Health

Why we need meditation, not medication

Mindfulness and human connection are the answer to our Covid anxiety, says Sarah Bladen.

The other day, I drove by my local hairdressers. Through the window, I saw someone in a face-shield holding what looked like a laser gun at a customer’s head...

Yes, the infra-red thermometer is there to protect us. But to me, resembles a weapon. Masks remind me of crime and disease. Sometimes I feel as if we are trapped inside a horror movie, like Soderbergh’s Contagion – where a deadly virus gripped and crippled the whole world. The virus in the movie had similar flu-like symptoms to Covid 19.

In the 2011 thriller, people were frothing at the mouth and dropping dead within days of infection. But the reality of Covid 19 is this: the chances of dying from a coronavirus infection are estimated at approximately 1%, Which means around 99% of people are likely to make a full recovery if they catch the virus.

It’s clear to me, then, that the current climate of fear is more stressful and sinister than the virus itself.

Loneliness was already a pandemic before Covid came along. But now, post-lockdown people are feeling even more isolated and some are too anxious to leave their homes. And to me, that’s the real sickness.

Prolonged and heightened anxiety floods our body with stress hormones such as cortisol. As we know, stress weakens our immune systems and is linked to depression.

And how are we dealing with this loneliness and anxiety? We are medicating it.

According to a report by America’s Express Scripts, a Cigna-owned pharmacy manager, precriptions for anti-anxiety medications have shot up by 34% since the coronavirus crisis. Here, in the UK, the BBC reports that depression has doubled.

Prescriptions of antidepressants have gone up by 15%. But the pills we pop never deal with the root cause of anxiety. 

What we need, I feel, is human contact. We rarely hug anyone anymore, cultural kisses on the cheek have disappeared and many of us have replaced in-the-flesh meetings with a screen. I’ve witnessed neighbours shaming other neighbours for ushering family members or close friends into their gardens.

A friend of mine went to visit her aunt in hospital, but was completely distraught when told she wouldn’t be able to speak to her or even sit at the end of her bed. Instead she stood behind a small window, watching her beloved aunt take her last breaths alone in her hospital bed.

‘I never got to say goodbye properly,’ she sobbed over Zoom. ‘I’d hate to die all alone like that. And the funeral was a complete disaster. Only three people turned up and it wasn’t recorded virtually. My aunt was so giving and vivacious. It crushes me that the last moments of her life were spent in a sterile hospital surrounded by unfamiliar faces.’

Besides the overwhelming grief of actually losing a loved one, many people continue to live in the energy of uncertainty and fear.

So how can we reverse this feeling of anxiety? Besides reconnecting with nature, we can learn to transmute fear into joy on a regular basis.

While mindfulness helps to reduce anxiety and stress by training our mind to be present and learning to disidentify with our thoughts, we can take it a step further with guided meditations designed to manufacture feel-good neurochemicals in our brains. 

This in turn floods our body with happy hormones, boosting our immune system. Only around 300 years ago, our mind and body were seen as one (rather than separate entities) in virtually every medical system around the world.

The professional sports world recognises this mind-body connection and that’s why top coaches train athletes to visualise winning before every competition. That way their brains and hearts are conditioned for success. In the same way we can be habituated to elicit feel-good emotions. This is how long-time meditators manage to sit in silence and bask in bliss. We too can learn these visualisation techniques to embody elevated feelings. And unlike medication, there are no nasty side-effects. That’s why I recommend trying meditation before medication.

To access Sarah Bladen’s guided meditations go to www.circleslive.com and download the free app.

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Sarah Bladen

Sarah Bladen is the former editor of OK! Middle East and the co-author of Practical Zen for Health, Wealth and Mindfulness. Sarah’s work has appeared in The Independent, CNN Travel, Women’s Health and Yoga Magazine. A meditation teacher, holistic coach and relational life therapist, Sarah is passionate about wellbeing within relationships.

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