Meditation Retreats

Self-Isolation, Meditation & Mental Health in Times of COVID-19

Most of us have never experienced forced self-isolation and lockdown. What can we learn from people who have voluntarily gone into isolation over a long period of time?

A group of people who regularly self-isolate are meditators, be they monks who spend years in caves or lay people on silent retreats. While there are huge differences between meditation retreats and lockdowns, we can learn a lot from linking the two.

When people begin and end meditation retreats, they often have trouble adjusting. Many experience an alienation from everyday life, and some struggle with their changed role or conception of themselves.1 Getting in and out of isolation can have similar effects.

In my research with meditators, I have found that many report that not talking to others, not making eye contact, and being on cell phones can be deeply unsettling. Again, social life during the coronavirus lockdown differs from person to person depending on whether we are living with someone (and how our relationship is), whether we are willing to communicate online and over the phone, or whether we are more extroverted or more introverted . Some people have now increased online contact with people from a long time ago or further away, while others feel disconnected and become depressed, anxious, and anxious. Sometimes we can make changes by reaching out to others and trying to connect virtually, sometimes we can change our attitudes and use our time alone in a positive way, but sometimes we find ourselves stuck in fearful insecurities in sadness, fear and anxiety.

Alone and loneliness are two different things. This difference arises partly from the choice – whether we choose to be alone or whether we are forced to – and partly from how connected we feel to ourselves, to others, or to our tasks and passions

The decisive factor in both self-isolation and meditation retreats is how we deal with our emotions and thoughts. During meditation, when we become still and the busyness subsides, our emotions and thoughts rise to the surface. That can be difficult.

The pandemic fills many of us with anxiety, fear and uncertainty about our health and financial situation and leads to grief over the loss of normalcy, activities and people. When these emotions become overwhelming, some develop problematic thoughts and habits, ranging from deeper circling into anxious or depressive thoughts to addictive behaviors, loss of magical thinking, or obsessive cleaning of their hands and surfaces.

Psychological advice often recommends meditation and mindfulness to learn how to better deal with negative thoughts. These practices can help us become more aware of what is happening and respond skillfully instead of reacting unconsciously. Once we have learned this, it can help to give us stability in the face of adversity.

However, if we begin to practice while we are facing difficulties, meditation is not always safe.3 Sudden memories of trauma can either trigger a combat or flight mode, or make the mind numb. Both reactions will not allow us to process and integrate what happened, and we will feel worse than before. If we want to work with difficult emotions and memories, the first step is to establish stability. Only when we stay in the “window of tolerance” between excessive emotion and numbness are we conscious and rational enough not to get carried away or to avoid looking at what is going on. If you have had trauma in the past or are struggling with strong emotions, it may be necessary to be assisted by a therapist or trauma-sensitive mindfulness teacher in order to learn to meditate without provoking further difficulties.4 The therapists are currently preparing be prepared to offer more and more services online and helplines like Samaritans cannot offer therapy, but at least an open ear for those who have problems.

My research shows that some stages of life are better than others for dealing with our difficulties. Defenses are built for one reason: to protect us. When we are fine, it makes sense to let go of them in order to heal and integrate all aspects of ourselves and become whole. However, sometimes there may be greater difficulty getting deeper into problematic thoughts and emotions. This is especially true when we feel unstable alone or in an unsafe situation.3 In such cases, it is important to focus on coping rather than healing as the first step. When therapists work with traumatized clients, the first step is to establish stability and a sense of security before looking back at past difficulties.5 When we are alone without therapeutic help, we can increase stability by establishing healthy routines. Remember which activities make you feel good, stimulate your mind, and stay as active as possible. The latter also helps us to be less “in our heads”. It will also counteract the effects of standing still that have shown up in my meditation research such as: B. altered appetite and sleep patterns and sometimes, due to decreased stimulation of one’s senses, altered experiences of one’s own body, of the self or of the world around us.

The number of people trying meditation is currently increasing, as measured by the increase in meditation app downloads.6 Not only do people have more time, but research has shown that they are in times of change and crisis of Feel attracted to meditation. While meditation can help, it is important to see if the time is right. Apps do not provide the same support and help in times of need as communities and teachers, nor can they help avoid misunderstandings of concepts, techniques, and ideas by providing context or adapting meditation techniques.

My own research as well as traditional Buddhist texts show that some meditation practices are more dangerous than others; Extreme developments among the practitioners I interviewed included meditation-related psychosis, suicide, and other serious psychological difficulties.1 In my sample, adverse effects were most likely when practitioners meditated for long periods of time or when practitioners used certain techniques, including intense breathing or energy movement in the body . These techniques often promise quicker results to help us heal or awaken, but they also come with a high level of risk. Traditionally, these techniques were therefore kept secret until practitioners advanced enough. But now we can find these techniques on YouTube without being warned of their dangers.

Some meditation blogs encourage practitioners to do solitary retreats during the lockdown. This can be good after we’ve practiced for a while, but it can also cut us off too much during a time when we need a connection.

When you have mental health problems, meditation can be overwhelming or lead to misunderstandings of ideas. Therefore, it can be useful to have a good teacher or therapeutic support.7 Never exert pressure or exertion during meditation practice, as this often leads to people developing problems. Practicing self-compassion is paramount.

Research also shows that meditating while we are angry can reinforce negative patterns.8 If meditation doesn’t feel right, don’t. Some discomfort is normal when we get used to sitting still and dealing with our thoughts and feelings – mindfulness has been mistakenly sold to just make us relaxed or happy. However, when meditating alone and unsupported, we need to be careful to stay within our tolerance window. Be aware of what is going on for you and adjust to your body and mind. When in doubt, it is better to get qualified support before proceeding.

When meditators run into problems, the strategy they have found most helpful in my research is to ground yourself. This includes focusing on feeling the ground beneath your feet, making better use of your own body and connecting with others.

Grounding can also help non-meditating people isolate themselves. Wonder if you are connected to the different parts of your body, the world and others, and try to find a way to balance the different areas: use your body by exercising around your home and garden and work, use your mind Don’t avoid feeling your emotions as you learn new skills or be creative, and connect with people from different walks of life.

Meditators work with awareness, insight, and compassion. All three are crucial to our well-being, whether we meditate or not: We need to be aware of what we are doing and feeling, what helps us to appreciate the moment and find joy in small things. We have to use insight and discernment in dealing with the media. We need to understand whether we are catastrophic and generalized rather than having a more nuanced view. Most importantly, we need to keep our hearts open and compassionate – not just to others, but to ourselves as well. Don’t get beaten up for feeling the way we do. Instead, let’s open our hearts to all of these hurtful parts of us and allow ourselves to grieve.

When we are able to do these things, our isolation can turn into a fertile time. There is potential in this time of self-isolation that we could use: a chance to be more creative, to find new ways to live or work, to transform into better habits, to clean up our space, to reconnect with people . Just like meditation retreats, isolation can mean times of difficulty, growth and happiness. Let’s be mindful, insightful, and full of compassion for others and ourselves to avoid the pitfalls, protect ourselves, and make the most of this time.

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