by Julie Potiker, author of “Life Falls Apart, But You Don’t Have To“
It’s natural to feel overwhelmed and stressed out during these uncertain times, but numerous studies have shown that stress weakens the immune system. The emotional reality of this moment in history is putting us at risk just when we most need to protect our health. Mindfulness-based stress reduction is one technique to help protect our immune systems while the world continues to navigate the coronavirus pandemic.
Mindfulness is the practice of honing your focused attention and choosing what you wish to focus attentively on. Here are some tips that people at any level of mindfulness experience — from complete beginner to practiced expert — can use to reduce stress in their life and protect their immune system.
1. Relax with a mindfulness meditation.
Start with 12 minutes twice a day — or 20 minutes twice a day if you can make time. Look for guided meditations on Insight Timer or the free Balanced Mind with Julie Potiker podcast on iTunes. Mix it up so that your mind is relaxing into the practice.
2. Make time for joy.
Create a “joy list” and commit to choosing one or two things from it to do each day. To create the list, just let your mind wander for a few minutes with a pen and paper and watch the list grow. Don’t forget to add all life’s little joys, like a warm cup of tea or a bath. Then, when you pick something to bring joy to your day, do so with mindfulness; really feel the good feelings. Take a few breaths to absorb them and enrich the resulting positive mental state. This allows you to push the mental state to a neural trait, making a happy bridge in your brain and building your resilience.
3. Name it to tame it.
Identify what you are feeling and where it is occurring in your body. For example, “I feel stressed; my neck is tightening up.” This practice allows you to use mindfulness to step into awareness and out of the intensity of the emotional state.
4. Ground yourself through the soles of your feet.
Put your feet on the ground and send your attention down to the soles of your feet. How do they feel? Are you in socks and shoes? Barefoot? Cold or warm? Moist or dry? The act of doing this breaks the discursive loop of thoughts and emotions.
5. Practice mindfulness with your food.
Be the observer and pay mindful attention to the way you prepare, serve, and eat your food. Slice and dice mindfully; put your fork to your mouth mindfully; taste and chew mindfully. When you notice your attention being diverted to worrying about what might happen, or ruminating on the latest upsetting news story, gently bring your attention back to what you’re doing. If you can keep your attention here, even for two or three minutes, you will be giving your brain a much-needed break from stress — while simultaneously encouraging healthy eating practices!
When we go through times of crisis, it can feel like we just have to push our way through in order to make it out the other side. It’s exhausting! In times like these, yes, we need stamina… but we also need coping strategies that help to soothe us right here, right now. Mindfulness is a highly effective tool that is easy for anyone to learn and use. It has saved my life in the past when I navigated hardship and chaos, and it has proven to be an invaluable resource during this pandemic.
Author and mindfulness expert Julie Potiker is an attorney who began her serious study and investigation of mindfulness after graduating from the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of California, San Diego. She shares mindfulness techniques with the world through her Mindful Methods for Life trainings and her new book “Life Falls Apart, But You Don’t Have To“.