2020 has been rough! Stressors such as the BLM riots, the COVID pandemic, and the Election have caused significant damage to the mental well-being of Americans. According to the American Psychological Association, “We are facing a national mental health crisis that could yield serious health and social consequences for years to come.” (apa.org). Compounding stressors have real consequences on our minds and bodies.
More Americans have died this year from COVID than in World War I (116,516 deaths1), the Vietnam War (58,2092), and the Korean War (36,5163) – combined. The pandemic has brought about job loss and financial distress (apa.org) and loneliness from the quarantines.
The long-term consequences of this trauma is hitting Gen Z the hardest. An APA 2020 survey shows that Gen Z teens (ages 13-17) and Gen Z adults (ages 18-23) are facing unprecedented uncertainty, are experiencing elevated stress and are already reporting symptoms of depression. (apa.org). For members of Gen Z, these statistics simply reiterate all the thoughts and feelings they may have felt in the past several months. As the stress came to a boiling point, something foreign to begins to occupy one’s headspace. It was the state of being depressed.
We are living in an age where we never feel alone, yet we are the loneliest generation to date. There's a need for change because the system is broken. Social media is a network to make us humans feel closer to one another, so why don’t we feel this way?
Global health service company Cigna released results from a national survey exploring the impact of loneliness in the United States. Using the UCLA Loneliness Scale, out of the 20,000 Americans surveyed, the alarming results showed that Gen Z is the loneliest generation. (www.multivu.com). Social media aims to us feel like we are never alone, but we are. It is important not to distract ourselves from stress; rather, we need to focus on it and work through it.
Rather than distract ourselves from loneliness and stress, we need to turn inwards. Meditation can help elevate stress. American professor, meditation teacher, researcher, clinician, and founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) founder Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as, “the awareness that arises by paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally” .
Practicing meditation requires one to focus inward on nothing. Mindfulness Meditation focuses on increasing awareness and acceptance of the current moment. As you broaden your conscious awareness during this meditation, you can observe your thoughts and emotions, but let them pass without judgment. Focusing on nothing, while also letting thoughts come and go is a healing process.
In a day in age where we consume so much content from our environment, it’s important to slow down and pay attention to the present moment.
The Emotional benefits of meditation:
- Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations and building skills to manage your stress
- Increasing self-awareness
- Focusing on the present
- Reducing negative emotions
- Increasing imagination and creativity
- Increasing patience and tolerance
The Physical Benefits of meditation:
- “a shrinking of the amygdala” - The amygdala is responsible for the fight or flight response.
- Decrease cortisol levels - Meditation has been proven to decrease cortisol levels, a stress hormone
- Decreases cytokines, which are the chemical messengers between immune cells. When under stress, pro-inflammatory cytokines are released as an immune response. This can lead to autoimmunity, chronic pain, major depression, anxiety or Alzheimer’s disease
- Increases focus and concentration: meditators have more stability in their ventral posteromedial cortex. This is the region in the brain which is involved with spontaneous thoughts and mind-wandering
- Better sleep
Different types of Meditation:
- Sound meditation
- Breath awareness
- Spiritual meditation
- Mantra meditation
- Body scan
- Tai chi
- Qi gong
Meditation is not a solution, but it is a useful tool. Meditation will not solve all the problems we are facing today, but it can help lessen the magnitude of these stressors. Meditation is a beneficial practice that has many advantages, the most important being stress reduction. Our souls need to be nourished, and this nourishment isn’t through distraction or entertainment. We need to turn inwards during these times in order to truly heal.