In this harrowing and unforeseen time of COVID-19 and social distancing, most of us are looking for ways to subdue the spikes of anxiety, boredom, and depression from being cooped up at home. Some of us are wondering what our next paycheck will look like, when it will come, and when we will be able to sit down at our regular restaurant again and have that meal we’ve never been able to recreate at home.
Those of us who are salaried and no longer commute to an office are trying to juggle a work-life balance: we either struggle to disconnect from our job and relate with our families, or vice versa. In addition, we’re worried about our loved ones who are high risk, or who are at risk every day as essential workers. Regardless of whether you hold just one or all of these concerns within you, you’re holding a lot of weight right now.
A simple-yet-not-always-healthy coping mechanism is distraction: TV, food, new hobbies, overworking, exercise, anything that keeps our mind on something going on directly in front of us rather than inside us. Whatever keeps us from remembering that we or our loved ones could get sick, that our financial recovery will be arduous, that our hobbies and pastimes are now shut down or severely limited. Distraction can be a great tool because we are able to focus on things that we enjoy and find some positivity among the devastating headlines bombarding our phone screens. However, it doesn’t allow for us to really delve into the underlying stress, and when have any of us ever found personal growth and healing in stifling our emotions?
None of us are immune to the productivity pressures all over the internet right now1: pick up a book, learn a new hobby, improve your home while you’re in it 24/7. Do that thing you’ve always wanted to do. Do that thing that you’ve been dreading doing. Don’t stop doing, no matter what. The point of this article isn’t to encourage you to try yet another hobby that’s going to keep you busy. Mindfulness won’t keep you distracted or un-bored of your home life. In fact, it will probably encourage you to sit in your feelings of depression, anxiety, and restlessness. It will allow you to explore your boredom and sit in it even longer. Taking up a mindfulness practice doesn’t make you more productive—it slows you down.
Mindfulness is a skill that is developed over time. Many people like to think of meditation as something to do when they are feeling stressed or anxious to calm down, and otherwise don’t make it a part of their daily lives. Unfortunately, because mindfulness is a developed skill, it is a preventative measure and not a reactive one. Studies show that meditators with a consistent practice regulate faster than those who meditate occasionally2. While you don’t have to meditate to have a mindfulness practice, it’s a great starting point for those who are new to the concept. Having a meditative practice, or a sitting practice, allows you to get a feel for what mindfulness is, to explore what it means to be aware of what is going on in your mind and body. It promotes self-reflection and resilience, and you begin learning the differences between responding and reacting. Seeing as we’re all cooped up with our families right now, response over reaction is a great skill to have.
You won’t always come out of your sitting practice feeling energized and refreshed, as mindfulness is often advertised to do. It doesn’t always feel peaceful when you’re forcing yourself to go inward and look at those ugly thoughts and emotions that you’d otherwise shove away with another episode of The Office. However, being able to do so is a critical skill in personal growth and reflection. It’s also a key aspect in being able to relieve yourself of the all-consuming thoughts that lead to fear, anxiety, hopelessness, and restlessness. It may not get easier for you to turn inward and face those thoughts and emotions, but you do get better at it over time.
So why is now a good time to start a mindfulness practice, if turning towards all that COVID anxiety seems so tumultuous? Starting now means that you are building a consistent practice that will help you when life returns to normalcy. Developing self-awareness techniques around self-reflection, responding vs. reacting, and turning inward now means that when your life faces upheaval again, you’ll be ten steps ahead of where you are today. You won’t be hopelessly trying to follow a guided meditation and feeling frustrated that it’s not working. You’ll already know what types of meditation work for you, how to turn inward without overloading yourself, what those icky feelings coming up actually mean, and how to continue having compassionate relationships despite the inner turmoil.
Mindfulness is a critical tool for self-care, a habit we all are trying to engage in right now. Until the world goes back to normal, previous rates of productivity aren’t sustainable. We will simply drive ourselves mad chasing distraction after distraction, avoiding what is lying just beneath the surface. Instead, this is a fantastic time to slow down, to pause, to reflect, to acknowledge the weight we’re holding. Doing so is enough.
- Dauchess, A. (2020, March 20). Tips for staying sane during coronavirus quarantine. James Madison University: The Breeze.
- Taylor, V. A., Grant, J., Daneault, V., Scavone, G., Breton, E., Roff-Vidal, S., Courtemanche, J., Lavarenne, A. S., & Beauregard, M. (2011). Impact of mindfulness on the neural responses to emotional pictures in experienced and beginner meditators. NeuroImage 57(4), 1524-1533.
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