Now is the time for mindfulness
Well, here we are at the four-week mark of the more direct and measurable impacts of the COVID-19 virus. Some people are working from home, others have been furloughed and many are attempting to juggle the additional role of full-time educator with everything else. (Not to mention what happens to the house when everyone is there all the time.)
Some of us are the “essential workers,” the health care professionals, child welfare workers, grocery and other store personnel, truckers, postal workers, food service personnel, etc., who are required to subject themselves to a much higher risk of exposure to the virus, all while worrying about the potential impact of the risk to themselves and their families. One might reasonably think that now is not the time to consider the importance of self-awareness or mindfulness as we just try to survive.
But I would counter that this is the time to practice new tools of mindfulness as each of us has a new level of uncertainty and threat. There are threats to our physical, social, emotional and financial well-being. We may feel anger and disappointment toward those we observe choosing to not practice physical distancing or “making up excuses” to go to the store every day. We may be intermittently overwhelmed by the constant activity and chaos in our homes or be panicked about our employment or financial situations. We may just feel out of control. In these times, we need to be reminded to give ourselves a break, as these are normal feelings in abnormal times.
At these points, more than others, self-awareness and compassion are essential. Simply put, we must each pay attention to our physical, emotional and thinking experience(s) and well-being in the moment, whether the experience is pleasing, uncomfortable or downright painful.
The mere process of self-awareness or mindfulness is the best prevention against being carried away with the stronger, more negative feelings we are experiencing. This process does not make the feelings go away but provides us with important opportunities to make informed decisions regarding how we behave in relation/reaction to them. Being aware allows us to acknowledge the situation without being consumed by it. In the moments we are able to do this, our vision clears and we can reasonably see what we have control over and what we do not. This awareness also clears the path for compassion toward self and others.
As humans, we need to feel in control. We like cause and effect relationships. We feel comforted by being able to understand and predict. These are basic desires necessary to make sense and have some sense of control of and in the world. A lack of control impacts our sense of being capable and the belief that we possess the tools necessary to be successful. We will do whatever we can to resolve this feeling of uncertainty, even if it leads to inaccurate assumptions and self-blame. Our thoughts become riddled with, “I should be,” or “I’m a bad person because I can’t.” I can’t count the number of times in the past week I have needed to intentionally take a moment, stop my brain and ask myself the question: “What do I know and reasonably believe to be true?” as opposed to “I heard, think or was told that… .” In order to stop my brain from the likelihood of inaccurate assumptions that then drive irrational beliefs and behaviors, I must be aware of the process. I must check in with myself and others.
In the spirit of self-awareness, I would like to put forth a suggestion or task for each of you and those around you. Take a moment and thoughtfully consider what things about your day are totally out of your hands, what things/tasks or activities you can influence, and what you can control. Write them down; have your children and significant others write them down for themselves. Review your lists with each other. Have conversations about each item. Attach language in your conversations that describes how you are feeling about each item on your list. Take some time at the beginning and end of each day this week and review your list. At the beginning of each new day, make a new list. At first, you may find there are many things that stay the same from day to day. Over time, as you become more aware, your list for each category will likely expand and diversify. Continue the conversations among yourselves. If you are home alone, reach out via phone or the internet and share your lists with others.
The 10.27 Healing Partnership can provide emotional support and contact through these difficult times. If you or someone you know would like to reach out, call us at 412-697-3534. PJC
Cindy Snyder is the clinical director of the 10.27 Healing Partnership.