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Meditation | Mindfulness

Managing Stress And Anxiety During A Pandemic With Meditation and Mindfulness

About 6 min reading time

We’ve all had to adapt how we live and function as a result of the global pandemic. Overwhelmed, busy, fearful, coping, and splitting their lives are all possibilities for healthcare professionals. Additional worry or fear can overwhelm patients with pre-existing anxiety, depression, or psychosis. People who abuse substances can become increasingly reliant on whatever resources they can find to help them control their addiction. Caregivers may face an increased burden of care due to a lack of personal time and support. Household units live in stressful situations and are not used to spending too much time in cramped quarters.

Children and teenagers have lost the stability offered by education, and they may have their very own worries and concerns, as well as a lack of social help. Older people have been isolated and may well have deprived of not only external support but also the belief that if you reach the age of 70, you are considered frail and no longer useful. When you add in financial and employment insecurity, you have a world that is in jeopardy.

Despite the sadness, terror, and anxiety, glimpses of a society with a greater sense of belonging and compassion have emerged. During events of crisis, such as the ongoing global pandemic triggered by COVID-19, meditation and mindfulness are activities that can help healthcare practitioners, patients, caregivers, and the general public.

Meditation and mindfulness are two different terms

The words “meditation” and “mindfulness” have made their way into popular culture. While these terms are frequently used synonymously, there are some distinctions between them. Meditation is a systematic technique for calming the mind and increasing consciousness of ourselves, our minds, and our surroundings. Meditation has been practiced by so many different societies in so many different cultures for centuries.

Meditation, which was once only practiced in Eastern cultures, has spread across Western culture and is progressively being used as a potential therapy. In recent years, the word “mindfulness” has been widely used. Simply put, mindfulness refers to being conscious of the present situation. Meditation is a subset of mindfulness, which is a much wider term. Mindfulness of breathing, empathy or love, kindness-focused meditation, and the use of phrases or expressions as the focus for meditation are only a few examples of formal meditation activities.

Although there are many types of meditation and mindfulness, those with an evidence base, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction, are of specific importance to healthcare professionals. Anxiety, depression, and pain scores have all improved in systematic evaluations of these procedures. People who have practiced conventional meditation for a long time, as well as those who have completed the mindfulness-based stress reduction program, have shown structural and functional improvements in their brains. Meditation and mindfulness activities are beneficial to people of all ages and abilities. Implementing a meditation and mindfulness practice during this pandemic has the ability to supplement therapy and is a low-cost, effective way to provide anxiety relief for all.

What do you need to know about meditation and mindfulness?

A basic coming to consciousness of the present situation underpins all of the various meditation techniques. Individuals who are mindful of what is happening in the present situation will notice what is emerging and what is fading. We learn to be calm and still by doing this and allowing emotions to come and go without clinging, without struggling to catch on to them. Over time, we get to know our own thoughts and become aware of thought patterns that happen often.

The trick is to gently capture a spiral of emotions, a mind flurry as well as mind chatter, and observes it, observing words like “worry,” “lists,” “craving,” and “fear,” and then allowing the spiral to slip away without judgment. Mindfulness of breathing (by using the breath as a guide to the present situation), compassion-focused meditation (using kindness and love and awareness of others as well as our own misery to be in the present situation), and the body scan (using each part of the body as a guide for the present situation and for where tension and anxiety are kept in our bodies) are all effective methods in various forms of meditation.

Other types of meditation include using phrases or expressions to bring attention to the present moment, as well as walking meditation, which focuses entirely on the consciousness of our feet in contact with the surface and grounding to the present situation. Daily meditation practice helps people to respond to their surroundings and everything that comes up over the course of their day with far more composure and equanimity over time. People who meditate for a long time display improvements in areas of their brain, dealing with stress and anxiety.

The prefrontal cortex, cingulate cortex, and hippocampus all display increased activity, while the amygdala shows reduced activity, indicating that emotional control has improved. A recent research has found that evidence-based treatments, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction, produce similar brain changes as conventional meditation.

Conscious meditations, which can be led or performed in silence, are a formal way of cultivating mindfulness and meditation. Sit quietly for a few minutes to 30-40 minutes, becoming mindful of breath and body sensations, as well as sounds, feelings, and emotions, in a non-judgmental and compassionate manner.  Mindfulness and meditation can be practiced in an informal way during the day by simply paying attention to what you’ve been doing.

There are many opportunities available, like brushing your teeth consciously, feeling any sensations a toothbrush will have on your teeth or gums or smelling toothpaste are only a few examples. Other examples include mindfully washing dishes while noting the temperature of the water, the physical feeling of your hands on the dishes, and the sounds of the dishwasher; and mindfully walking while noticing the feelings of your feet hitting and leaving the ground.

These are the simply polar opposites of how we often live our lives: mindlessly, with our bodies getting on with life on autopilot while our thoughts are preoccupied with looking into the future or fixating on other topics. It’s been difficult to perform rigorous clinical studies into such heterogeneous modalities and outcomes because the word “meditation” is so general, and its therapeutic applications include a wide range of conditions such as pain, mental wellbeing, and somatic conditions. More high-quality research, such as controlled trials as well as systematic reviews, has recently been developed. Formal meditation techniques have given rise to mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.

There are modularized methods that are easier to teach and that lend themselves to evidence-based practice analysis more easily. Both are 8-week programs with 2 hours of weekly instruction and home practice, with an intense 1-day training session halfway through the program. Mindfulness-based stress reduction, pioneered by John Kabat-Zinn in the 1970s, adapts formal meditation techniques to include a more generalized approach to mindfulness, and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, which combines cognitive and mindfulness approaches, was later developed with a concentration on depression.

Meditation and mindfulness during a pandemic

Anxiety, overwhelm, and despair are the most common symptoms we see in our people, culture, and ourselves at this time. These are the unavoidable consequences of living in the midst of a global pandemic with an unknown length. Systematic studies of meditation-based tools like meditation with concentrated attention, mindfulness-based stress reduction, and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy have shown that they minimize depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as strain, blood pressure, cortisol levels, and many other physiologic stress markers.

In addition to the advantages for patients, the general public, as well as those with pre-existing mental illness, having a daily meditation practice will help people employed in the health service. Meditation methods are simple to understand, possible to catch online, and can be practiced individually or in a group setting. Adults, teenagers, youth, and people with intellectual disabilities may all benefit from meditation techniques. Although mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy are typically taught in person by a licensed specialist, there has been more research into the use of meditation apps as well as online eHealth and Telehealth to provide such therapies.

There are several meditation applications that people can use to help them with their own mindfulness and meditation practice. These and other methods can be useful in times like the COVID-19 pandemic to help people. Preliminary research suggests that having a mindfulness practice will help people in areas like sleep. There are also a variety of organizations that provide opportunities to take a break from our daily routines, which are reportedly receiving some traction and uptake.

Online learning meditation workshops are offered at a reduced cost or for free by places with a long history of teaching people secular, non-secular, and non-healthcare-based meditation or mindfulness. Since the pandemic is disrupting our lives, there is no peer-reviewed study to assess the impact of these offerings. But, recent studies show that they are useful, and they may provide interesting research topics.

Final Thoughts

The shift is the only constant, as the COVID-19 pandemic has already shown. Meditation and mindfulness can be beneficial in dealing with the relentless flux of life. Existing mindfulness-based stress reduction programs in utilities can be modified for online distribution. People will benefit from meditation apps and online courses. Learning and practicing mindfulness and meditation on a daily basis will only help everyone. Meditation and mindfulness are helpful skills that can help us deal with our worries and situations, observing that, like our emotions, this phase of our lives will pass as well.

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