The current global pandemic is causing even those who are normally most immune to worry to experience unprecedented levels of anxiety. The dire threat of this virus alone is terrifying. Add to that the uncertainty about how it will affect our lives in the days, weeks, and, perhaps, months to come, and our dizzying efforts to adjust to changes that impact every aspect of our lives, it is no wonder that the resulting stress feels oppressive. Possibly the greatest contributor to the staggering stress levels is the lack of control that we have over our lives and the lives of our loved ones.
The fight against COVID-19 is creating so much anxiety and stress. What can mindfulness possibly bring to the table to cope with the seemingly overwhelming challenge? Mindfulness, defined as paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, can help us to identify and bring attention to what we can control. Without minimizing the need to keep abreast of the latest developments and guidelines, if we can redirect our attention from all that we can’t do, control, or anticipate, and imagining worst-case-scenarios, to things that we can both control, and that are associated with improved health outcomes, we can decrease both stress and our risk of becoming sick.
What would it be like to fight for health, instead of fighting against COVID-19? First, consider all of the domains that contribute to good health: physical, emotional, spiritual and social. Insuring that each domain is attended to builds resilience to illness and stress. Then, identify behaviors within any of these domains that are within your control, including:
- Physical health: make healthy food choices, eat mindfully, exercise, drink more water
- Emotional health: read, engage in hobbies, learn something new, meditate, spend time in nature, keep a gratitude journal, connect with a therapist via telehealth
- Spiritual health: participate in virtual worship experiences, read from or follow inspirational figures, pray
- Social health: keep in touch with family and friends, join and take part in communities (based on shared geography, values, or interests), practice random acts of kindness
Start small. Choose one domain, or just one activity within any of the domains. Then, commit to doing at least one thing every day that is aligned with your healthy intention. Tell people about your intention so that they can support you (maybe even join with you!), and create visual cues or reminders so that you will remember your intention. The threat is real, however, allowing the threat to monopolize our attention contributes to feeling overwhelmed by uncertainty, fear, anxiety, and stress. There are many things, especially in these challenging times, that are beyond our control. But instead of being consumed with the fight against COVID-19, fight mindfully – commit to and engage in the pursuit of health.