When Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh spoke about Vietnamese refugee boats being rocked by storms or attacked by pirates, he said, “If everyone panicked all would be lost. But if even one person on the boat remained calm and centred, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive.”
As the coronavirus spreads around the world, so does a pandemic of panic. For most of us, this viral anxiety is an even greater threat to our health than the virus itself.
Stress and anxiety is the body’s flight or fight response activating. This basically hijacks the brain – and we lose contact with the part of our brain that is logical and makes good decisions. That’s great when you’re fighting a tiger and you have to make fast, instinctual movements. But your body’s fight or flight mechanism is not going to save you from coronavirus.
And all this stress is dangerous, too. It not only lowers immunity, it also tightens blood vessels to increase blood pressure and, over time, can increase your risk of a heart attack.
So we need to ask our nervous systems to chill out a bit. Luckily, there are tools to help you stay cool and mindfulness is one of the most powerful. Mindfulness is the very simple practice of paying attention to the present moment.
You can do this by focusing in on your breath or other senses or by tuning in to the people or things around you. Almost everything we do can be done mindfully – eating, chatting, walking – even cleaning.
Beyond the health benefits – like decreased stress and improved immunity – mindfulness has been shown to bring interpersonal benefits too. A 2007 study showed that mindfulness is linked to relationship satisfaction. More mindful people were better able to respond to relationship stress and better at communicating their emotions.
As many of us head into weeks of lockdown with our nearest and dearest, it might be the right time to add some mindfulness to our new daily routine. You can think of it as good mental hygiene – so that you’re doing your bit not to allow anxiety to go viral.
This little habit might just make a big difference to you and the people you interact with – physically and digitally.
Anxiety is contagious but so is calm. We’re all in the same boat – so we keep hearing. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, just one calm person is enough to save the whole lot. Maybe you can learn to be the calm one in your boat.
Your calm can be an anchor for your whanau, friends and co-workers in these stormy seas.
Wanderble has released a Mindfulness in Isolation course, audio mindfulness experiences delivered to inboxes each day. Sign up at Wanderble.com.