Life Wellbeing COVID lockdown is making us distracted and forgetful. Here’s how meditation can help

COVID lockdown is making us distracted and forgetful. Here’s how meditation can help

COVID lockdown
A new study show that meditation could help with distraction and short-term memory issues caused by lockdown. Photo: Getty
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Last month, TND reported how the Groundhog Day grind of lockdown scrambles your memory and sense of time.

Researchers at the University of NSW have since reported that lockdown puts our cognitive abilities out of whack.

We’re more distracted and thus our ability to concentrate is compromised.

One consequence of this that will resonate with people working from home, and juggling children, is that we’ll tend to make more mistakes – especially when we’re in a hurry.

How was this discovered?

Professor Brett Hayes from UNSW’s School of Psychology said that a study of 4000 Italians – who had emerged from two months in lockdown – found 30 per cent of them had experienced some degree of change in their everyday cognition.

These changes included memory problems, such as where you left your mobile phone, trouble in focusing attention, and losing focus when trying to read a book or watching something online.

“Literally starting one job and without thinking about it, going off and starting a second job without finishing the first one,” said Professor Hayes, in a prepared statement.

So what to do?

Mercy is found in a new study from Michigan State University  – the largest of its kind to date – that finds meditation could help you with these issues.

The research tested how open monitoring meditation – meditation that focuses awareness on feelings, thoughts or sensations as they unfold in one’s mind and body – “altered brain activity in a way that suggests increased error recognition”.

In other words, meditation boosted the brain’s ability to pick up on mistakes.

What happened in the study?

The researchers recruited more than 200 participants to test how open monitoring meditation affected how people detect and respond to errors.

The participants, who had never meditated before, were taken through a 20-minute open monitoring meditation exercise while the researchers measured brain activity through electroencephalography, or EEG.

Then they completed a computerised distraction test, which measured their ability to concentrate and resist distraction.

“The EEG can measure brain activity at the millisecond level, so we got precise measures of neural activity right after mistakes compared to correct responses,” said Jeff Lin, MSU psychology doctoral candidate and study co-author.

“A certain neural signal occurs about half a second after an error called the error positivity, which is linked to conscious error recognition. We found that the strength of this signal is increased in the meditators relative to controls.”

The study didn’t measure improvements to actual task performance – it was a one-off test – but the researchers say their findings “offer a promising window into the potential of sustained meditation”.

“These findings are a strong demonstration of what just 20 minutes of meditation can do to enhance the brain’s ability to detect and pay attention to mistakes,” said Professor Jason Moser, a co-author of the study.

“It makes us feel more confident in what mindfulness meditation might really be capable of for performance and daily functioning right there in the moment.”

The next phase of research will include “a broader group of participants, test different forms of meditation and determine whether changes in brain activity can translate to behavioural changes with more long-term practice”.

A 2018 study found that regular and intensive meditation sessions over the course of a lifetime could help a person remain attentive and focused well into old age.

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