Shinzen.org – originator of the mindfulness app used in the intervention
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