All of a sudden, we find ourselves in an intense and stressful time. Many of us feel anxious and uncertain, not just because of COVID-19 but also because of all the unprecedented measures that are being taken all around the world.
These are things we have never seen before, such as borders closing and millions of people in lock-down. The world as we have known it has changed. Our lives have fundamentally changed.
WHY UNCERTAINTY LEADS TO STRESS
Our brains work best on stability and predictability. That’s why we put the same things on our shopping list, cook the same recipes every week and always take the same route to work. Predictability means that our lower brain processes can run on autopilot which conserves energy and makes higher brain processes such as empathy, creativity, and long-term thinking possible. Generally, our brain can cope well with some change. However, it’s not well equipped to handle as many major changes as we are now facing all at once. There are instant changes such as health risks, job security, finances, travel plans, how and where we work, childcare and education, sports and leisure activities… The list goes on and on. Our brains are responding to this with stress and anxiety. That makes perfect sense.
The constant messaging from (social) media is further ramping up the fear and stress. This can make it hard to sleep, relax, or think clearly. It can make it hard to be present with and kind to our loved ones. It will understandably impact our mental health, making it even harder to cope with the situation we find ourselves in.
HOW TO CALM YOUR ANXIETY
Our worries aren’t unfounded but worrying itself achieves nothing. Luckily, there are ways we can help our brains reduce stress and anxiety. Using mindfulness exercises, we can activate a state I call the green brain. It allows our survival brain, emotional brain and thinking brain work in harmony. It also helps us to avoid the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response and cope with change. We can stay connected to each other and problem-solve to the best of our ability.
Mindfulness is not about ignoring what is happening in the world, it is engaging with the facts without letting them hijack your thoughts and emotions. In the green brain, you can think clearly, problem-solve effectively and protect your mental health.
1. Be present
Mindfulness is learning how to be more present and aware. It is the best antidote to worrying about what might happen in the future or worrying about what is happening elsewhere. Paying attention to the present moment, where you are, what you’re doing, what’s happening right in front of you, immediately calms the mind and reduces stress and anxiety.
2. Think in a kind and non-judgmental way
Mindfulness practice teaches you to respond to change in a kind and non-judgmental way. You will be able to engage with facts, rather than your fears of what might happen. You will focus on being aware of and accepting the emotions these events trigger so they can be processed. This way, you can keep unhelpful stress at bay and stay kind, compassionate and rational.
CALM AMIDST THE COVID-19 STORM
Yes, it will be hard to be cooped up, experience financial insecurity and maybe witness loved ones getting sick. But regardless of how challenging it might be, it is not all bad. There are gems to be found among the chaos and the stress. It gives us time to slow down, play games, be creative, be together.
Neighbours are becoming more connected, new ideas and innovation will be born in these times and just like nature, we will have a chance to replenish and restore. We need our green brain to see and embrace these gems because they are easy to miss.
There has never been a better time to learn mindfulness.