Effects on stress and well-being: meditation retreat vs. vacation

Gilbert, A., et al. (2014). A Randomized Trial Comparing a Brief Meditation Retreat to a Vacation: Effects on Daily Well-Being. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 20(5), A92-A92.

From the Abstract. Research on brief meditation retreats shows psychological benefits. Most studies utilize at-home control groups, immersed in work and life. A major criticism is the extent to which the benefits result from meditation or from being away from their typical lives and relaxing elsewhere – “the vacation effect”. Here, we examined changes in daily wellbeing and stressful experiences during a 5-day resort stay in a group of non-meditators randomized to attend meditation and yoga training or to relax at the resort.

We randomized 66 eligible women, aged 31 to 60, with no meditation experience into a resort control or a meditation retreat group (The Chopra Center), staying at the same location, given the same diet, had blood draws on Day 1 and 5 of the study, and had lectures on health (resort) or meditation, yoga, awareness and self-reflection (retreat). Nightly, end-of day diaries were completed and assessed affect, stressful event occurrence and reactivity. Stressful events were objectively rated for severity.

Positive affect significantly increased and negative affect decreased the first to last day of the study in the retreat group, but not in the control group. Both groups felt less ‘stressed’ by the day’s most significant stressor at the end, and this is despite no change in rater-coded severity Only retreat women reported significantly greater control over the stressor, and all participants reported decreased rumination from first to last day, with more pronounced changes in retreatants. These findings suggest benefits to retreat over vacation in promoting a more resilient response to daily stressors and positive affect.