Are you worried about the new coronavirus? Join the crowd; the global crowd, and the global worry! Not only is the new coronavirus by itself a challenge of unprecedented magnitude, but it is also amplifying the challenges we were already facing including the state of the global economy, healthcare costs and accessibility, social inequality, unconscious bias, and more! And now with the lockdown and “shelter in place” measures, yet another dimension of worries is on our hands.
Here are three powerful ways in which mindfulness comes to the rescue:
- Eradicating unnecessary worrying so your immune system can stay healthy and strong during these times when it is needed the most.
- Being fully present so you can pay attention and protect yourself and your community, while still having plenty of moments of enjoyment and gratitude in spite of the pandemic.
- Taking purposeful action so you can avoid the analysis/paralysis syndrome and foster positivity and resilience instead. The best action of all is a daily mindfulness meditation practice, which can also help fuel other constructive actions.
Eradicating unnecessary worrying
I’ll tackle the unnecessary worrying in this article and please stay tuned for the remaining concepts and practices in my follow-up articles.
Unnecessary worrying is worrying about things we can do nothing about. It may also have an element of projecting into the future the worst possible scenarios and behaving as if they already happened. Unnecessary worrying just makes things worse – much worse. It significantly weakens our immune system and impairs our judgement – both capacities being of utmost importance during a virus breakout where our immune system is pretty much our most valuable defense system, and our judgement is the enabler of sound decision-making under pressure.
The first step in reducing unnecessary worrying is to recognize it
Check-in with yourself often. When you catch yourself worrying, which may be some form of self-talk accompanied by unpleasant feelings of anxiety, acknowledge what you’re experiencing and ask yourself a very simple question: “Is it useful?” Gently but firmly question its usefulness!
Questioning might look like this: “Are these thoughts and emotions helping me feel more prepared to take tangible actions, or are they simply the replay of the same not-so-useful thoughts and feelings?” This questioning can help you recognize unnecessary worrying and separate it from the more rational and constructive thinking and planning.
The next step is to give the unnecessary worrying some “space” but not for too long
Even when you recognize the worrying as being the unnecessary kind, it won’t be easy to just stop it. We wish there would be an on/off switch but there isn’t. As humans, we tend to be a bit more complicated than that. Surprise! So what do we do to reduce (or even train ourselves to get to the point where we can eradicate) the unnecessary worrying?
The paradox starts here. We first need to let these unnecessary worries “be,” give them some space, and get curious about them. We need to let the underlying thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations go where they need to go. This is exactly where mindfulness comes into play. Mindfulness in many of its shapes and forms calls for welcoming both the pleasant and unpleasant experiences as opposed to resisting them. The welcoming can soften the unpleasant experiences and turn them into learning events in addition to allowing us to assess how real they are (or are not!).
You may be thinking, this is all good in theory, but how do we really make this happen? You are right! Our human brain needs models and structure, and of course, practice. Two models that I wrote about recently fit exactly these needs. One is RAIN, the ancient Buddhist way to cope with hardship, which involves Recognizing what is going on, Allowing life to be just as it is, Investigating with kindness, and Not-Identifying with the experience but making room for Natural Awareness. And the other model is the Mindfulness @Work 5-Step formula which involves Labeling, Ranking, Accepting, Reframing, and Refocusing. Are you curious? Learn the details and start practicing!
The last step, if needed and applicable, is to “dispute” these worrying thoughts
Disputing the worrying thoughts is where eradication comes into play. The worrying thoughts are likely to be distorted thoughts. Questioning these thoughts and identifying the distortions not only brings these “aha moments” where suddenly our brain comprehends these distortions and dismantles them, but it also engages the prefrontal cortex where our awareness and problem-solving capabilities reside, which helps calm down the nervous system further and helps us restore the threshold of judgement needed to replace these thoughts with realistic and constructive thoughts.
The disputing doesn’t have to be the last step. It can happen during the “Reframe” phase of the Mindfulness @Work 5-Step formula. It can happen even at a later time. It may not need to happen at all if your mindfulness practices calm you down to the point where you feel free of these thoughts and ready to move on. It is, however, a powerful tool for your back pocket. When you deploy this tool and dispute these distorted thoughts, dispute firmly, question the stories that your mind may wish to follow and take for granted, and get back to what is real now!
Stay tuned for my follow-up articles on how “being fully present” and “taking purposeful action” can further help reduce the overwhelm and increase constructive action related to the unprecedented challenge of the new coronavirus!
Related notes and links to other articles
Need help practicing the Mindfulness @Work 5-Step Formula?
Learn more about the 21 Practices for Happiness @Work eCourse, Workshop, or Webinar, where this formula and 20 other practices are presented including tools to help you with your productivity, wellbeing, and skill development.
Articles on “RAIN:”
Feeling Overwhelmed? Remember ”RAIN” https://www.mindful.org/tara-brach-rain-mindfulness-practice/
Ancient Buddhist Way to Cope With Hardship https://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/let-it-rain