Mindfulness and Meditation During COVID-19

Published: April 14, 2020

In this time of uncertainty, many of us are feeling a wide range of emotions – including anxiety, fear, frustration, and exhaustion. Whether on the front lines in hospitals or studying or working from home without classmates and colleagues- we are all dealing with enormous change. Public health emergencies, such as the COVID-19 outbreak require intentional effort and planning. We must remember to take care for ourselves.

With millions of Americans balancing a change in work structure and having to care for children and do schooling for them at home, we must remember to make time to rest, recharge and simply take a break. As UTHealth President Giuseppe N. Colasurdo expressed earlier this month: “it is time to rethink priorities and processes, with a focus on safety rather than just productivity” In similar manner, the WHO expressed in an article on mental health during the COVID-19 outbreak, this is a marathon, not a sprint. In order to sustain the marathon pace, we all must know when to slow down, when to take care for self-care, and when to call in the support team.

As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, parents and adults are facing anxiety about caring for their families and about future financial difficulties or uncertain employment situations. Children in turn, can also be expressing feelings such as fear and sadness. As for older adults, especially in isolation, they may become more anxious, angry, stressed, agitated and withdrawn during the outbreak or while in quarantine. Everyone needs a safe and supportive environment during these trying times.

Parents are facing the task of keeping anxiety from becoming debilitating and having to address any concerns that they children might have. If your children have concerns, addressing them together may ease their anxiety. Children will observe adults’ behaviors and emotions for cues on how to manage their own emotions during difficult times. Making a plan for emotional self-care is essential in these times. Planning a household walk can help reduce stress in children and it allows for an engaged lifestyle for you and your family.

Mindfulness during the COVID-19 outbreak is essential for the health and well-being of our communities. Doing things that you find enjoyable or calming can help you get through this difficult time. This can be meditating, deep breathing, stretching, or even sitting quietly and mindfully. Meditation is a mind and body practice that has a long history of use for increasing calmness and physical relaxation, and enhancing overall health and well-being.

The NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health holds that studies have suggested that practicing meditation may reduce blood pressure, symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, and insomnia.

Considerations on practicing meditation

Follow CDC recommendations and call your healthcare provider if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row.

People with physical limitations may not be able to participate in certain meditative practices involving movement. People with physical health conditions should speak with their health care providers before starting a meditative practice, and make their meditation instructor aware of their condition.

People with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with their treatment and be aware of new or worsening symptoms. Additional information can be found at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSAexternal icon) website.

The CDC recommends you find ways to reduce your stress to help yourself and the people you care about.

    • Learn the common signs of stress.
    • Make time to unwind and do activities you enjoy.
    • Talk with family and friends by phone, text, or email.
    • If you or a loved one is feeling overwhelmed, get support 24/7 by calling 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746.
    • Learn more about stress and coping during the COVID-19 outbreak here:

Sources: NIH and CDC

Follow these meditation techniques suggested by Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living staff member Sarah Bentley to ease any symptoms of anxiety with a mindfulness-based self-care.

Mindfulness-based Self-Care

Gathering Healing Qi from the Universe / Nourishing the Heart (5-10 minutes)

Standing practice. Qigong is an ancient Chinese mind-body practice. Qigong combines fluid movements with intention, deep breathing, and meditation. Sheng Zhen Gong is a system of qigong that works to balance one's mental, emotional, and physical aspects through the cultivation of loving-kindness for oneself and the entire world. We use gentle movements to relieve stress and invite the mind and emotions to calm down, allowing your mind-body-spirit to rejuvenate.

Gathering Healing Qi from the Universe (also called Nourishing the Heart) is very simple, stand with your legs at least hip width apart, creating a stable foundation to support you. Turn your palms face up and slowly bring your arms up to the sides while you inhale. Arms come closer as they move above your head, then turn palms face down and exhale while you bring the arms down in front of your body. Move very slowly and intentionally. Repeat many times. Visualize gathering universal energy from all around you and bringing it into your body, filling your heart and your dantian (storehouse of energy in your abdomen). Feel that your body expands as you reach up and relax as your arms come down. Smile and enjoy!


Mindful Breathing (5-10 minutes)

Sitting comfortably in a chair on the floor, breathe normally/naturally, bring awareness to breath (where do you feel it? Nose? Chest? Abdomen?) Breathing in, being aware of the breath coming in. Breathing out, being aware of the breath going out. Simple noticing, being mindful of the natural process of the body breathing itself. Watch the breath ebb and flow, like waves in the sea. Nowhere to go, nothing to do, just notice the breath.

From time to time, it’s natural for the mind to wander away from the breath. Gently bring your awareness back to the breath. Each time you notice that you’ve wandered and you come back to the breath, you are building your “mind muscle”, etching a new groove in your brain.

Ride the waves of your breath, taking each breath one at a time. You can count the breaths: Inhale “1”, Exhale “2”, Inhale “3”, etc until you reach 10, then repeat. Or you can say silently to yourself “inhaling, exhaling” naming the breath to focus your attention. Try both and see which you prefer.

Body Scan (10-15 minutes)

Sitting or lying down practice. First spend a few minutes getting comfortable, feel free to use pillows or blankets to maximize your comfort. Next, notice your whole body, any sensations, tension, as well as feeling into your mood/emotions and acknowledge whatever is being felt and let it be. Slowly scan your whole body from the soles of your feet to the top of your head. Feeling any sensations and noticing your thoughts and emotions as you move through your body.

Mindful Apps/Resources

Insight Timer - Peaceful timer and guided meditation sessions

Chakra Chime - Peaceful chime with timer

Calm - Timed guided meditation sessions

Stop Breathe Think - Daily check-ins and meditations

Headspace - Guided meditations (first 10 days free, then subscription based)

About Sarah:

Sarah Bentley, MPH was first introduced to yoga and meditation in 1995 and has been fascinated with mind-body practices ever since. Sarah began to study closely with Master Li Junfeng in 2002 and also served as his assistant for 10 years. She has taught Sheng Zhen Gong (Qigong) since 2004 and incorporates a variety of mindfulness practices in her classes and workshops. During her Masters of Public Health program she has focused much of her research on mindfulness for health and well-being. Between 2016 and 2020, she taught weekly classes in yoga, qigong and mindful meditation for the faculty, staff and students at the UTHealth School of Public Health in Austin. She is currently the project director for the Center’s STREETS Study.

Additional mindfulness resources from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation:

Below you'll find additional resources designed to help you manage stress and prioritize self-care during this challenging time.

1. Filling Your Cup: Comprehensive Self-Care Strategies
 Four-part training series on reducing stress and finding balance in your everyday life

2.Practice Gratitude, Boost Your Mood
Short video tips to incorporate self-care practices into your new routine

3.Loving Kindness Meditation
2-minute guided meditation to combat stress with mindfulness and compassion