Directed focus on present circumstances is likely a last resort on your list of pandemic distractions – and that’s because it’s the opposite of an interruption in your daily routine, and instead a radically healing acceptance of what is. Child psychologist and researcher of loss and despair in youths, Bonnie Zucker, PsyD, suggests that genuine reckoning with a trauma is more healing than potentially damaging avoidance. She notes our era of the smartphone – we have come to expect constant stimulation, especially when we are trying to avoid a particular path of thought. However, incessant distraction might actually harm us and “encourage some inattentive behavior.” During widespread quarantine, this state of mind is particularly challenging to appease.  However, a 2011 study claims that our neuroplasticity allows for experiences to literally shape our brains and suggests that mindfulness practice substantially enhances our immunity, our “emotional regulation,” and our ability to adjust our interpersonal and reactive responses. Take note: mindfulness and meditation, while fundamentally related, are not synonymous. Mindfulness is the practice of listening to the outer world with full attention and zero intent to control it. Other meditative practices (with the help of conceptual mantras) focus on the inner world and the arrival and passage of thought.  The 2011 psychotherapy study suggests that specifically mindful meditation has demonstrated more enhancement in the middle prefrontal cortex than other forms of meditation, meaning it bolsters understanding of our own thought patterns. This is particularly helpful when trying to relax the mind. According to Herbert Benson, physician and founder of Mind/Body Medical Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, mindfulness practice has the ability to suppress the expression of certain genes that initiate illness. Although not yet confirmed as consequential, there is a significant link between regular mindfulness meditation and lower blood pressure. We live in a global culture of future-thinking, but what would happen if we practiced acknowledging and accepting that which surrounds us before it passes, just as all moments do? Mindful meditation can have remarkably positive effects on our state of mind and in turn, tangibly benefit our physical health. For example, try waking up actively: Can you breathe and check in with your body without reaching for your phone?
It seems that indulging in the present moment is not a fool-proof solution to despair and it might not be the most effective in the long-term. Across the globe, “future-thinking” varies in precedence. According to Harvard Business Review, the most successful companies and countries know how to “delay gratification” in favor of “planning and investing in the future.” There is something to be said about this highly productive perspective. Not only does this cultural mindset seem to increase the GDP per capita, but it is also proven to be linked with the feeling of general contentment and fulfillment. Harvard Business Review recommends that this future-thinking attitude is best taught gradually. There is also preliminary research to suggest that meditation has the potential to be harmful. While mindfulness meditation is proven to wake up the parts of your brain we allow to go dormant, especially welcoming sensory awareness and flexible thinking patterns, meditation just might dredge up some old memories previously put to bed. According to Insider, a 1992 study suggested that meditation made participants hyper-aware of their shortcomings because they were spending time thinking about faults they did not know they had. A 2009 study’s participants experienced “flashbacks” to traumatic events. Although meditation has helped many, it is often marketed as an easy process when it takes dedication to push through potentially negative side-effects.
Rejecting the premises