As we are scrambling to respond to the immediate threat of widespread coronavirus/COVID -19, anxiety levels are surging higher, panic is spreading rapidly and we are desperate for some relief. A tsunami of uncertainty and fear swept the nation last week when it became apparent that we have to mitigate the situation by closing schools, working from home, and observing social distancing. This week, there are more recommendations for sheltering in place, eliminating social gatherings, and going to restaurants. In the US, we are not used to facing the scarcity of daily products, food, or resources. Our stores are always full to the ceiling with a variety of products, both essential and non-essential. We always have a wide choice and ample opportunities to buy and satisfy our needs. Now because of coronavirus, we are trying to learn new ways of living our daily lives, which is not easy. Suddenly, we can’t go to the gym or have a rendezvous with friends.
This is a sudden change. We didn't get any warning, didn't have time to prepare ourselves. We are trying to figure it all out. Some of us are on board with the government measures to control the infections and some of us think it is an overreaction. Whatever it is, we are all feeling like we don’t have control over the ever-changing situation. And that drives us to the edge. Fear drives hoarding. Fear makes us selfish.
Why Mindfulness and how to use it
Mindfulness is one effective tool that can help manage the overwhelming anxiety, impulsivity, and fear. Mindfulness can put a pause on reaction and allow us to respond positively. It creates space between thought and action by observing and reflecting objectively and by focusing on the present situation. Here are a few ways mindfulness can help in the current situation.
Be aware of your thoughts and feelings about this pandemic. It is nearly impossible not to think about it with rapid-fire of updates all around us, online and offline discussions, even jokes and memes sprouting like dandelions. We all are inundated with topics related to coronavirus and it seems like there is no end to it. You can be mindful of the exposure to all the media and how it is affecting you. Do not trust everything you see or read. Be sensible about what you are posting, sharing, forwarding on social media. Seek out trusted resources like the CDC website. Limit the exposure. Stay away from the phone for an hour or two, listen to the news only once or twice a day.
Be aware of your reactions to the news updates. Be mindful of your bodily sensations. You might feel your heart beating fast, your stomach upset, or tingling in your hands. You might feel like you are not able to think anymore like a hundred ants are crawling on your brain. That’s a signal to put everything aside and distract yourself with things you cherish. Read a book, play a game with family, go for a walk, do a family Zumba session with a YouTube video, video chat with your friend, dig up your garage to find unfinished projects. The key is to engage in these things even if you don’t feel like doing it.
Be mindful when you go shopping. Remember, as horrible as the pandemic sounds, this is not the end of the world. Be compassionate and kind. Think of others when you are buying multiple packets of food, paper, or water. Rethink your use of resources and think of alternatives. Is Bounty paper towel a necessity or a want? What else can you use in its place? How many boxes of Kleenex do you need? Can you drink tap water instead of bottled water? How much food are you really going to consume or are you buying in bulk just for comfort and peace of mind? Be aware, we do not want to create artificial scarcity for those who really need it. Share the available resources. We are in this crisis together and our collective efforts will pull us out of it.
There is a difference between panic and preparedness. When we are panicked and overwhelmed with fear, our brain stops working. It goes into survival mode. We cannot distinguish between an actual threat and a perceived threat. Check your impulses and your instincts to see where you are in this matter. Calm your nerves by taking one deep breath and one step at a time. Talk to a close friend, give your feelings some outlet, bounce off ideas, and help each other to get through this.
Mindfulness is increasing awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgment. Mindfulness helps you stop the negative spiral while acceptance leads to positive action. Accepting the situation does not mean you have to like it. Think about your choices in these trying times. This might be a good opportunity for all of us to rethink our preferences, cherish our loved ones, and get into a habit of living one day at a time to the best of our ability.
Kabat-Zinn, J (1994), Wherever You Go, There You Are. Hachette Books, New York, NY.
Siegel, D. (2007). The Mindful Brain. W.W. Norton & Co. New York, NY.