Using mindfulness to cope with a global pandemic

Popular apps for meditation (Photo by Samara Useloff)

Breathe in. Feel your lungs expand as they fill with air. Breathe out. Feel your body soften as you gently close your eyes. You are now on your way to a meditative state. 

For many, COVID-19 has profoundly altered their emotional landscape. The effects are felt on a daily basis, causing a dramatic increase in depression and anxiety. With additional uncontrollable factors added by the pandemic, people have taken to meditation to incorporate positivity and clarity into their daily lives. 

According to, meditation is a set of techniques intended to encourage a deeper state of awareness and focused attention. 

Meditative practice is centered around learning how to return to and remain in the present moment. The idea is to anchor oneself in the here and now, injecting far-reaching and long-lasting benefits into one’s life. A study conducted by Living Well revealed that when people meditate, their stress levels are ultimately lowered, their focus improves, and they are overall kinder to themselves. 

The use of meditation apps has spiked during the coronavirus pandemic. As reported by The Washington Post, downloads for mindfulness apps increased by 25 percent during the week of March 29 compared to the weekly averages in January and February. Apps such as Headspace, Calm and Ten Percent Happier have seen a surge in downloads.

In fact, New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, teamed up with Headspace to offer free meditation and mindfulness content. The special edition, “New York State of Mind,” was created to help residents, specifically, New Yorkers, cope with the unprecedented public health crisis facing the state. Dr. Sarah Kuriakose, the State-Wide Director of Psychology Services for the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH), worked directly with Governor Cuomo’s team to implement initiatives, addressing the emotional effects of the pandemic. 

“Especially for individuals who are isolated, it is important that they have some tools that they can use for coping,” Kuriakose said. “We know that meditation and mindfulness can have positive effects when regularly practiced even for a few minutes a day, which makes it a particularly good fit for New Yorkers who are struggling to find time for self-care.” 

In addition to services like “New York State of Mind,” many organizations have offered meditation programs outdoors and through live-streaming services. Specifically, in Westfield, Temple Emanu-El organized a meditation service during the High Holy Days. The service, which was held both in person and on Zoom, focused on healing the mind, body, and spirit. Led by the clergy, guitar, music, chants and poetry were incorporated into the exercise. 

“We felt that it’s been a really hard year and we needed to do something a little different than we have in the past,” said Rabbi Ethan Prosnit. “The High Holy Days are a time of reflection, but we wanted to give the opportunity and space for people to really have the ability to reflect.” 

Even before the onset of the pandemic, people used meditation to gain a sense of reflection, as well as a greater understanding of themselves. WHS junior, Mia Johnson, has been incorporating mindfulness practice into her daily life for the last two years. 

“One of the first things I learned when I started meditating was that I needed to lean into uncomfortable things,” Johnson said. “For me, meditation is not about emptying my mind of thoughts; it’s about acknowledging those thoughts and feelings – whether they be good, bad or neutral – as they come up in the moment.” 

Johnson said that meditation puts her more at ease and allows her to be her most authentic self. “My favorite thing about meditation is learning to savor life’s little moments and get out of my own way,” Johnson said. 

Although meditation won’t completely erase the hardships many are experiencing due to the coronavirus, it can still ease one’s mind and help tackle the worries that come with this hard-hitting pandemic.