How we can use these concepts during the pandemic.
One thing is certain right now; that nothing is certain. I noticed that as the pandemic crept towards the UK a month ago I began to cross out plans and work appointments in my diary; the afternoon that I was going to spend on a lunch date and shopping, the tattoo that I had booked in, my clients; the near future began to look more and more uncertain.
I had to start to make decisions that I noticed really stressed me out; should I let my kids go to school or was that becoming too dangerous? (This was before schools were closed.) Should I cancel all of my future clients in my private therapy practice or give them the decision? Until suddenly, all of these decisions were taken out of my hands and the UK Government decided for us all.
My anxiety increased, and I turned to my meditation practice to help calm me down. I’m not a Buddhist but many of the Buddhist concepts make sense to me, and right now I’m turning to them more and more.
Acceptance and letting go. We have no control over the coronavirus and no amount of worry can help us. When we are faced with threat we are hardwired to go into the flight, flight or freeze response. Our anxiety increases and we are flooded with adrenalin and cortisol. Over the long term this is not good for our bodies or our immunity. And we need to keep our immune systems strong. Acknowledging that we are afraid, noticing the fear in our bodies and saying to ourselves, “it’s ok. This belongs. It’s normal to feel this fear,” can help us to allow everything to be as it is in the moment. Tara Brach, meditation teacher and Psychologist, teaches how to bring the practice of meditation and help us to accept and let go in many of her practices. Accepting what we can’t control can feel difficult and takes practice. We can do this through the use of meditation.
Mindfulness and meditation.
By concentrating on our breath we can begin to calm down our autonomic nervous system when we are stressed. By being mindful of the breath we can come into this very moment; which is all that we have and all that is certain right now.
While you count to five take long deep breaths in, hold for a second, and count to five as you slowly release..and keep going. Notice how your body begins to relax and release as you do this.
Being in quarantine has given me much time to practice meditation and I’ve noticed that the more that I practice, the more I’m accepting of what is happening (and the more able I am in dealing with three noisy, bored kids!) The Calm app is a great place to start if you are a beginner.
Understanding our interconnections.
The pandemic is global. This has made me realise just how much of a global village that we live in. One planet, all interconnected. Look at how we are finding ways that we can connect during isolation; use of technology and chatting online to loved ones. People are organising online group book clubs. We are watching Netflix in virtual groups. We are staying connected because this is vital for our wellbeing and mental health.
Not only that, we can see that every little action that we take; hand washing and social distancing, has an effect on everyone else. We are doing these small actions for the good of everyone, not just ourselves.
And this brings me to compassion. I’ve just mentioned to my young son that I’ve heard that one of his friends is feeling a little down. My son responded with “ok, I’ll message him and connect with him.” Within minutes they were chatting on the phone. Reaching out to people shows compassion and makes us, and them, feel good.
Showing ourselves compassion can help us to be less judgemental about how we are feeling. Kristen Neff, Associate Professor Human Development and Culture, Educational Psychology Department, University of Texas, has a fantastic website and many Ted Talks about compassion and the many benefits that self compassion can bring to us.
A simple technique that we can do to bring compassion to ourselves.
This practice can calm down our parasympathetic nervous system and help us to relax in times of stress and anxiety.
Place one hand onto your heart and take 2–3 calming breaths. You can experiment with what feels good; maybe placing your hand on your cheek instead, or stroking your arms. The sense of touch releases oxytocin which helps us to feel good and cared for. While you do this you can say to yourself, “it’s ok to feel what you are feeling. Allow it.” Whatever words that you can find to soothe yourself and that will calm you.
Notice how being kind to yourself and using kind self talk with compassion can help to lift some of the heaviness that you might feel. Becoming aware of the things in life that we do have, and being grateful for these things, can also help us to turn our minds to the positive. Each day I am grateful for my health, and the health of my family. I look out of the window and notice the blue sky and I am grateful. I bring myself into each present moment as many times as I can remember to be mindful and this helps to loosen my grip and fear that I feel about the uncertainty of the future. After all, we have only this moment.