Twenty-twenty turned our everyday lives upside down, affecting everything from our work to our social lives. And one aspect in particular—our mental health—may have been the hardest hit. We were more anxious, stressed, lonely, and depressed. In fact, more than 42% of people surveyed by the US Census Bureau in December 2020 reported symptoms of anxiety or depression that same month—a surge from just 11% the previous year.
To cope, many of us refocused on our well-being. Some of us exercised more, binge-watched shows, picked up new hobbies, and doubled-down on our meditation practice. With over five million global meditation sessions logged by our users in 2020, we thought this data might give us some interesting insights into our collective well-being in 2020. Specifically, how the turbulent year was reflected in how people chose to meditate as well as how they reported their emotional states. Here’s what the data revealed.
COVID-19 & Lockdowns
March & April 2020
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. The following week we saw the highest levels of self-reported sadness of all of 2020. This came via the journal feature in our Muse app where users can self-select how they feel after each meditation session. This third week of March was also when the first phase of lockdowns went into effect in many countries around the world.
And it seems these initial feelings of sadness may have turned heavier for many people in the following weeks, according to a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association. A nationally representative survey found that between March 31 and April 13, the percentage of Americans reporting depressive symptoms tripled from 9% in pre-pandemic times to 28%.
We noticed an interesting meditation behavior during this same time period. As the pandemic spread and lockdowns began to be enforced, there was a 17% decrease in meditation sessions those first three weeks of March—the steepest decline in all of 2020. But once lockdown set in and we were all relegated to our couches, it seemed we returned to our self-care practices. From the end of March through May, our users logged 10% more meditation sessions than the year average.
Another data point during the month of April stood out to us. The third week of the month, we saw the highest reporting of anger. This same week the US announced it would halt funding to the World Health Organization, one of the leading organizations working on a global scale to combat COVID-19.
Black Lives Matter Movement
While the coronavirus continued to spread, the following month saw a different trend happening in meditation practices, potentially in response to BLM events happening throughout the US.
According to the New York Times, the BLM protests peaked on June 6th, when half a million people turned out in nearly 550 locations across the US. Polls suggest that up to 26 million people participated in demonstrations around the country, which would make these the largest demonstrations in US history.
While record numbers of people took to the streets to fight for justice, an increasing number of people also attended to their hearts at home. From May to June, we saw a 42% increase in meditation session length. And the most listened to meditation during this turbulent week was Compassion for Others by Elisha Goldstein.
The last two weeks of August saw another spike in meditation session length, which coincided with the unrest happening in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
US Presidential Election Season
September – November 2020
Then came one of the most divisive US Presidential election seasons in recent history. Starting at the end of September with the first Presidential debates and continuing through and beyond the election on November 4th, we saw another increase in meditation session length. This peaked the week after the election at 59% higher than the 2020 average.
At the same time, a survey by The Harris Poll, on behalf of the American Psychological Association, found that more than two-thirds of US adults (68%) said that the 2020 US Presidential Election was a significant source of stress in their life. And this wasn’t a partisan stress. It was consistent across political parties. So it makes sense that many would turn to mindful practices like meditation, which studies show can minimize the effect and experience of stress.
When the votes were counted and the election results were confirmed the following week, people’s moods seemed to reflect the collective global relief. That week saw the lowest number of meditation sessions of 2020 in our app, and self-reported anger was the lowest the third week of November than it had been all year. The last two weeks of the month also saw the highest reporting of gratitude—10% higher than it had been all year.
A Renewed Sense of Hope
Perhaps in anticipation of a new year and a fresh start in 2020, reported sadness was lowest the last week of 2020. Our data also suggests a relationship between gratitude and sadness. Every time reported gratitude was high, reported sadness was low. And this aligns with existing research around counting our blessings. Practicing gratitude has been consistently linked to lower levels of depression as well as better sleep, a stronger immune system, and stronger relationships. Despite the heart-wrenching and tumultuous events of 2020, it seems we still managed to find things to be grateful for.
There are many ways to look at the effects of the pandemic and the events of 2020 as it relates to our global meditation data. During a year where many of us felt more isolated and disconnected than ever, our data give some insight into the collective ways we responded as well as the tools we used to cope. The most popular meditation of 2020 globally? Ease Fear of the Unknown by Chrissy Charter. And while we still can’t predict what will happen next, 2020 has perhaps helped us see how important it is to take care of our mental health and well-being especially when a lot of what surrounds us is out of our control.
Ready to feel the power of your own gratitude? During the month of April, we’re giving free access to the Gratitude Collection in our app to help you tap into the moments of happiness and connection in your everyday life. Stay tuned for instructions on how to access the FREE Collection by signing up for our Museletter below.
Disclaimer: While the data and correlations used in this post suggest a relationship, further studies would need to be performed to draw any significant conclusions or definitive correlation.