WVU: Compassion may ease anxieties related to coronavirus

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WVU: Compassion may ease anxieties related to coronavirus
Switching to compassion mode may be one way to manage COVID-19 anxiety. (Photo courtesy Simon Ray)

Practicing social distancing is one way to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, but practicing emotional closeness may help alleviate the anxiety that the coronavirus can provoke.

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Julie Brefczynski-Lewis, a research assistant professor in the Department of Neuroscience, part of the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute, said that “switching to compassion mode” may be one way to manage that anxiety.

“When it comes to anxiety—and believe me, I am not exempt—I find that switching to compassion mode is most helpful," Brefczynski-Lewis says.

"This is true in any situation, but especially so in a large-scale crisis."

Brefczynski-Lewis is an expert in compassion meditation, which she calls a technique for getting out of the claustrophobia of self-centeredness, cultivating concern for others and realizing we are not alone in our experience of suffering.

"You can start with a loved one or yourself and use compassion for your own anxiety or suffering as a springboard to think of the suffering of others in a similar situation. You can wish yourself and others happiness, freedom from suffering, ease or anything positive and helpful.”

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Brefczynski-Lewis has published several peer-reviewed studies dealing with various forms of meditation, mindfulness, and neuroimaging, and has also developed a smartphone app to assist in applying meditation techniques for daily stress relief.

She regularly leads mindfulness meditation sessions at the and is engaged in research that uses MRI and PET scans and electroencephalograms to reveal activity within the brain.

“A review of randomized controlled studies of compassion meditation has shown an effect size that even exceeds antidepressants, and that may carry over to anxiety as well. At the very least, it may stop you from buying all the toilet paper.”

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