15 Oct The Power of Mindfulness: An Increased Awareness with Covid-19
There is no doubt the past few months have given us unprecedented challenges but at the same time have given us unique opportunities. An unexpected pandemic has taken the world by surprise, obliging countries and governments to implement drastic measures such as lockdown. Most people have been at home for months, experiencing financial, social, familial and emotional hardship. Added to the pandemic, there have been racial injustice issues, police brutality, social unrest, and extreme weather patterns such as hurricanes in the east and wild fires in the west. All of these situations are generating stress, lots of it, and it manifests itself in many different ways. Mindfulness can help in controlling these outbursts of stress created by this chaotic time.
Emotions are normal and are an intrinsic part of who we are. They are natural but in the current time, with a rapid increase of the life stressors, it is easy to loose control. This slower lifestyle gives us a chance to reframe our ideas, to establish or re-establish our priorities. Is it easy when you have lost your job, when the kids cannot go to school, when you are in financial difficulty? Absolutely not, but these challenging time can give us insight into how we want to live our life. From there, they permit us to move on to feel compassion for ourselves, not pity and depression.
Mindfulness is a new buzzword, cropping up everywhere, but it is an ancient practice and far simpler than one can think. It is rooted in Buddhism and shares concepts with Greek mythology, existentialism, transcendentalism, all of which emphasize self-awareness and rational actions, by controlling emotion. Mindfulness is the engagement of attention and awareness in the absence of reactivity and judgment; it is also defines as an open accepting attention and awareness of internal and external emotions. Often, mindfulness refers to “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction technique”, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts. It is a technique clinically standardized to treat a variety of health issues. I am not talking about medical treatment but more of the open minded mindfulness without a major structure. Mindfulness is like establishing a pause before an action, a response. It is training the brain to observe rather that react to whatever at that moment. It induces calm through decreasing the fight or flight mode. It may involve meditation but does not have to. Ultimately, it allows our body and mind to be in a better place. It certainly works on stress, which is the most common cause of chronic disease, depression, behaviors, chronic pain in our current life. When our body is constantly flooded with stress hormones, it not surprising that it creates a host of chronic diseases, including auto-immune disease and cancer.
How does mindfulness work? There has been a surge of research over the last decade geared toward understanding this non-judgmental awareness and its positive effects. Mindfulness helps prevent the body from flipping into a fight-or-flight mode, this state of stress that we constantly found ourselves in. It comes from our reptile brain, geared like our ancestors to escape predators. But we are not escaping predators anymore, we are not in physical threatening environment per se, but in a threatening environment due to our technology, our lifestyle, our multiple devices, our several jobs to keep financially ahead, our health. All these situations keep our stress hormone levels high and induces a number of physiological events that inflame our body cells, change our homeostasis, and interfere with our ability to manage our emotions and behavior, many times leading to unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Mindfulness inserts a pause, a moment in the stressful cascades of events in our life, particularly during this Covid-19 pandemic. Practicing mindfulness is not complicated, is not time demanding, and can be practice every day with little effort, only bringing awareness in our life. It does not take years of practice to feel the benefits, only to start. With our bodies and minds in a healthier and more stable place, we will be able to handle and also resolve conflicts in a more rational and informed decisions, to re-define our priorities and find new joy in our life, when there is so much pain, hatred, division , frustration and stress.
- Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. Bantam Books, The Random House Publishing Group, New York, NY, 2013.
- K. Lothman, COVID-19: Tips for mindfulness and coping with anxiety.
Mayo Clinic News Network, March 23, 2020
- Dougal Sutherland, How setting aside some “worry time” can help reduce anxiety over COVID-19 lockdowns.
Victoria University of Wellington, August 17, 2020
- Kira Jade Cooper, Practising mindfulness can help us through the coronavirus pandemic. University of Waterloo , July 5, 2020
- Moira Lawler, David. A. Merrill, md. Learn about Mindfulness and its benefits – with or without meditation.. Business Insider Australia, May 15, 2020.
- Tim Lomas, Joan C. Medina, Ital Ivtzan, The impact of mindfulness on wellbeing and performance in the workplace: An inclusive systematic review of the empirical literature. European Journal pf Work and Organizational Psychology, 26,(4), April 2017