By John Schorling
These are some of the most trying times many of us have ever confronted. There is so much uncertainty about what is to come, and we have less opportunity for social support than in other crises. Some are already ill, others know someone who is, and many are caring for those who have COVID-19. In these circumstances, it can be easy to feel frightened and overwhelmed. Having a regular mindfulness practice can be helpful. Practicing intentionally bringing your attention to your present moment experience may provide a refuge, a place of calm in the midst of chaos. You can do this using free meditation recordings that can be downloaded from the Mindfulness Center website https://med.virginia.edu/mindfulness-center/continue-your-practice/audio-recordings/ .
A number of brief mindfulness practices can also be helpful at times like these. A simple practice is to pause periodically to take five or six long deep breaths, noticing the rise and fall of the abdomen as you breath in and breath out. This can take less than a minute, and helps to decrease the stress response.
Another simple practice is using STOP. This refers to Stopping for a moment, Taking a few deep breaths, Observing your present moment experience with kindness (what am I thinking? What am I feeling?), and Proceeding with awareness. For example, you might be watching the news and notice you’re getting anxious, and by practicing STOP you might decide that turning off the news might be the best thing you could do.
You can also practice RAINS to help process difficult emotions. The R stands for Recognizing what you are feeling. In situations like this, it can be easy to start thinking about something stressful and begin feeling anxious or frightened. This can set up a feedback loop of stressful thinking leading to difficult emotions, leading to more stressful thinking and stronger emotions. The A is for Allowing the emotion to be present and naming it which can help interrupt this cycle. The next step is Investigating the associated sensations in the body. This can also help shift your attention out of the thinking mind, instead grounding yourself in your present moment experience. You can then intentionally Not identify with the emotion, recognizing that feeling an emotion, such as fear, does not define who you are, rather it is a reasonable emotion arising in very difficult circumstances. Finally, you can practice Self-kindness, acknowledging that what you are experiencing is difficult, and extending yourself wishes for you own well being, just as you would for a close friend in similar circumstances. You might even place your hand on your heart and say something to yourself like “this is hard and it’s ok to be kind to myself”.
These circumstances can also provide an opportunity to practice brief compassion meditation. Closing your eyes, bring an individual or group of individuals to mind who are experiencing difficulty, perhaps those with COVID-19 or the people caring for them, and extend silent wishes for their well being to them, saying phrases to yourself such as “may you be well”, “may you be safe”, “may you be free from suffering”, or whatever other words come to mind. You might even visualize a beam of light carrying these wishes extending from your heart to them. You could do this directed toward one person or group for a minute or two, or move from one group to another for a longer period of time. If it feels comfortable to do so, you can end by extending the same wishes for your own well being to yourself.
In these difficult times, whatever we can do to cultivate present moment awareness and modulate our stress levels is likely to have a positive impact not only on ourselves personally, but on others as well. Even as we are practicing social distancing, we are still all interconnected.
Filed Under: Monthly Musings