What being mindful means and ways to implement it with Covid-19

Today’s guest blog comes from therapist Tijana Jirecek, LCPC. Tijana is a clinician at Pivot Point Counseling in Harford County, Maryland, specializing with clients suffering from anxiety, depression, trauma, peer, family, and relationship issues, substance use disorder and addiction, anger management, and life transitions. In this post, she discusses what mindfulness is, how to implement mindfulness practices, and how mindfulness can be beneficial, especially in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

“Mindfulness has been talked about more and more as a lifestyle buzzword. I want to take a moment to thoroughly explain what it means, what it can look like and how it can be implemented during this global pandemic where a majority of the population is being forced to slow down, work from home or are out of work, and are very limited in where they can go, who they can see and generally what they can do.

What is Mindfulness?

Firstly, mindfulness is not meditation. Sometimes when I bring up mindfulness with clients, their response is “oh, mindfulness like meditating? no, I don’t do that”. My response: “Good, ’cause that’s not what this is”. Being mindful does not mean you have to get on YouTube and follow along with a guided meditation, it does not mean that you have to clear your mind and push away any thoughts. It just means that you take extra care in attending to anything that you are doing and that you are present. It does not mean that you have no thoughts, it actually means the opposite. It means that your mind is overloaded with being so present in the moment that you do not have any additional space for anxiety or judgment.

Let me give you an example! Let’s say that you want to mindfully eat your breakfast. I actually just took a break from writing this to be able to mindfully eat my breakfast! Okay, so let’s say you have your plate of eggs and toast, and a morning beverage, maybe coffee. When practicing mindfulness, you want to try to engage as many senses as you can. For example, you would focus on the taste, temperature and texture of everything in front of you in your mouth, the feel of the toast in your hand, the smells coming from the breakfast and the coffee, perhaps looking at every bite before you take it, and whatever it is that you can hear around you – maybe birds chirping or the crunch of the toast or the slurping of the coffee. (Did I miss any senses? I hope not) If you turn this inwardly, you can also focus on your own physical sensations, such as the feeling of becoming more satiated, the warmth of the coffee as you swallow it and perhaps an increase in energy from the fuel you are ingesting, or just how you are breathing during this time.

By really engaging in each activity, your brain has little space to catastrophize or panic, and if it still does, guess what- that’s okay too! Again, the point of mindfulness is not to remove all thoughts, and if anxiety and stress sneak in, the goal is to observe it without judgment. Sometimes just thinking that we are not allowed to feel something is enough to exacerbate that feeling and spiral. Allowing yourself to feel the anxiety, the ebb and flow in it, and observe that in some moments it may feel worse, and in others, it tends to ease up a little. This allows us to learn more about ourselves and in turn control some of our symptoms better. So becoming an observer in your own body and allowing yourself to soak in everything around you and within you, for even a brief moment in time.

The idea of mindfulness reminds me of Savasana, which is typically the final pose in yoga practice. From the outside perspective, it looks like a person laying down on a yoga mat – that’s it. Kind of like they fell asleep on there. Someone who knows nothing about the practice may be like “that’s a weird place to take a nap”. But from the perspective of the person performing the pose, they are allowing their body to soak in everything that they just did during their practice. Similarly, with mindfulness an outside person may be like “that person is eating kinda slowly” but from your perspective, as the eater, you are soaking in everything that is around you.

How else can mindfulness be implemented with Covid-19?

Now, I understand we can’t spend our whole day being especially mindful of all things. So, some other ways to cope while incorporating mindfulness would be to create loose structure in your day and try to do one or two things mindfully. For example, creating structure for the morning and for bedtime, and maybe one “fun” thing and one “productive” thing for each day. Or having a monthly or weekly calendar to have an easier time keeping track of the days, especially if you have children, as this can help them maintain structure and understand that just because everyone is home all day does not mean that it is always playtime.

Finally, being mindful also means paying attention to our thoughts, not only being present in the moment. This pandemic can create a space where it is very easy to spiral into negative thoughts in general, as well as negative self-talk. A good skill that we can all practice is cognitive reframing – just because everyone has more time now does not mean that everyone has the financial and mental resources to be productive and move at the same pace that they did when there was not a global crisis. When negative thoughts come into your mind, again with no judgment and as an observer, reframing them into something positive and more manageable.

For example, “I have no purpose because I cannot work and am doing nothing all day” can be reframed into “my purpose is to stay indoors and away from others so that I can keep myself, my loved ones and others safe”, or “my life and schedule was so busy and this is a time for me to get the break and rest that I have needed”. This can be a difficult skill to use because our thoughts come and go so quickly sometimes, so practicing it starting with once per day and moving your way up from there. Writing some reframes down and looking back on them can also help if it seems that your anxiety is uncontrollable.

This is something new for everyone, it is an unprecedented time and everyone is trying to find ways to cope. Trying some of these skills can feel unnatural or artificial at first and may take a few times to start to feel natural and feel like it’s actually working, and it might even be fun!”

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