Thrive by IU Health

September 24, 2020

Practicing Mindfulness During Times of Uncertainty

Practicing Mindfulness During Times of Uncertainty

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the fact that things in life can be out of our control. That sense of unpredictability can cause heightened emotions, leaving you feeling disengaged, fearful, scattered and overwhelmed. Fortunately, there are ways to channel these feelings productively.

“Anyone who is aware of stress and wants to find some peace would benefit from practicing mindfulness,” said John Shephard, who is the IU Health mindfulness program manager and an ICU nurse.

In normal circumstances, we’re prone to hide or not be as aware of our emotions. But 2020 is a different story. Since emotions are on the surface for a lot of us, now is a great time to begin practicing mindfulness. That’s because this practice brings awareness to our emotions and thought patterns, Shephard said.

Practicing mindfulness is a valuable tool for dealing with stress, anxiety, uncertainty and fear. Mindfulness can also lower blood pressure and reduce pain.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a mindset, said Shepard, who first began practicing mindfulness five years ago.

“It’s paying attention to what you’re paying attention to,” said Shephard, “It’s about noticing where your attention is going on a moment-to-moment basis.”

While social distancing measures may have caused a feeling of disconnect with others, now is a good time to connect with yourself.

“It’s about coming back and noticing what’s going on with yourself in any given situation,” Shephard said.

“The hard part of doing that is you realize there are so many thoughts, emotions and biases that are impacting you, so your focus gets pulled different directions,” said Shepard.

People often have the misconception that mindfulness and meditation are the same thing.

“Meditation is the gymnasium to mindfulness because you focus your mind and attention on one thing to strengthen your attention,” Shepard said. As you become more comfortable with recognizing and focusing in on your thoughts, you will begin to better understand yourself and what causes you to feel certain emotions.”

Why should I practice mindfulness?

Practicing mindfulness, especially in times of difficulty, can help you recognize thought patterns you may benefit from correcting while remaining present.

“We have about 70,000 thoughts per day, so creating some space between you and your thoughts can feel really good,” said Shepard.

By consistently taking some time to observe yourself and your thoughts from the outside without judgment, you may notice the following:

  1. Improvement of your ability to stay focused
  2. Deepened emotional intelligence
  3. Strengthened self-awareness
  4. Overall feeling more grounded

It’s important to note that while some may experience immediate benefits from practicing mindfulness, Shepard emphasized that it takes time and practice for most people to be able to make these connections.

“Practicing mindfulness isn’t for everybody, especially those who have suffered trauma or emotional abuse,” Shepard added.

If you have experienced any type of psychological distress and are interested in practicing mindfulness, do so under the direction of a therapist.

How do I get started?

Introducing mindfulness and meditation techniques into your life can help ease feelings of anxiety and fear. While it may sound simple, shutting off voices in your head can be very difficult at times, especially when you are overwhelmed. Techniques include:

  • Paying attention. Take time to notice how you feel in different environments.
  • Living in the moment. Find joy in the moment. Rather than planning ahead or wishing for the past, focus on where you currently are.
  • Giving yourself a break. Treat yourself as you would a friend.
  • Breathing. Close your eyes. Pay attention how your breath moves in an out of your body. Start by filling your lungs from the bottom and up to your shoulders. Feel the air enter and exit your nose.

Shepard offered the following tips to beginners looking to incorporate mindfulness into their lives:

  • Start small: Practice for just a minute or two. Practicing regularly is more important than how long you meditate for.
  • Consistency is key: The more you practice, the more comfortable you will feel. Take some time for yourself each day to clear your mind.
  • Use what is out there: There are all kinds of free meditation apps to help guide you. Shepard recommends: Insight Timer, Headspace and 10% Happier. You can also attend a mindfulness class in your community.

“Above all, be patient and kind with yourself,” Shephard said. “When you begin a meditation or mindfulness practice, it can be difficult. One of the most important things you can do is bring self-compassion to it and give yourself plenty of room.”

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