During the month of February, candle-lit dinners, couple social media posts, fancy valentine’s gifts, and overtly pricey flowers that bombard us for Valentine’s Day effectively remind us about the importance of relationships and connection with others. Although we do not deny the evidence that social bonding and trusted relationships are essential for health and wellbeing, we would like to encourage the theme of ‘self-connection’ for this year’s celebration of love.
We live in an era of unmitigated connection with the world, through social media, texts, and various other interactive platforms. Although recent research has shown that social bonding and relationships are important for promoting mental health, the opposite has been reported in studies as well; the bombardment of social media and constant accessibility can negatively impact mental health, with research suggesting 70% increase in self-reported depressive symptoms from avid social media users (Karim, et al., 2020).
It is important to point out that this does not imply social media is causing depression (although it doesn’t rule it out either). Instead, it may indicate that people flocking to connect with a larger community are looking for something absent from their daily lives, and they are not finding it through the vast array of digital communication avenues.
Whether solitude is mandated or voluntary, take these moments to cut out the noise that comes from the digital community ‘chatter’ and reflect on your internal environment – physical sensations, reflexive or repeating thoughts, emotional ‘current’, etc. The practice of meditation or simply observing the breath is an easy way to elevate the introspective senses. You may quietly ask yourself, “what do I need to feel content, even in these times of uncertainty and chaos?”, and patiently wait for the answer to come from within.
Our Valentine’s gift to you this year is the ‘Heart-Centered’ meditation; a technique developed by the Heartmath Institute to help cultivate feelings of compassion, appreciation, and love. The technique is simple and can be practiced daily for supporting your mental health and emotional wellbeing:
- Sit in a quiet place and focus on your breath until you feel calm.
- Think about someone (including pets!) you feel unconditional love and appreciation for and conjure their image in your mind’s eye. Be meticulous in every detail and stay with this image until you’ve achieved the full portrait.
- Next, imagine wishing happiness upon this being in whatever form you think happiness will be for them. Modify their portrait to reflect their happiness to your well wishes, i.e. smiling, tears of joy, laughing, etc. Hold this image in your mind for a few moments and rejoice in their joy.
- Finally, ‘move’ the image from your mind down into your chest and feel it settle deeply in your heart. Maintain focus of this image existing in your heart as you slowly and evenly breathe.
When you’ve mastered the Heart-Centered meditation (with substantial practice!), try the same technique but instead of imagining someone else, allow yourself to be the receiver of happiness. This practice will help you connect with yourself and foster love, care, and compassion for the self.
- By Dr. Jason Culp, Research & Development Director at Chiva-Som.