Mindfulness Matters More than Ever

Try this mindful coping idea for COVID-19 worries

By Leziga Barikor

It is very rare that a news event has as far reaching impact and implications as what has happened with the COVID-19 pandemic. To even find an event comparable, we have to go back over a hundred years to the 1918 flu commonly known as the “Spanish flu” and it still doesn’t come close. According to professionals, the best approach we have to maintaining the least amount of lost lives is social distancing which has uprooted many of our daily routines.

From record breaking job losses, to closures of schools and many of our favorite non-essential businesses, and, for the spiritual, the inability to gather in community can have many questioning what is left? Sure spending unlimited time on streaming platforms and sleeping in has it’s short term appeal, but it quickly becomes clear that isn’t all most of us want out of life.

And to top it all off, the pandemic itself — as daily reports pour in about positive cases and deaths and constant reminders to wash your hands, it can be overwhelming. The immunocompromised and otherwise at risk make up more of our friends and family than we ever thought to worry about, but now we are. Worried. And it’s during a crisis like this that we need to be practicing mindfulness more than ever.

Worry and anxiety in the COVID-19 era

To be clear, I’m no psychologist or medical professional, and I highly recommend you seek one out if you’re feeling daily life has become unmanageable. But today I am writing as a person with worries when it comes to COVID-19, and I hope some of my coping strategies can help you during this difficult time. This pandemic has put us all in the unique position of having many of very real and valid fears. Will I loose my job, will my mother get sick, will my friends get sick, how will I ever find toilet paper all comes to mind.

So how do we practice mindfulness when our anxieties all cover a range of various valid possibilities? Well first, I think we need to get a better understanding of mindfulness and what our brains and bodies are doing during times of high stress.

Now mindfulness can have many different definitions and applications, but for my purposes, it is the practice of using your five senses to fully be in the moment whatever it is and wherever it is. It’s a practice most commonly associated with therapy, but need not be limited to professional settings. There are many ways to practice mindfulness, but they aim at the same goal of accepting without judgement your current state of being.

The major issue we’re facing with this pandemic is an uncertain future, and anxiety is often related to concerns about the future. What a lot of us are experiencing is natural response to an common enemy — the unknown. Not knowing what to anticipate is both frustrating and scary, and that’s okay. You don’t need to fight or immediately make these feelings go away. To practice mindfulness is to let yourself be and feel whatever is happening in the moment, and actually allowing yourself to feel the worry won’t make it worse. It instead gets you further on the process to feeling better.

Mindfulness in the midst of real chaos

Now I feel like a lot of well meaning blogs discussing mindfulness require people to jump into the deep end and start by recommending meditations. I do meditate and find it very useful, but besides carving out 10-20 minutes of your day for calm, that still leaves time for stressers to pull you back down again.

The battle against racing thoughts is at a fever pitch when every inconvenience or negative consequence of the pandemic is making daily life challenging. So the first step towards mindfully quelling daily worries and anxieties is to notice them and how they’re making you feel. Accept the feelings but challenge your thoughts. Consider what the location is in time and space for these thoughts being mindful that anxiety is often future focused.

  • Asking what ifs. . . (What if that person who just coughed has it?)
  • Thinking in absolutes. . . (This quarantine is never going to end.)
  • Future forecasting. . . (First I coughed this morning and again right now, I must have it.)
  • Minimizing the positives. . . (My work is keeping us all home, but I’ll probably get sick at the grocery store.)
  • Conclusion jumping. . . (They just announced a case in my parent’s town, it must be them or their direct neighbors.)
  • Should/shouldn’t. . . (I should’ve bought toilet paper when this first hit the news.)

There are plenty more models you can find to help you identify anxious thoughts, and that’s an essential first step to changing your mindset.

What your body needs after going through these feelings is for your autonomic nervous system to reset. The various physical responses you have to anxiety are seen in the autonomic nervous system without you ever thinking about it like regulating your breathing and heartbeat. The sympathetic division is where your “flight or fight” responses come from, and the subsequent calm at rest state is managed in the parasympathetic division. But since a virus isn’t an enemy we can fight or run from, our body’s next resort is a freeze response.

Freeze and turning location services on

Since we can’t flee or fight the threat this pandemic poses, freeze responses, essentially having your body shut down, is the next place you could go. This may be reflective in you losing focus, having a lack of motivation and desire to just sleep all the time. And honestly, get the extra rest. And take a deep breath to help kick start your parasympathetic nervous system to calm mode.

The next way to get through the anxiety after you’ve paused to accept your negative emotions and identified your thought patterns is to turn on your location services. Not on your phone, but with your present environment. Where are you, what is your current outer environment? It may seem silly at first, but answering those questions in your head very specificially can help pull you back into a more mindful state all without having to take a mediation break.

The physical reactions we have to anxiety are all to deal with danger, so you have to tackle that question to move forward. Your body doesn’t think you are safe and wants to protect you, so you have validate that internal concern. This great podcast episode gives four questions to ask yourself to get into a more mindful state, and I’ll paraphrase a few here.

  • Are you safe here and now?
  • What are your five senses telling you about how safe you are now?
  • How does your body feel now that you’ve established your physical environment is safe?

Now the fourth step is to savor that feeling of okay-ness. And things are going to be okay. The next time you notice yourself worrying excessively, you can use the same location setting questions to pull yourself back into the present. Are these thoughts based in a present reality or a future concern? Well if it’s a future concern, then it’s time to check back into the present moment.

Why mindfulness

Now the goal isn’t to ignore very real problems you may be facing because of this COVID-19 crisis, but to give yourself a better mental framework to operate in it. My job is very focused on the topic, and our normally daily routines have been disrupted in ways we could’ve never imagined. But practicing mindfulness reminds us even through this mess, we can still find things to be grateful for and we are resilient enough to meet the challenge.

Once you find your own inner calm, your friends, coworkers and family members will be drawn to it. You’ll find taking care of yourself not only gives you the benefit, but those you socially distantly interact with will experience it too.

Stay safe, and if you can, stay home.

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Aerobic exercise and mindfulness

By Leziga Barikor

The benefits of mindfulness can be integrated into exercise especially the aerobic variety. Since the early 1990s there has been a rise in mindful exercise also known as mind-body exercise. There have been many studies on the benefits of mindfulness and physical exercise. By using aerobic exercises to cultivate mindfulness, people can reap both the physical and mental benefits in one.

Watch a brief interview of aerobic exercise professionals.

5 key components

According to a 2005 study, there are five key criteria for a form of exercise to be considered mindful. These are evolving principles, but can serve as helpful guidelines when considering mindful exercises.

  1. Meditative
  2. Proprioceptive
  3. Breath-centered
  4. Anatomic alignment
  5. Energy-centric

Meditative

The key component to mindful exercise is that it cultivates a mindset of mindfulness. It needs to incorporate a present moment and nonjudgmental state of self-awareness. The process itself must be the center not the goal or exercise outcome.

Proprioceptive

The simple Google definition of this aspect is: “relating to stimuli that are produced and perceived within an organism, especially those connected with the position and movement of the body. ” For an exercise to be mindful it can’t be heavily strenuous. So low to moderate level muscular activity that allows for mental focus on the muscles and movement.

Breath-centered

One of the most centering activities to cultivate mindfulness is breathing. Besides various breathing exercises, activities like yoga that emphasize breathing with movement are beneficial for cultivating mindfulness. Even in the term “aerobic” it is implied that these exercises involve or relate to breath.

Anatomic alignment

This means the physical activity must foster greater spinal alignment or a specific movement pattern.

Energy-centric

Exercises for mindfulness

There are a variety of exercises that can help cultivate mindfulness. Yoga might be well known, but there are many varieties to it as well as other options.

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Journey into Mindful Journaling

5 Tips to Mindful Journaling

By Leziga Barikor

Traveling to a new destination can be worthwhile new experience and often times seems to go by too quickly. But the memories made while vacationing can last forever. The practice of mindfulness can help people develop their memories deeper.

Fast 5 Journal Prompts

  • What do you see here that is different from home? How would you describe it without a picture?
  • What does it feel like to walk down these streets? What is it like touching the sand, the rocks, cable car railing or other applicable items? Or think of the temperature or emotions anticipating a new experience.
  • What does it smell like where you currently are whether being out in nature, by a different ocean or in a new city?
  • What are you hearing right now the hum of traffic, the waves of the ocean, ect?
  • Did you try any new foods? What was it like?

For a more in-depth look, see the my video on travel journaling below!

Mindfulness

Mindfulness can be described in various different ways, but the same themes tend to appear in the literature on it.

Jon Kabat-Zinn is a professor and the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He has published many books surrounding the topic of mindfulness and is well established authority on the topic.

Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as paying attention to the moment in a non-judgemental way. To be mindful is to know what is happening while it is happening. Another word to use instead of mindfulness is awareness.

The practice of mindfulness has it’s roots in Buddhism. The Buddha’s practice of mindfulness is what brought him to the point of being the “enlightened one.”

Mindfulness can also be seen as a skill which can be improved with practice. Applying mindfulness principles can increase self awareness and give people heightened mental insights.

To sum it up in Kabat-Zinn’s own words, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

Travel

When it comes to traveling, the where actually proves to make no difference to the effect of the experience. The main effect people attempt to get out of traveling or vacationing is typically more happiness. Professor Jeroen Nawijn from Breda University of Applied Sciences studied happiness as it relates to travel.

According to studies on happiness cited by Nawijn, humans can control only 40 percent of their happiness. The other 60 percent breaks down with 50 percent being genetically pre-determined and than 10 percent unintentional activities. So choosing to go on a vacation can have a significant impact on a person’s happiness levels.

Taking trips or vacationing can affect happiness through the process of the anticipation, the event and the post-trip afterglow effect. Even months later, the memories of the vacation can increase happiness.

Research is inconclusive as to whether or not people who choose to vacation more are simply happier people than people who don’t choose to go on vacations according to Nawijn’s research.

One of the ultimate conclusions to Nawijn’s study is that vacationing only had a minor affect to people’s happiness. A possible explanation for this is that in Western societies tourism is seen more as the norm and no longer consider particularly special.

Taking this research into consideration, when it comes to traveling the best way to reap the most benefits is to improve the memories made during the trip. While sustaining the positive memories of the trip, it is also important not to fall into comparison with every day life because that can lead to diminished happiness over time.

Journaling

The process of reflective writing in a journal daily can help with processing negative events and create a frame for positive thoughts to flourish.

According to M. B. Williams psychology techniques book, reflective writing helps people better understand things in life. The key to journaling is found in consistency in taking the time to write thoughtfully with a purpose each day.

Daily writing is important because patterns of behavior and thought can be captured and then later reviewed to help people predict and advert negative behaviors. It also helps to have an established record of happy days to reflect on when life gets stressful. Write for quantity not quality; journals don’t need perfect spelling, grammar or writing style.

Mindful Journaling

To journal effectively is to practice mindfulness. This calls people to be engaged observers in documenting what they see.

One way to be an observer while traveling is to look for the differences between there and home. Is the language different? Does this place celebrate different holidays? Does it differ in shopping habits, meal times, currency, accents and dialects, ways of showing respect or more?

A travel journal when done mindfully can bring out people’s creative side naturally. The work of capturing ideas, impressions, experiences, emotions, events and information can easily fall into poetic prose.

In Linda Dini Jenkins “Journaling on the road” article, she discussed the various ways travel journaling helps improve memory and enhance creativity.

Check out my video on mindful travel journaling!

“Place is a powerful force, and we’re all drawn to different kinds of places for different reasons,” Jenkins wrote.

Place indeed is a powerful force and a journal helps bring the memories of that place closer even after leaving.

A good mindful journal should not simply be a recap of the travel itinerary. It should capture scene and the essence of the most inspiring moments from the day.

One of the tips that Jenkins gives in her article to make the most out of travel journal writing is to use the five senses each day. When writing a journal treat it like detective work and investigate the new surroundings.

As Kabat-Zinn wrote, the mind is like a mirror and mindfulness allows the mind to contain, encounter and know things as they are. It is a deeper level of wakefulness during experiences that allows for a better understanding of the human condition.

Jenkins’ stated the goal of a travel journal is to primarily “capture who you are in the moment.”