As the pandemic lingers longer and longer, it’s easy for worry and anxiety to grow.
And, understandably so.
People have lost jobs, families and friends haven’t seen one another in person in months, COVID-19 cases keep rising, and it’s unknown when things might change.
There are many aspects of life that we can’t control. But we can control how we respond, experts at Sanford Health say.
What is mindfulness?
Andrea Paradis, an integrative care educator at the Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo, North Dakota, encourages responding to these challenges mindfully. In her role, she helps patients with stress management through methods like hypnotherapy, guided meditation, aromatherapy and more.
She defines mindfulness as being aware and present.
“Mindfulness is being aware of the present moment, on purpose, and the most important part in my opinion, without judgement. So, being aware of where you are in any moment and not judging where you are in that moment,” she said.
Ellie Schellinger, director of integrative health at the Sanford USD Medical Center, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, echoes Paradis, saying mindfulness can help patients focus on the present.
“Many of the day-to-day thoughts we have are focused on the future or on the past, while the actual life we are living speeds by unacknowledged. When life is approached through the lens of worry, regret or distraction, our response in the moment can become automatic, born out of habit and reactivity rather than thoughtful responsiveness,” said Schellinger.
She adds that developing mindfulness practices “provides an opportunity to tap into the truth and wisdom that lies within each of us.”
“This allows us to respond to each moment with awareness of its uniqueness and our connectedness. Thereby, living our lives more fully, improving relationships, and decreasing the wear and tear stress takes on our bodies.”
And, the pandemic has added stress to everyone, making this practice all the more important, says Paradis.
She says throughout the pandemic, everyone has found themselves in situations that are out of their control. Many issues can arise from attempting to predict the future or change the past, she says.
“All we have is his this moment. You can choose to not be in this moment. But, you can also choose to be in the moment and not judging it. Then, whatever is going on, whatever situation you’re in, you have choices of ‘OK, this is what happened.’ Or, ‘This is where I’m at, where am I going to go from here? What am I going to do with it?'” Paradis said.
Related: Mindfulness for health care workers
Schellinger says since there’s been a swirl of negativity that’s come with the pandemic, it’s been easier than ever to focus on the bad. But, the practice of mindfulness offers an awareness “that life passes through its phases, like clouds move across the sky.”
“If we open ourselves up to it, our living happens much more in the in-between. Rather than the peaks and troughs, if we are willing to let go. By being aware of this constant change and uncertainty, sometimes called ‘groundlessness,’ we can weather stressful times, like COVID, in a healthier way.”
Ways to practice mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness looks different for each person, Paradis and Schellinger say. However, before anyone can practice mindfulness, they need to first be open and honest about where they’re at, and how they’re feeling, according to Paradis.
“It’s accepting where you are in each and every moment and being completely present with it. It’s OK to be angry about something. It’s OK to experience sadness. But first, you’ve got to fully know that emotion is what’s happening. You have to be aware of the present moment.”
Since mindfulness can help a patient fully identify where they are mentally, it can also be an indicator of whether they need to seek help, she says.
“Mindfulness will help to decide when it’s not safe to be in a certain mental place, and when to bring out what I call the big guns of self care, mental health, and taking care of yourself,” said Paradis.
So, what are those “big guns” of self care? As she previously alluded to, they’re different for everyone.
As an example, Paradis identified what works for her.
“When I know that I’m in a place that’s not helpful for me, when I’m living a way I don’t want to be living, or interacting with others in a way I don’t want to be, for me it’s things like: therapy, getting a massage, doing a longer yoga or meditation practice.”
Mindfulness resources at Sanford
Shanna Konz is a women’s health nurse practitioner at the Sanford Women’s Health Plaza in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She explains how there’s both formal and informal ways to practice mindfulness. And, Sanford Health has tips for both.
“More of the formal would be attending the eight-week mindfulness based stress reduction course. Or, even setting time out of your day and focusing on breathing, or doing something called the body scan, where you really pay attention to what different sensations you’re having throughout different parts of your body.
“We have power to get ourselves out from that fight-or-flight response into one of more relaxation by simply focusing on breathing. Breathing in for a few seconds, holding it, and then breathing out.”
She adds that informal ways include an enhanced focus on the aspects of life that have otherwise become mundane.
“Simply pay attention to the things you do every day, like washing the dishes. You can pay attention to how the water feels, what the temperature is, how it appears as the suds go throughout the water. So, something very mindless that can actually have a big impact on what is going on in your ind, and really help stop that mind chatter.”
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