Loving-kindness Meditation (LKM) -- Beating Stress, Loneliness and Isolation While Sheltering In Place
These are surely trying times. I have been in practice for 25 years and never seen the level of interest in therapy that I see now. Everyone is stressed, isolated, lonely and frustrated. Some folks are scared or worried.
And yet access to our usual supports-- churches, synagogues, mosques, neighborhood BBQ’s, family reunions, book clubs, bowling nights, even date nights are on hold or have changed so drastically that they are hardly recognizable. But as humans our need to connect persists even in the face of a pandemic.
So what can you do without access to other people and without leaving your house?
One answer is in an ancient tradition called Loving-kindness Meditation (often abbreviated LKM or sometimes referred to as “metta” meditation. This tradition originated in the east as part of Buddhism but requires no spiritual beliefs. In Buddhism there is a belief that all life is connected and that all life has value. So LKM was developed to help cultivate a sense of connection and compassion for all. We now know that “loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day” . So if you are isolated like most of us during COVID-19 you are literally increasing your health risks as much as smoking almost a pack of cigarettes a day! That’s a big change in your health.
Everyone who reads my blogs knows that I am a big research nerd. So I would not be recommending this technique if I had not read multiple studies showing it’s benefits. For a brief amount of time (15-20 minutes) you can increase positive emotions and decrease the negative ones , including less depression and less symptoms of illness-- both very helpful in this time of a pandemic! We’ve known for many decades now that there is a direct link between stress and the immune system, (so things like meditation that decrease stress can help improve our bodies ability to fight off invading germs. There is also a link between loneliness or social isolation and the immune system. ”Loneliness can alter immune system cells in a way that increases susceptibility to illness”. And in a time where you can’t get together with friends or family as easily, LKM is a great way to combat loneliness!
LKM can also increase our “emotional intelligence”. One aspect of emotional intelligence is the ability to have empathy and compassion for others. According to one author on the subject, “loving-kindness practices strengthen empathic concern: our ability to care about another person and want to help them”. There is a great video embedded in that interview and I recommend watching it during your new now-I-work-from-home schedule…
And if decreasing loneliness and feelings of isolation, improving immunity and feelings of empathy towards others and having more positive emotions (and less negative ones) isn’t enough...LKM is also good for your brain! Studies have shown that it increases gray matter (brain cells).
Loving-kindness meditation also improves your ability to relax. If you have been feeling stressed by changes due to the pandemic then practicing LMK for even just 10 minutes a day can help your body drop into a more relaxed and healthy state. Remember that your body has only 2 modes-- the stress response (bad if triggered too often or for too long) and the relaxation response. If you can stay in the relaxation part of your nervous system more often it fends off stress-related illnesses and emotional problems like anxiety and depression.
And if the pandemic has not been stressing you out then consider this-- practicing LKM makes you less biased towards others. During these times of social change and focus on racial issues this can be an important act of social responsibility for all of us.
And if you have been feeling like an unproductive lump during the pandemic and beating yourself up about what you are not getting done, consider this study that showed that LMK decreases self-criticism.
So if you have been feeling lonely, isolated, depressed, anxious, self-critical or less tolerant of others during this pandemic I suggest that you try out Loving-kindness Meditation. There are plenty of youtube videos you can experiment with. Another great resource for meditation is psychologist Dr. Seigel’s website, which has not only LKM’s you can stream or download but also lots of other information about mindfulness practices.
Remember, it doesn’t take a lot of effort. LKM does not require you to “empty your mind” or even track your thoughts! It can be done in 10 minutes and most people find it very pleasant and relaxing. I hope you will be wiling to give it a try and if you find it beneficial pass this information along to a friend!
Wishing you health and peace in these stressful times,
PS-- If you have found this blog helpful PLEASE help others to find it by tweeting it, posting it on Facebook or other social media platforms. And feel free to leave a comment, I will respond within a few days! And thanks!
Krista Jordan, Ph.D.
Dr. Jordan has been in private practice for 20 years in Texas. She is passionate about helping people to overcome hurts and obstacles from their past to find more happiness and health in their current lives.