Coronavirus anxiety: the role of meditation and mindfulness in addressing our global health crisis

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In times of anxiety, meditation and mindfulness can give us psychological resilience to face uncertain COVID-19 changes with courage and optimism.

With all the uncertainty and constant change in our lives due to COVID-19, meditation and mindfulness can give us courage and optimism to face these uncertain times.

When we have psychological resilience, we are able to adapt to stressful situations and remain calm. It also helps boost our immunity and guides us in making better decisions.

Meditation is an ancient science

One of the most powerful tools to assist you to build psychological resilience is meditation. Meditation is an ancient science, which is gaining credibility in the medical and science communities for its powerful effect in changing the way the brain functions.

According to the American National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, meditation “can physically change the brain and body and could potentially help to improve many health problems and promote healthy behaviours.”

There are many forms of meditation available to be learned, and it doesn’t have to be aligned with any religious or spiritual belief system. Another way of describing meditation is a method of concentrated awareness on the present moment or the observation of thoughts, emotions, or the breath.

Meditation creates new neural pathways

As further research is conducted on meditation, particularly in the field of neuroscience, more and more benefits of its practice are being discovered and proclaimed. One specific study has indicated that meditation causes a decrease in activity and grey matter density of the amygdala which is the area of the brain associated with experiences of emotions like fear, stress, and anxiety.

Through the practice of meditation, we can therefore become more aware of our uncomfortable emotions and unwanted thoughts, and adapt our response to them as they arise rather than reacting to them unconsciously. Furthermore, meditation can reverse habitual thought processes and patterns of behaviour, thereby making us feel more content and less anxious. Due to the brain’s natural ability to adapt (known as neuroplasticity), when we meditate and our thought processes change, new neural pathways are created and, in essence, our mind becomes reprogrammed.

The power of watching the breath

The beauty of meditation is that anyone can do it, regardless of their physical disposition – from the young to the old, from the fit to the not-so-fit. It doesn’t need to cost anything, nor involve any strenuous activity. If you can consciously watch your breath, then you are meditating. To underestimate the potential of meditation is to undervalue our capabilities as a human being.

There are many different types of meditation. A quick search of the Internet will list hundreds of techniques and courses that you could learn. The ancient science of meditation that began in the East thousands of years ago has quickly become a business in the West.

Yet, there are a few ancient meditation practices that have maintained their tradition and authenticity, such as Kriya Yoga (meditation), Vipassana meditation, and Insight meditation.

You will also find many mindfulness techniques, courses, and retreats.

Difference between meditation and mindfulness

The practice of meditation is different from the practice of mindfulness. Meditation is done at a specific time, usually seated in a comfortable position, using a technique; whereas mindfulness can be practised at any time while you are conducting your day-to-day chores or work. The two practices go hand in hand.

One way to view their difference yet interconnectedness is that meditation trains us to go beyond the mind and the five sense organs, while mindfulness helps us to be present in our surroundings by observing the five sense organs – sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.

When we live in the present moment, we are more likely to be aware of how we psychologically react and then regulate our behaviours in response.

Practice being mindful for a moment

Take a moment to be present. Observe the words that you are seeing as you read this book. If I were to say to you, “Try not to think about ice cream,” now observe your thoughts as they come and go. Observe the sounds around you. Observe the sensation of your clothes against your skin. As you breathe in, observe the sensation of the fresh air and the smell around you. Just observe; don’t judge your thoughts or get caught up in them. This is being mindful. By combining daily meditation (even fifteen minutes is better than nothing) with mindfulness throughout the day, your awareness of the magnificent creation in which you exist slowly deepens and your relationships change as you feel inner contentment.

Copyright © James Golding and Leisa Golding 2020

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