Mindfulness & Managing Stress during the COVID-19 Pandemic

  • Gentle, kind awareness of our experience in the present moment
  • Notice without judgment when the mind gets hijacked by stress/ difficult emotions
  • Re-engage with life with compassion towards oneself and others, and with the wisdom that this difficulty, too, shall pass

Mindfulness is something we can all cultivate, by paying attention to our experience of the present moment, which includes our body sensations, emotions, and thoughts. We find some experiences pleasant and others unpleasant, even painful. Instead of reacting (such as catastrophizing) to what we experience, mindfulness teaches us to cultivate wiser, more compassionate ways to relate to our life experience.

During the current pandemic, there is so much uncertainty concerning the future, and many threats to our security (physical, social, emotional, and financial). It is totally natural and normal to feel anxious, fearful, and frustrated. You might also experience anger or disappointment towards our governmental institutions for not moving as fast and as efficiently as you had hoped, or toward people not being as careful as you would like them to be in terms of social distancing, and so forth. Those are all normal and natural reactions to this abnormal situation.

Mindfulness can help us acknowledge this situation, without allowing us to be carried away with strong emotions; it can, in turn, help bring ourselves back to a centered calm. Only then can we see more clearly what it is we have control over and what it is that we do not. Mindfulness also shows us how best to proceed, with compassion towards oneself and others.

Cultivating Mindfulness

There are formal and informal ways to cultivate mindfulness. But before we go there, let’s go over the attitudinal foundations of any practice:

  • Non-judgment
  • Patience (things take time)
  • Beginner’s mind (instead of assuming to already know something)
  • Trust (trusting one’s own inner resource… though we cannot see it)
  • Non-striving (instead of trying to achieve a goal no matter what)
  • Accepting (accepting what is)
  • Letting go (letting go of what we wish to be)
  • Compassion (see suffering and bringing kindness to it)

Formal ways of cultivating mindfulness are through mindful meditations, which can be guided or done in silence. For a few minutes to 30-40 minutes, sit quietly, and become aware of the sensations of breath and body, as well as sounds, thoughts, and emotions, in a non-judgmental way, with compassion towards oneself.  There are many free guided meditations online, some of which are listed below under Helpful Links.

Informal ways of cultivating mindfulness can be practiced throughout the day, simply by paying attention to whatever you are doing. Opportunities are plentiful. One example might be brushing your teeth mindfully, noticing any sensations that a toothbrush has on your teeth, gums, or noticing the smell of toothpaste. Other examples might be washing dishes as you notice the warmth of water, the physical sensation of your hands on dishes, the sounds of washing; or walking mindfully, noticing the sensations of your feet touching and leaving the ground. These are contrary to how we often live our lives, mindlessly, with our body going through motions on auto-pilot while our minds are busy worrying about the future or ruminating over other things.

Mindfulness Tool Box

When the mind get hijacked by strong emotions or stress, there are some simple tools you can use. Examples: simply notice your breath, noticing the sensation of in-breath and out-breath in the body, anchoring yourself to the present moment using both breath and body.

The below are a couple of practices with acronyms.

1)    S.T.O.P. (Stop, To breathe, Observe & Proceed):  Take a breath, and observe what is happening inside you, noting your emotions and thoughts in this moment and acknowledge their presence. With gentle awareness of such presence, proceed.

2)    R. A. I. N. (Recognize, Allow, Investigate & Nourish):  Recognize what is here, allow it rather than fighting against it or pushing it away, then investigate where in the body you are experiencing this difficulty, and soothe and nourish yourself.