Unless you’ve been in a coma, or meditating in the desert, you’ve probably been hearing a lot right now about COVID-19, a new particular strain of the coronavirus (no connection to the beer), that has been wreaking havoc all over the globe. In Pennsylvania, over the span of a few days, we went from a couple of schools closing for a couple of days, to a whole county “closing,” to every school in the state temporarily closed and a national state of emergency. And, as things go, when people hear “emergency,” they panic – storm the grocery stores and take all the bread, water, and toilet paper they can fit in their cars. The 24 hour news cycle, which was already stressful, has taken on a life of its own as stories and new information comes minute by minute. Some businesses are closed, people are told to stay home, while others are still expected to go to work, “essential” or not. People are forced to be in close proximity for extended time with their families, which for some can be nice, but for others can be difficult or even harmful to their emotional well-being.
So, what is anyone supposed to do with all of this? For starters, take time off social media! With all this extra time on my hands, I’ve noticed my social media consumption (and screen time in general) has gone up significantly in the past week. Social media has been linked to have negative impacts on mood, self-esteem, and overall well-being. While it can be nice to stay in touch with family and friends, especially now when we are limited in how social we can be physically, there are significant challenges that social media presents for us. For one, false information. This is of course not new, but in regards to COVID-19, information can be spread with no basis in reality, causing more alarm and sense of unease that is already at high levels. Another culprit: other peoples’ rants. Again, not new, but reading about negativity can put us in a similar mindset, which further escalates our negative emotions. Setting purposeful limits with how much social media you are allowing yourself to consume, and being able to disconnect when you start to feel overwhelmed, is a great start.
‘Wait, this post is called “staying in the moment” but all you’ve done is complain about social media!’ I hear you say. I’m getting there. You’ve probably heard of a little thing called “mindfulness” pop up somewhere over the past couple of years. It’s become THE thing in mental health and overall stress relief. Essentially, what it is is being aware of things right in the moment – not worrying about the past, the future, or even thoughts or feelings – just being aware of and accepting the moment. If you’re looking for something to fill some of this new free time (if you have it), I suggest reading The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh to learn more about the basis of mindfulness, from a less pop-culture view that we often see now. The basics of is that whatever you are doing in any moment, such as washing the dishes, is all you need to focus on in that moment. Enjoy that time, as it is your time. Really, read the book. He explains it much better.
So while we’re in this moment washing the dishes, how can we focus on the moment?? I know when I do the dishes my mind wanders all over. Part of being mindful is noticing when the mind wanders, and bring it back to the moment. One way we can do this is to pick a sense (sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing). If you’re washing the dishes, you may be able to smell the soap, hear the water running, feel the suds, see things becoming clean, etc. You may not want to taste the soap… so for now we’ll leave that particular sense out. But you get the idea. By focusing on things we can experience in real time, that helps take us out of that constant inner monologue we have that worries about everything and gives us something else to focus on. This can help our brains and bodies to relax a little bit, before we accidentally hear another thing on the news to stress us out again. With all of this uncertainty, try incorporating a little bit of this basic mindfulness to be more in the moment, and less in the worry.