Pandemic Stress and Mindfulness

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QUESTION: Pandemic stress – what’s mindfulness got to do with it?

ANSWER: Everything!

Any time we are highly stressed, the rational thinking part of our brain automatically takes a back seat to the more primitive, emotionally-reactive parts of our brain.

These “amygdala hijackings” serve the purpose of self-protection in times of danger. They send us into “Fight or Flight” survival mode – or sometimes into “Freeze” shut-down mode.

With the novel coronavirus pandemic, there is widespread, real-world danger right now.

However, constant media attention, social media chatter, and your own non-stop worries, can overload our self-protection circuits and spin us out of control.

In short, our nervous system, if not tended to properly, can make us more nervous!

What’s the alternative?  Mindfulness in action.

Remember, mindfulness is the mental skill of paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment, non-judgmentally.  It’s being able to see clearly what is here now, and being able to make peace with it.  It’s the ability to cultivate present-moment awareness and acceptance.

Why bother with all this NOW?

Because mindfulness practices help us to stop fighting reality or fleeing from it, but rather to face it clearly, calmly, and compassionately – head on.

Mindfulness skills help our higher, wiser selves to respond skillfully to the situation – pandemic crisis or otherwise! – rather than react impulsively, even harmfully.

For the geeks amongst us: It literally connects us to our higher-order thinking capacities (in the prefrontal cortex), and quiets the fear-driven, emotionally reactive circuits in the lower brain (amygdala and limbic system).

So for the next several weeks, we will go back to basics.  We will hone the daily habit of mind of pausing to notice, more simply and plainly, what is here nowand what we can and can’t (perhaps should or shouldn’t) do about it.

We’ll rediscover our capacities to show up in our lives, however stress-filled, with more kindness, curiosity and courage – less unproductive anxiety, anger, or delusion.

We’ll strengthen our capacities, both individually and collectively, for growing resilience in the face of adversity.

We’ll nourish our emotional well-being while reasonably protecting ourselves from physical illness.

We’ll find the pathways toward post-traumatic growth, rather than post-traumatic stress.

We have real choices before us:

  • Take smart precautions or unnecessary risks.
  • Practice self-care or keep ignoring our needs.
  • Turn against one another or come together.
  • Strengthen our children’s resilience, or amplify their fears and frustrations.

By care-fully attending to our circumstances, we can choose to live with wisdom and compassion, even in the face of loss and grief.

Let’s continue on, more mindfully and compassionately, together.  It sure beats the alternatives!