The Coronavirus pandemic has many people on edge. Psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Branch has a simple suggestion to help cut through the anxiety: try mindfulness.
Mindfulness is simply living in the moment. Pay attention to the surroundings and, without judgment, acknowledge any thought that pops up. Mindfulness can be practiced in an organized manner, where time is set aside to sit down and focus on the breath, or it can be integrated into everyday life by fully and non-judgmentally experiencing simple things, like grocery shopping or time at the gym.
For those just starting out with mindfulness, Branch suggests a simple breathing exercise to push away the pandemic panic. Take a deep breath. Count to five as you inhale. Exhale, repeating the five count, and feel the body slowly release tension. Repeat at least three times for a full meditation.
For sudden episodes of panic, Branch suggests using her RAIN approach. RAIN stands for recognize, allow, investigate, and nurture. First, recognize the feeling of panic arising. Sit with it; allow the feeling to exist without judgment. Investigate where the feeling of panic originates and try to breathe into that spot. Finally, nurture the self. Focus on the heartbeat, or try to state a soothing message such as, “It’s OK.”
RAIN works because, when the body is in a state of panic, the limbic system goes into a frenzy. Simply recognizing the fear and assigning a name to it kickstarts the prefrontal cortex, and mindfulness allows the brain’s executive functioning and ability to make proper decisions to return.
Branch also recommends choosing mindfulness over screen time, as binge-watching the news simply agitates the brain and drives it further into panic. Instead, spend quality, mindful time listening to music or exploring nature.
She also recognizes the practice of gratitude as a way to calm pandemic panic. By mindfully exploring simple moments and recognizing the good in them, it helps the brain shy away from the negativity brought on by the news. Branch even suggests naming someone a gratitude buddy. At the end of the day, exchange a phone call, text message, or email with the gratitude buddy naming three positive, gratitude-inducing things to easily and instantly lift the spirits.