In the past few months, I have sat with the idea that it’s an interesting time to be alive. With both COVID-19 and the current political climate, there is a lot going on in the background on any given day. Even if one doesn’t have diagnosed mental health issues, it can have an effect on how we feel and how we are managing on a day to day basis. If you are someone who has a history of mental health issues, it’s sure to exacerbate symptoms. One may find themselves checking out, not watching the news to see how many deaths we have had today or what state is being swept through by the virus. You may find it’s easier to not watch the protests or the latest scandal coming from the White House because it’s overwhelming. The flip side is that without information, how do we make informed decisions when it’s time to vote or to know what we can do as individuals to keep ourselves and our families safe in the midst of a pandemic? The question that I end up coming back to is this: How do we stay informed and engaged in what’s happening in the world around us and still stay engaged and present in our own lives? I find that mindfulness is the key. You may not be able to make a change in how quickly COVID-19 is eradicated or will someone new into power, but you can keep from surrendering to intense reactions these issues bring up.
The dictionary defines mindfulness as 1) the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. 2) a mental state achieved by focusing ones awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting ones feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique. John Kabat-Zinn is a founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBRS) as well as a pioneer of mind-body work. Kabat-Zinn has defined mindfulness meditation as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”. By focusing on the breath, the idea is to cultivate attention on the body and mind as it is moment to moment, and so help with pain, both physical and emotional.
To me, mindfulness means awareness of what is present within us at any given moment; especially when things intensify. Being aware and having acceptance of what is there, even when it’s uncomfortable. I see in my practice that when things intensify, people have been trained to do the very opposite. They push down what they feel without acknowledgment. This leads to more of the same … with the end result of feeling stuck. While the concept of mindfulness is ‘simple’, the practice of it can be challenging. It’s a paradox to ask you to lean into the things that are most uncomfortable. However, I also find that this is when release happens and balance is restored. It seems silly to say that feelings were meant to be felt but I find myself reassuring people of this on a regular basis. Feelings don’t have to be rational to be valid. Body awareness puts us in touch with our inner world. Simply noticing our irritation, anxiety, or distress helps to shift our perspective. This is the balance we work to achieve in therapy and it’s one of the tools that we use.
There are many options to get more information of how this might work for you in the greater Seattle area in the form of books, classes, apps such as Calm or Headspace, or to seek out a therapist who utilizes this in their practice.
By Jennifer Palmer