4 mindfulness coping strategies to use during a pandemic

4 mindfulness coping strategies to use during a pandemic

This pandemic has created an incredible amount of uncertainty in lives. While we cannot control a lot of what’s happening outside of us, we can retrain and adjust on our internal environment–in other words, how we are responding to events moment-by-moment and where we are putting our attention.

Stay in the present

This pandemic is forcing people to grapple with uncertainty in a brand new way. It’s really easy to “time travel” right now–whether that means going into the future and wondering what the heck is going to happen and next or floating around in the past and wishing for “the normal days.” Time traveling takes us out of our body and away from the present moment. By doing so, you’re draining the present moment of its joy and beauty. Yes, even though we are living through a pandemic, the present has moments of beauty of joy. For example, right now I am writing this blog post sitting under a blanket on my couch and watching the sun go in and out of the clouds through my window. It is completely beautiful and serene.

Really, the present is the only moment we have. We cannot change the past and we cannot predict the future–especially right now. (Two months ago, April 20, 2020 probably looked a lot different in my mind than it actually is.) We are in uncharted territory with what happens next and where the world goes from here. We can certainly be curious and wonder about the future; we can make plans for the future; we can collect present moments to shape a better future; and despite all of that, we cannot predict what will happen as this pandemic continues.

How do you do stay present? The key is paying attention to your breath. Focusing on your breath is the heart of mindfulness. When you pay attention to your breath, you cannot do anything but stay present. So, when you find your mind wandering, bring your attention back to your breath. That is where the re-training happens; that is the ultimate mindfulness power move.

Practice radical acceptance

Radical acceptance is the practice of looking reality squarely in the face and seeing it for what it is. Right now, our everyday life is being shaped and influenced by a pandemic. For some of us, that means we are forced to stay at home to save lives; for others, it means working essential jobs at hospitals, grocery stores, etc.

The reality of living is that we will suffer. It is a sad, sad truth and it sounds awfully horrible when I write it out, but it is a fundamental fact that we must all face. We will all experience extraordinarily difficult events and situations in our lives. It is the unavoidable truth of being a mortal creature on this untamed blue round thing floating through space. It is how we approach this suffering–if we “suffer bravely,” as Viktor Frankl said–that changes our relationship to the suffering. Suffering becomes pain when we begin to wish for a different reality or we dwell in the past or future. At this point, we cannot change the reality of this pandemic and therefore we must accept it. You don’t have to like it, but by being clear about our present, we release the pain. By accepting it, we also have the opportunity to see the moments of unexpected beauty and joy (see above.)

Practice non-judgment

I am certain all of you have seen the tweets floating around about Isaac Newton developing the theory of gravity, building a space ship and becoming master of the universe during the plague. (Or he did something along those lines…that might not be totally historically accurate.) Well, you are under no such obligation. You do not need to be productive at this time. You do not need to gut your house and redo your kitchen. You do not need to write the next great play. You do not need to shape your children (if you have them) into perfect little robots who can recite the Constitution from heart. You do not need to do any of those things. And yet, the internet is going to try and tell you that you’re not being enough of this or that during this pandemic.

Here’s the deal. This is a difficult time. “Difficult” feels like the understatement of the century. You can have painful, hard days; you can have calm, peaceful days. Whatever you do, don’t assign “good” or “bad” to what your emotions or what you do in a day during a pandemic. Try to practice non-judgment and stay neutral about what you do and don’t achieve. You can do this by making observations like, “Oh, I lived a day today.” And “living a day” might mean sitting on the couch in your pjs and watching  documentaries on Netflix. It might mean starting the first chapter of a book you’ve always wanted to write. And all of this is okay. You are living as a human and that’s all we’re ever doing, really.

Finding meaning

This might be the stickiest point on this list and in a lot of ways contradicts practicing non-judgment. You do not–I repeat–you do not need to be ready to find meaning during a pandemic. However, I do think it is a useful exercise. This pandemic is also forcing people to turn inwards, and some old, buried stuff is coming to the surface. By looking inwards, we’re embracing the opportunity that comes with slowing down and reconnecting to ourselves. I’ve already mentioned him once in this article, but Viktor Frankl urged people to ask themselves what life is asking of you. So, if you are ready, asking yourself: What is life (or this specific moment in history) asking of me? You can also frame it this way: When I am much, much older and thinking about this time, what will I see? Just give yourself a minute to think about those questions, and some curious, powerful things might bubble to the surface.

 

I hope this list helped! Please don’t hesitate to reach out for support in this difficult time.

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