2020 started out so promising, didn’t it?! Remember the sense of excitement as we sailed into a new decade? “2020!” people exclaimed. It sounded so futuristic and so…symmetrical.
No one could have predicted the year that was about to unfold. No one thought PANDEMIC! as they optimistically set resolutions for a brand new decade. And yet, here we are. Not only has the coronavirus changed our way of life, but the psychological impact could leave a lasting effect on the very fabric of our society.
The unknown is the aspect of life that we simply cannot control. You can never really know what is around the corner. For most of us, the unknown is the very nature of what makes this current situation so insidious. Our uncertainty leads us to meet every interaction with hypersensitivity and caution. This can have a cumulative stress effect on the body and mind over time. Acute stress is when symptoms develop due to a stressful event but don’t usually last for long. The nature of this threat is ongoing, however, which can lead to a constant state of heightened alertness. This is chronic stress and it can have ill effects on our physical and mental sense of wellbeing.
Just this morning, I heard from a friend whose relative is in critical care with COVID-19. She’s made a plea to her social media following to wear a mask. Last week, I heard from a student whose elderly mother had died alone in a nursing home. No one could visit, and they can’t hold a public funeral for her. She was beside herself with grief and frustration. I spoke to a group in the tech industry who are all working from home and feeling the very real effects of social isolation and loneliness. I know of many people who are out of work and struggling to make ends meet. In my neighborhood, storefronts are empty and restaurants have closed down. I spoke to a nurse who works in addiction; she has been run off her feet with overdose cases. We hear stories like this every day. The trickle-down effect is enormous, and only time will tell of the real toll this catastrophe will have taken on our lives.
In my family, when tensions get high we have a “mindful moment.” We pause, get still, and feel the ground beneath us as we take a deep belly breath. This creates a buffer between the stressful event and our reaction to it. It also shifts our attention from the mind and onto the sensations of the breath while relaxing the abdomen, helping to downregulate the stress response.
I also like to incorporate any big emotions that I’m experiencing into my yoga and meditation practice. If you’ve ever practiced with me, you’ll know one of my opening lines is “notice what you are feeling.” This includes stressful thoughts, difficult emotions, and even numbness. Our natural inclination is to deny these feelings. But there is a saying that “whatever you resist persists.” So, notice what you are feeling and allow it to be. Just as it is. Without problem-solving or pushing away. Without detaching from or denying. Simply allowing and being with all that is with gentleness and compassion. With this welcoming, we can begin to take the edge off some of the big emotions such as fear, grief, and worry.
Lastly, finding ways for meaningful connection is paramount—even if this is via a screen or over the fence with a neighbor. Taking the time to be with someone completely, without distractions, is a balm for the mind and heart. We are social beings and having the experience that you are not alone is a great source of energy, comfort, and peace.
If you’d like to make space to be with your feelings in your practice, Jo guides you through the process in her supportive yoga program, Flowing Through Difficult Emotions.