With the Omicron variant of COVID-19 now in the news, it can feel like the pandemic is never-ending. Naturally, this can be depressing as well as frustrating. But these aren’t necessarily new emotions when it comes to the coronavirus saga. Millions of people have described emotional trouble since the first lockdowns began while others continue to have difficulty sleeping. And some continue to deal with these issues despite re-openings and vaccinations. However, many experiencing these complaints have turned to mindfulness and self-care practices as a means to feel better. And along the way, many are now recognizing the benefits of meditation for the first time.
Neither mindfulness nor self-care is something new when it comes to our personal wellbeing. Both are wellness practices that have existed for millennia. But many people, particularly in Western societies, only recently tried these activities as a means to improve their mental health. Of course, this occurred in part because access to in-person care was more restricted during the pandemic. But these pursuits were also encouraged by an explosion of new mindfulness and self-care apps and virtual offerings. While the pandemic certainly caused its share of distress, it also allowed many to finally appreciate the benefits of meditation.
The Mental Health Effects of the Pandemic
As the pandemic took hold of the world, it brought with it an array of stressors. Certainly, all of us felt the health-related threats that COVID introduced. But at the same time, many people experienced distress related to financial problems and the loss of a job. In other instances, people struggled with the social isolation that lockdowns and social distancing caused. And many kids and college students found it frustrating to switch to online, virtual learning environments. All of these secondary effects of the pandemic led to an increase in a variety of mental health conditions.
Of course, not all of us developed overt depression, anxiety or insomnia with the pandemic. Many of us simply had a smoldering feeling of upset and sadness that has been called the pandemic blues. But it goes without saying that these problems have been common since the pandemic began. Recent surveys note that 40 percent of people seeking mindfulness and self-care strategies were dealing with financial pressures. Nearly the same amount was experiencing health stress or worries about family problems. And more than a third describe relational problems or frustrations with social isolation. These are the people that turned to new ways of self-care, hoping the benefits of meditation would work for them.
The Benefits of Meditation for the Pandemic Blues
At first, you may wonder how mindfulness and self-care can actually improve depression and anxiety. In terms of mindfulness, the key goal is to invite a sense of present-ness into the moment. It requires one to pay close attention to themselves and their surroundings in a purposeful way. It also asks that one simply observe the moment without trying to analyze it judge it. In doing so, we diffuse many of the negative emotions that may be associated with the things we are experiencing. Mindfulness and self-care don’t necessarily remove the thing causing the stress. It simply lets you have a deeper awareness of it and your reaction to it. With this deeper level of awareness, your primitive emotional response weakens as you understand things better. These reflect the key meditation benefits that allow us to better manage our emotions and feelings.
This can all be better appreciated if we consider it from a brain perspective. When we are overcome with worry, anxiousness, or even anger, it’s the deeper parts of our brains in control. The limbic part of our brains is the more primitive region that simply reacts to promote survival. If something might be a threat, the limbic system triggers an emotional response to warn us about it. But as advanced beings, we can engage the more developed parts of our brains to reason through these threats. Mindfulness and self-care activate our prefrontal cortex so that we better recognize why we feel the way we do. This allows us to diffuse those feelings, thus reducing any anxiety, depression, or anger we may have.
Apps and Opportunities for Self-Care
During the pandemic, more than half of those dealing with various stresses decided to use mindfulness and self-care techniques. These techniques included a variety of options. Some began using mindfulness apps while others signed up for a meditation streaming service. (Dive deeper in mindfulness apps with this list of the top eight–courtesy of Project Bold Life!) Others found various mental health apps to help them cope. The increased number of choices was a big reason so many people decided to explore the benefits of meditation. Certainly, traditional meditation and yoga practices could be performed solo. But these apps and virtual offerings made it much easier for newbies to give it a try.
Of course, not all apps are the same. As mental healthcare professionals will note, some have not been tested to ensure they’re actually helpful. Those that have been reviewed by health experts and show clear evidence of benefit are naturally preferred. But because mental health apps are not always required to have such testing, it pays to do your homework. That means checking with your doctor as to which mindfulness and self-care apps are recommended. This will significantly improve your ability to enjoy the benefits of meditation in your pursuit of overall wellness.
Taking Control of Your Mental Wellness
Performing mindfulness and self-care activities offers a great way to take charge of your own wellbeing. The benefits of meditation have been known to include improved focus, sleep quality, and emotional control. And you can choose to meditate in the comforts of your own home anytime you like. While mindfulness and self-care practices are not meant to replace professional care, they do enhance results. This is why three-quarters of those experiencing stress during the pandemic turned to mindfulness and meditation. Whether it’s the pandemic blues or some other stress you’re experiencing, these self-care practices can help immensely.
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