2020 has seen many people plunge into a roller-coaster of emotions: from unusual stay-at-home orders, fear of catching the coronavirus, to job losses, financial troubles, or the fear of those, the coronavirus pandemic sure set off a lot of people on a path of anxiety and fear. In the light of this, a new study suggests that practicing religious or cultural rituals may, indeed, keep people calm through troubling situations.
The researches sought to see how rituals affect mood and mental health and performed an experiment on a small group of people. Set in Mauritius, the study team induced anxiety by asking participants to write an emergency response plan for a natural disaster that would be evaluated by governments. This was obviously stressful, and was bound to throw the participants off balance.
After this stress-inducing task, one half of the group performed a familiar religious ritual at a nearby temple while the other half were asked to go relax in a non-religious environment. The outcome was interesting: while the test triggered stress in all participants, the group that performed the religious activity reported a greater reduction in both physiological and psychological stress. Their stress levels were measured using a wearable device, which tracks heart rate.
The study team suggests that ritual gives the brain a sense of structure and pattern that reduces anxiety and keeps an individual calm.