Cultivating a mindfulness practice where one nurtures being in the present moment with lovingkindness and without judgment can prove to be a valuable coping tool for managing the COVID-19 pandemic. The uncertainty thrust upon us along with the burdensome daily extras inherent in the quarantine and home schooling can serve to increase our personal and parenting stress levels. There is little we can do to change our external circumstances at this time, but there is much we can do about our relationship to these circumstances. How we conceptualize and manage the pandemic is within our control and can strongly influence the consequent stress we feel because of it. I will be introducing 5 mindfulness strategies for coping during this difficult time with the intention of reducing stress and bringing more of a sense of peace to your daily lives.
1) Bringing ourselves to the present moment: As mentioned above, the definition of mindfulness is learning to be in the present moment with lovingkindness and without judgment. During times of stress it is not uncommon for our minds to be everywhere but in the present moment, however. We may be busy trying to figure out how to change things that we have no control over or trying to will things to be different than they are. We may be planning for a time when there is no more pandemic, or we may be dreaming about a time before it existed. Having these kinds of thoughts are normal and universal, but when we become lost in these thoughts our felt sense of stress can increase and we lose the opportunity to fully experience what is happening in the now. It is helpful to notice the thoughts and feelings, acknowledge and allow them, and then to gently, without judgment, let them go and bring our focus back to what is currently happening. We may find ourselves doing this over and over again, but each time we realize our mind has wandered off and we bring it back, we are exercising our ‘mindfulness muscle’. Developing a regular mindfulness meditation practice, if even for a few minutes a day, can help train our minds to better be in the moment.
2) Saying yes to the moment: When we resist a feeling or thought, we can unintentionally actually increase the felt sense of the very feeling or thought we wish to eliminate. For example, if we are feeling sad because we’ve had to cancel our vacation, but we are berating ourselves for feeling sad, our felt sense of sadness can actually increase. Instead, if we can acknowledge and allow, say: “Yes,I am feeling sad. Even though some people have it worse than I do, I can still feel sad about my loss too…” the feeling will probably be less intense and of a shorter duration. We can acknowledge it, process it, and let it go. If we focus on wishing there weren’t a pandemic instead of saying; “Yes, there is a pandemic, and it is really hard, but it won’t last forever, and we will get through this. I am OK for now.”, we will probably feel more stressed and anxious.
3) Letting go: Letting go is an important component of mindfulness. Rather than resisting a thought, feeling, or a situation, we want to first notice and allow it, and then we want to let it go; just like we might let a helium balloon float up to the sky. We want to hold our thoughts and feelings gently, as we might hold a baby bird in the palm of our hand, and then slowly we want to unfold our fingers to let it fly away. Letting go in this way allows us to gently guide our focus back to the present moment. Letting go in this way frees us from pointless rumination so that we have a clearer mind for effectual problem solving. Letting go can bring us a sense of relaxation and peace.
4) Bringing compassion to self and others: We defined mindfulness as ‘being in the present moment with lovingkindness and without judgment’. Nurturing a sense of self-compassion and a feeling of compassion for others is therefore another important element of a mindfulness practice. When we respond to ourselves and others with kindness, sympathy, and understanding, we are exhibiting compassion. Feelings of compassion for self and others can contribute to a greater sense of well-being and can thereby help to lower felt stress levels. At this time families are quarantined together and it is easy for us all to become intolerant of those we love most while also berating ourselves. Practicing compassion can help nurture healthier relationships and help nurture our emotional resilience during this difficult time.
5) Finding the gold within: In 1955, a stucco and colored glass statue of the Buddha was being relocated in Thailand. While being moved, a piece of the stucco chipped away and underneath was a piece of gold. The rest of the stucco and colored glass was removed to reveal a golden statue. The statue had been covered in stucco and colored glass two hundred years prior to disguise its true value during an enemy invasion. This story has been told to illustrate that we all have gold within, but we often cover it over with ‘stucco and colored glass’ and thereby bury our own true treasure. Our ‘stucco and colored glass’ can be the expectations we place on ourselves, the roles we think we are supposed to play, or the hurts we have experienced and try to bury. All of these serve to hide our true selves even from ourselves. To find our genuine selves we must be quiet long enough to notice. We must bring awareness to the moment, say ‘yes’ to what is, let go of the stucco and colored glass, and bring kindness and compassion to ourselves. Practicing these mindfulness strategies can help us to find the gold within. We can use this time during the pandemic to slow down and find that gold.
These 5 mindfulness strategies can be used to help us cope with the stresses inherent in living through a pandemic. We can practice them for ourselves and model and teach them to our children to help them cope as well. This is a very difficult time for us all. But, perhaps, we can use this time as an opportunity for growth and finding the gold within that has been hidden for too long.
Marcia Kaufman, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
* Family First is offering, via Zoom, Free Mindfulness Meditation and Gentle Yoga Classes on Saturday mornings from 10:00-11:00 AM. Please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to register.