Stress and anxiety about COVID-19 is a natural response, but it can feel overwhelming at times. These feelings can make us feel down and lonely, especially as we socially distance. And for anyone already dealing with mental health disorders, like anxiety and depression, those symptoms can worsen.
You may have already heard of mindfulness, including techniques like meditation. Mindfulness has been proposed as a treatment for anxiety, depression, and generally getting the most enjoyment out of life. You may have heard of mindfulness referenced in medical research, television coverage and news articles, but what does it really mean and where did it come from?
What is Mindfulness?
One source defines Mindfulness as “a state of active, open attention on the present”.
Another way to think of it is the gentle awareness of focusing what’s happening “in the moment”. You cannot control what happened in the past. You cannot control what may happen in the future. You can focus on the present moment and benefit from the peace it can bring.
The idea is that with daily practice, we can observe our thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad. Mindfulness often consists of a short daily practice (sometimes just 10 minutes over the course of a day) during which a person uses a combination of breathing exercises and meditation as a timeout from their busy life. This time offers a moment to reflect on the day, our thoughts, and just a little time to wind down.
Mindfulness practice has roots in Buddhism and other Eastern religions mixed in with cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). CBT is a therapeutic technique that can offer individuals relief from stress, anxiety, and an active way of changing destructive behaviors.
Can Mindfulness Help?
Depression affects up to 1 out of 20 Americans, beginning at age 12. Among women 40-59 years old, up to 10 percent reported being depressed. And this data was collected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Depression is a grouping of symptoms that can include:
- Feelings of sadness or helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Not having any energy
- Thoughts of death or suicide
There are many medications for depression, but they often have side effects, can take weeks or months to have an effect or sometimes have no effects at all. Plus, they can be expensive. Mindfulness has been shown by many studies to be an effective tool in treating the symptoms of depression in children and adults. Plus, you can try it from home – no special space, classes or equipment needed!
Trying Mindfulness For Yourself
Mindfulness may sound daunting, but there are so many guided apps and videos that can help you get started. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you can do it alone anytime you need some relief. Not only are there many free resources, but you can start practicing now from the safety of your home.
Try this simple three-minute breathing exercise to get your practice started.
The 3-Minute Breathing Space Exercise
To start, try one small exercise to move your mind in a better direction. In just three minutes, you’ve completed your first mindfulness exercise.
Here are the 3 steps to complete this 3-minute exercise:
- During the first minute, begin breathing and focus on answering the question “how am I doing right now?” Focus on any feelings, thoughts, and sensations that arise.
- During the second minute, focus solely on the act of breathing.
- During the third minute, expand your attention from the act of breathing to the in’s and out’s of your breaths and how they affect the rest of your body.
There’s an App for That
To help guide you, time your sessions and get you started – try an app! There are several helpful, and free, mindfulness apps online that we recommend:
- Calm: Free app with breathing exercises and a 7-day guided introduction to mindfulness.
- Headspace: Award-winning app that has 10 free mindfulness education sessions.
- Breathe2relax: Hands-on guided breathing exercises to help stabilize mood and decrease stress.
- Huffington Post: Section dedicated to mindfulness articles.
- Mindfulness in VT: The Center for Mindfulness has meditation and interactive discussions every Sunday in Burlington, VT.
- Free Livestream Meditations with Jon Kabat-Zinn, a world renowned mindfulness expert CDC Stress & Coping Resources (COVID-19)