COVID-19, MINDFULNESS AND HOPE: Sharing the Story of our Experience
There are plenty of people writing about do’s and don’ts during this unprecedented time. Yes, this is a new reality that we all have to face, and it seems that we don’t have the tools to deal with it yet. There are plenty of articles out there attempting an answer, telling you to reduce the amount of screen time you’re consuming or news that you’re watching…telling you to increase your exercise or that this is the time to make the best of it all and become the person that you always dreamed of becoming. Time to do all the things! I know that all of these do’s and don’ts that people write about come from a good place. On a broader level, the media, medical professionals, World Health Organization, as well as both international and local politicians alike are also trying to make sense of what’s going on.
It is the not knowing that makes us feel the way we do. Uncertainty is one of the most uncomfortable experiences for humans. From an evolutionary stance, prehistorical men and women were uncertain whether they might be able to find food, shelter or simply survive. What we are experiencing is not that different.
Let’s go back to the concept of uncertainty for a moment. In my virtual office, I see very bright, intelligent young adults who are experiencing heightened levels of anxiety or depression because of uncertainty. The uncertainty of “being successful in their lives” or “being in a healthy intimate or friend relationship” or “enjoying their work”, etc. Naturally, a fair bit of our anxieties come from fear and uncertainty about our future.
Now, let’s add a pandemic to our life recipe for 2020. A virus that we don’t seem to know much about (or at least hear conflicting information about) enters and hijacks the plan, bringing with it a much more uncertain future with plenty of additional worries on a global scale. What will happen to our social life? What will happen to our loved one? Global physical and mental health? These are just a few, please feel free to add your own burning anxious questions. Ironically enough, in a world where we can find all answers almost instantly through the internet - there is no answer.
So, when there is no answer, what happens to our mental health? As our routines unravel and need rebuilding, as the level of uncertainty spans the global, systemic and personal realm, our morale may respond in turn. If we are fortunate enough to have a roof over our heads and food on our table, then we may also receive the message that we should take this time to become the best version of ourselves through self-improvement, exercise, mastering hobbies, meditation, _____ (you name it). And when we don’t do all of that, we may feel guilty and interpret it as not doing much with our day, not making the most of our privileges.
I will share something with you that I share with my clients. Considering that I started this post by calling attention to all of the articles and ‘sources for answers’ out there, I didn’t think I would. However, my clients have told me that they have found these sentiments helpful to hear during these times. First, as you rebuild your routines and schedules, make space for flexibility. For example, take a task that you could do in 30 minutes beforehand, and give yourself an hour. Second, respect your level of energy. The world at present can feel heavy, as if we are carrying something on our shoulders and within our chests, which results in us having less energy some days (or most days!). The best example I can give is when you go grocery shopping, a previously benign and essential activity. As usual, you encounter plenty of different people in the store and touch plenty of surfaces. The difference today is that, subconsciously, you may be experiencing a current of stress from the moment you leave your home and throughout what used to be a normal course of events. As a result, you may be in a constant state of alert which can lead to being easily fatigued, having a lower overall mood and difficulty sleeping (to name a few).
Let’s wrap it up. Why mindfulness? The new solution to all our problems! Just joking 😊 I do believe in the power of mindfulness because I believe it is the best way to cope with uncertainty. With the practice of mindful meditation comes a realization that there is nothing that you can do to control what will unfold next. Mindfulness also helps us develop the ability to take a distance from events and people. I encourage you to practice it by shifting your perspective. Ask yourself as soon as you wake: what’s the point of spending today worrying about the uncertain future? Can I experience today by being present to myself, enjoy being with myself? What do I need to enjoy being with myself? Just breathe, inhale for 5 seconds, exhale for 5 seconds. Start doing this for 2 minutes and realize how it makes you feel. Or breathe as slow as you can without lacking oxygen, connect to your body and how it makes you feel. This is certainty: breathing, walking mindfully, and enjoying the present.
My message of hope:
Before the pandemic, we would have continued to live in the sense that our rhythm, social and financial processes would have stayed the same. Reflect on what that would have meant.
Now, the pandemic forces us to slow down and face our new challenges. At the individual level, people must face loneliness, adjustment, and fears. We are forced to encounter ourselves. My hope is that we take this time to see our life differently, connect positively with ourselves and re-evaluate our priorities.
At the social level, we had to realize that even with technology, we are missing something despite the increase in the usage of social media to reduce our feeling of isolation. My hope is that we continue re-defining what it means to be connected and share.
At the societal level, we had to face the inequalities between gender, race and social status and their impact. My hope is that we build a society where support and awareness can benefit each and every one of us.
I hope that this article helps bring you to a place of reflection, growth or simply not feeling alone. Feel free to share your experience by commenting below.