The world seems to be changing on an hourly basis. While you adjust to our new reality, focus on yourself and make time to meditate.
The past few weeks have seen an unprecedented increase in mental tension, anxiety, and fear spanning the globe. With the COVID-19 virus reaching pandemic proportions and new cases being reported each day, this is a crisis unlike anything most people have experienced in their lifetime. While government and local agencies are working tirelessly to contain the outbreak, you might find yourself being swept up in a pandemic of another kind—fear.
News stories and posts on social media may be flooding your awareness with the mind-polluting contagions of worry, anxiety, and panic about what the next few weeks will hold for cities, nations, and individuals. It’s nearly impossible not to get caught up in the rip current of uncertainty, negativity, and doubt that drags you into the sea of worst-case scenario thinking.
Times like this can indeed feel overwhelming. Fortunately, however, one classic mind-body practice is unparalleled in its value during crises such as these: meditation.
You may be thinking, “Well, meditation might be a good way to relax or discover your higher self, but what good is it when it feels like everything is about to fall apart?” As it turns out, meditation is far more than just a way to relax and has profound benefits that will help you navigate the COVID-19 outbreak and other similarly challenging times. Let’s explore each in some detail.
1. Meditation Manages and Reduces Stress and Anxiety
The most obvious nuts-and-bolts benefit to meditation is that it down-regulates the fight-or-flight response of your nervous system. The perception of a global pandemic registers as a real-time threat to your health, happiness, and way of life. Looking at the spread of the virus from China to Europe, and into the United States is enough to raise anyone’s chronic stress levels from a low simmer to a full-blown boil. It’s a deeply troubling situation that creates an enormous amount of mental turbulence that keeps you on edge:
- Heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rises
- Stress chemicals (adrenaline and cortisol) are released into the bloodstream
- Muscle tension increases
- Thoughts are scattered and without focus
- Emotional fuses are short
You may feel you are one news story away from a full-blown breakdown. If you’ve felt like this recently, rest assured, you are not alone. The uncertainty of crisis situations like this can be unnerving and exhausting.
The good news is that meditation is a powerful antidote to this prolonged stress response. Each time you sit down and close your eyes to meditate:
- Your heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration lower (1)
- Your endocrine system relaxes and normalizes (2)
- Muscle tension is released thereby freeing up more energy into your system (3)
- Your thought traffic begins to slow down, emotional tensions start to level out, and you can see things with more clarity (4)
The beautiful thing is that this reversal of the stress response happens to some degree every time you meditate. The great news is that the more regularly you practice meditation, the more your nervous system learns to stay calm more of the time, so stressful situations don’t hit you so hard.
2. Meditation Helps to Strengthen Your Immune Function
Knowing that the COVID-19 virus is in the environment, it behooves you to make sure that your immune system is functioning at the highest level possible. You can help support your immune function in several ways including eating wholesome, nourishing foods, getting enough sleep each night, exercising regularly, and consuming supplements or foods rich in antioxidants. However, in addition to these steps, practicing meditation can have a powerful immune-boosting effect. This happens in three different ways:
- First, when the stress response reallocates bodily energy reserves to help you survive a threatening situation, energy is pulled away from the immune system, thereby opening the door to a host of bacteria, toxins, viruses, and other opportunistic illnesses. During meditation, you activate the restful awareness response of your nervous system, which restores homeostatic balance thereby strengthening your immune system. When you aren’t fighting or fleeing, your immune system has more energy to do its job. (5)
- Second, research has begun to reveal that meditation practice affects the expression of genes that positively influence the immune system. Studies have demonstrated that meditation practice helps to reduce the levels of pro-inflammatory genes, which in turn led to a quicker recovery from stressful situations. Meditation literally “switches on” genes that support wellness and balance. (6)
- Third, meditation activates your body’s innate healing system. The opposite of the fight-or-flight response is the rest-and-digest mode in which your system activates its own inner pharmacy and taps into its ability to heal, restore, and return to balance. When it’s not bogged down in the “fog of war” your mind-body system can access its onboard self-correcting and healing mechanisms. (7)
3. Meditation Builds Compassion
Whether through a simple mantra or mindfulness practice, or a more specific technique, regular meditation helps to foster expanded states of compassion, kindness, and love. As your mind begins to settle, the perceived boundaries between yourself and others start to soften. You recognize that everyone shares a common destiny; everyone has loved, laughed, felt pain, and suffered. You’re able to feel the suffering of others as well as your desire to relieve it. Your ego is more willing to take a back seat as you find opportunities to serve and heal others.
Especially in challenging times such as these, learning to care for others, to offer support, a helping hand, or ear to listen helps you to not only feel more fulfilled by serving others, but sends a powerful message that kindness, hope, and compassion are strengths, not weaknesses. The more regular you become in your meditation practice, the more drawn you are to help others in whatever way you can. In addition, you can look for the good in difficult situations and find ways to stay hopeful, positive, and optimistic amid the chaos and confusion.
4. Meditation Levels-Up Your Consciousness
When you find yourself caught up in a frightening situation, it can often feel all-encompassing. This is because fear, worry, and anxiety resonate within a primal state of consciousness that keeps you trapped in its force field. Everything you experience is filtered through this lens of fear, making the world appear terrifying, desperate, and hopeless.
The good news is that this fearful state is only one of seven biological responses your nervous system is capable of. As Deepak Chopra explains in his book, How to Know God, you are hard-wired to experience the full range conscious responses including:
- Restful awareness
With each level of response of your nervous system, your perception of the world changes—reality itself is different in different states of consciousness. Therefore, if you want to perceive your current situation differently, you must raise the level of your consciousness. The mindset and worldview of the COVID-19 crisis is deeply rooted in the fight-or-flight and reactive responses of your nervous system. If you wish to no longer be frightened by words like outbreak, pandemic, quarantine, self-isolation, and social distancing, you must learn to transcend to the level of consciousness in which those words lose all meaning and the ability to trigger a fearful reaction within you.
Meditation (the restful awareness response) is uniquely suited as a time-honored method for the evolution of consciousness. With regular practice, your awareness expands, allowing you to gradually ascend, rung by rung, the ladder of higher consciousness. As you do, you experience ever-increasing states of peace, harmony, joy, fulfillment, wholeness, and love. And since consciousness is a field, every step toward higher consciousness you take contributes to the whole, eventually shifting the collective consciousness of humanity out of a state dominated by fear and into one of healing, happiness, peace, and equanimity. In other words, by practicing meditation, you’re not just benefitting yourself, you’re bringing healing to the entire world.
So, if you’re feeling anxious and helpless amid this crisis, know that through the practice of meditation you have more power to affect healing, transformation, and change than you imagine. And if you haven’t learned to meditate, there may never be a better time to learn than now to become a beacon of light, healing, and awakening in the world.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.
1-4: Grow Younger, Live Longer by Deepak Chopra, MD and David Simon, MD. Three Rivers Press, 2001. pg. 43-47
5: Meditation as Medicine by Dharma Singh Kalsa, MD, and Cameron Stauth. Fireside Books, 2001. pg. 62-63
6: Super Genes by Deepak Chopra, MD, and Rudy Tanzi, PhD. Harmony Books, 2015. pg. 180.
7: The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton, PhD. Mountain of Love/Elite Books, 2005. pg. 145-154