20% to 50% less stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms after a camino
Results of research into the psychological benefits of a camino announced
In 2021 about 179.000 pilgrims arrived in Santiago de Compostela, according to statistics from the Pilgrim Office.
The reasons why pilgrims take a camino vary enormously: from personal growth, spiritual reasons or just for the relaxation or sporting challenge.
Many pilgrims who have walked or biked the Camino de Santiago say that this was an experience that changed their lives. And so a group of researchers from different universities asked themselves: does the Camino de Santiago have benefits for psychological well-being and mental health? Under the name Project Ultreya, they started, as the first ever, a study of the psychological effects that occur with pilgrims walking or cycling a camino to Santiago.
Mindfull on the camino
Dr. Albert Feliu, a researcher at the Fundació Sant Joan de Deu and involved in the project, says the study started because a group of healthcare professionals who, aware of the many stories about the positive effects of the pilgrimage to Santiago, wondering if it would be possible to scientifically investigate the psychological effects of a pilgrimage. An important part of the study was to investigate whether the camino can be considered as 'mindfull', or whether a pilgrim's attention is linked to the 'now', he or she learns to cope with difficulties in the 'present' and a pilgrim feels connected to others without judging. According to Albert Feliu, there are many opportunities along the camino to stand still and take a good look around what is happening in the moment and experience it with all the senses. Think for example of the sound of the wind through the grass, reaching a peak or the smell of the forest after a rain. There is nothing else to do but walk (or cycle), stop and observe!
20% to 50% less stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms
With this study, researchers will investigate the effects of the pilgrimage to Santiago on depression, stress or happiness, both in the short term (at the end of a camino) and in the medium term (three months after arrival). Preliminary results show that a camino brings about very significant changes, especially in the short term, reducing stress levels and depressive symptoms by as much as 20 and 50%. Other aspects that the researchers have demonstrated is that a camino contributes substantially to the perception of happiness and satisfaction with life.
What does a normal vacation do?
As part of the study, the initiators also looked at whether these beneficial effects on mental health also occur with people who fill out their holidays differently. For this they collected data from people who undertook an active cycling or walking holiday, but also from those who stayed at home or made an All-inclusive trip to the Caribbean. This with the aim of: determining whether the psychological changes are comparable or not with those observed after walking or cycling the Camino. According to the researchers, the therapeutic effect of all these vacations is the same, but there is a strong suspicion that a camino has a many times greater effect on health.
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