These are undoubtedly difficult times for us all. It has been a year since most Americans became aware of the Covid-19 pandemic and it seems as though the stresses and anxieties which fill our lives have steadily increased since that time. Health concerns, social distancing, financial stress, uncertainty about the future, conjecture replaced by misinformation replaced by best guess replaced by…The short truth is that many of us are struggling mentally and emotionally with anxiety and depression on many different levels. So how can we maintain a healthy soul and mind in this climate of fear and uncertainty? This will, hopefully, be the largest test of the mindful resolve of this generation. And it can be successfully navigated!
Key stressors? Everything!
At most times in modern history you would be ushered into a calm, richly appointed office by a smiling therapist; you would have a seat on a leather couch; the therapist would sit across from you and start trying to identify the sources of your anxiety/depression. Well, what do you do when your key stressors are EVERYTHING going on in the world? That is going to be quite a long session! But for many Americans, the stresses and anxieties being felt these days due to the Covid-19 pandemic are constant and debilitating. Usually this blog aims at the more ethereal definitions of “joy”, “happiness” and “inner-peace”. However with so many suffering the effects of major life anxiety and depression, it is time to scale back and focus on the daily, real world need for a healthy mindfulness routine.
Who is being most greatly effected by Covid-19 related anxiety and depression? Studies have shown that young women in the lower income bracket who have been financially affected are the most psychologically effected.
A focus on mindfulness.
Mindfulness is defined as:
“A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”Oxford Dictionary
Simply put, mindfulness is living in the moment, while being aware of your anxiety or depression. The key is to be aware of your feelings of anxiety or depression, but not allow these negative emotions to rule your consciousness. Instead, you keep your mind trained on the present moment.
Great! But how?
It is important to remember to make mindfulness a mental health routine, not just a band-aid. The more you practice the techniques, the more natural they will feel and the more effective they will become. There are many suggestions out there for mindfulness. Some make sense, some sound like craziness. I have even seen a suggestion to practice mindful handwashing. Umm. Riiiiight. No relaxation shaming here. Find what works best for you. I am going to give you MY opinions and suggestions, but feel free to make them work for you!
My morning anti-anxiety routine looks like this. I call it “Wake and Wait”. As soon as I wake up, I lay still and get control of my mind. I take stock of my thoughts and emotions. How do I feel mentally, emotionally? Anxious? Depressed? Defeated? Strong? I acknowledge my emotions and then consciously make the decision to not allow these feelings to control me today. I focus on the sensation of my breathing. For at least a minute, my mind is at rest and my only focus is the sensation of my slow, deep breathing. In. Out. In. Out. Nothing else exists. Nothing else matters. The world will wait. Then I get up and start my day, trying to keep myself in that general headspace. Just this 1 or 2 minutes at the start of your day can allow you to stay more centered and in touch with the current moment.
What about the surprise anxiety sneak attack during the day or night?
If you have ever experienced an anxiety attack, you will agree that it is the most frightening and confusing mental rollercoaster possible. You can quite literally feel like you are dying; like a fish out of water choking on air; like you are staring into a great abyss from which there is no escape. They are sudden and they are devastating. When I feel the onset of an anxiety attack, I make myself S.T.O.P.
- S – Stop what you are doing and take a moment to be still.
- T – Take a few slow, deep breaths and focus only on that sensation.
- O – Observe any thoughts and emotions you are feeling. Acknowledge them but give them no control.
- P – Pause and re-focus on your breathing. When ready, proceed with your day in a calmer state.
Also, do not be afraid to use a life line and Phone-A-Friend! Or FaceTime a friend or Zoom a friend. Texting is a great tool when you want to convey a quick message to someone. But it lacks a very important human need – sensory input. In times of stress, whether it be anxiety or depression, we need to see a comforting face or hear a familiar voice to receive the full benefit. Humans are social creatures by nature. We crave and function on live interactions with other humans, be they family, friends or strangers. However, when we are put under stress, we tend to withdraw into ourselves – the exact opposite action than we need! Force yourself to relearn what your mind and soul need; not what you feel like doing, but what you need to be doing. This same concept causes us problems in the current masked-up world. Meeting in person, at least in public, is currently not something that will help! Covering a large portion of your face with a mask negates your needs being met. Your brain does not take in the familiar and comforting face visually, and the mask alters the voice enough that your brain does not get the familiar auditory input it requires either. The need to be masked, and in fact the stress of the Covid-19 pandemic as a whole, also affects a specific group of individuals in potentially emotionally destabilizing ways. School-aged children.
“School-aged” children specifically refers to children ranging from age 6-12. These are the years during which, according to psychologists, humans form the majority of their social skills, as well as their future coping mechanisms. Children are not just small version of adults. We are not born with the ability to “handle” adversity. We are, however, born with dopamine receptors that function to soothe and calm us in times of stress. Dopamine is the body’s natural happy chemical. When our needs are met, our brain triggers a release of dopamine and so we feel better. Children’s dopamine receptors work in the exact same way. The stress of school is normally lessened by the visual and auditory familiarity of friends and teachers. However, Covid-19 has thrown a giant monkey wrench into those gears. Everyone is now covered with a mask, including the child, and so the once familiar now looks and sounds different. Add in the need for many children to instantly adapt to virtual or blended learning models, as well as increased stress levels of the adults in their lives, and the mix can be devastating. Due to the novel circumstances (no pun intended), psychologists are at odds with just what the long-term effects will be in today’s children. There is, however, no disagreement that these children are showing more signs of anxiety and depression disorders than at anytime since the Great Depression. Please understand, this is in no way an anti-masking argument! We are all doing what we need to do based on our values system. That does not mean, however, that the development of children at key stages will just wait or just occur normally regardless of their surroundings. My suggestion is this: IT IS NEVER TOO EARLY TO INSTITUTE A ROUTINE OF MINDFULNESS. It is never too early to teach our children appropriate coping mechanisms and ways to keep themselves mentally and emotionally healthy. They need the support, the care and the reassurance. Don’t we all? Get them practicing a mindfulness routine and get them meditating.
Wrap it up already!
A mindfulness routine and the ability to breathe through sudden attacks WILL help throughout this pandemic and beyond, especially when combined with a regular routine of meditation. A soul living in the mindful moments of life with the bravery to explore all that makes him/her special is truly a gift to the universe.
Nothing has the right to steal a single second of your joy, your happiness or your peace. Nothing. And certainly not a virus. Covid-19 will eventually be nothing more than a chapter in a history textbook. Life will go on. Humanity has endured far worse. Tomorrow the sun will rise and you will wake up. From there, it is up to you. Make each moment count.