Uncertainty looms as the global pandemic persists. We have so far covered a range of topics on the effects of COVID-19: from how our sleep may be affected, to relational conflicts with family/partners and staying motivated during these tough times to the role of parents and technology in helping us cope. Amidst the uncertainty and confusion on the news and in our lives, perhaps we ought to turn to mindfulness – the focus of today’s blog – to ground us back in the present.
In this COVID-19-dominated world, how do we go about easing the discomfort around uncertainty so that we make sure to stay healthy?
First, recognise the source of your stress. Categorising whether your stress is external to you (outside/environmental) or internal (individual physiology/thinking patterns/anxiety) can help you understand whether or not you have any control over them or not. For example, our COVID-19 study has previously identified various sources of stress ranging from external (lack of social distancing (51.8%), uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 (50.8%), the future (46.3%), to the individual’s current mental/physical health (30-34%). One might benefit by focusing on the internal factors more so, as you have more control over them.
Second, practice mindfulness to help better manage your stress. Mindfulness is a state of consciousness where we focus on our moment-to-moment experience. There are a wide variety of techniques one can try such as those suggested below!
Third, start small and repeat. We know from behavioural research that to enact to big and sustainable change, one must start with creating small habits. So pick one technique above to try, and see how you feel about it! Over time, these tiny habits will amount to more long-lasting change. But how might mindfulness practices benefit you? Below are three key areas of benefit:
1. Emotional regulation
Studies suggest that mindfulness results in more effective regulation of an individual’s emotions because of an increase in metacognitive awareness. This leads to disengagement from perseverative cognitive activities. In addition, individuals may experience a decrease in reactivity to emotional stimuli due to practicing mindfulness over time. Importantly, catching yourself when you are about to react in an ‘explosive’ way is a good start. From there, a trick that may help, is to engage in deep breathing for 6-8 breaths. Through repeated practice, you will gradually increase emotional stability and feel more secure during this difficult time!
2. Attentional control:
Practicing mindfulness also allows for improvements in sustained attention. This means, you will be better able to hone and control your attention onto your task (with minimal distraction) and increase your ability to switch between tasks as well. Research suggests that grasping good attentional control can increase self-regulation in behaviours, motivations and emotions.
3. Stress reduction:
In terms of stress, studies of mindfulness-based stress reduction have shown that practicing mindfulness reduces one’s sense of perceived stress level and psychological symptoms of stress. Practicing mindfulness can help individual’s tune into their needs and the needs of others resulting in heightened empathy and increased sense of belongingness to a community. Regardless of it being a pre- or post-COVID-19 world, certain stressors are here to stay. So, improvements in emotional regulation and attentional control can allow for a more effective and healthy response to our short- and long-term stressors. Although the current circumstances are less than ideal (an understatement), practicing mindfulness regularly may ease some of the short- and long-term stress we are facing.
How do I get started?
You can get started on your mindfulness journey with the simple techniques noted above or by using an application. There are several free applications available including:
- Headspace — available on iOS and Android.
- Aura — available on iOS and Android.
- MyLife Meditation — available on iOS and Android.
Good luck on your path towards mindfulness! Please get in touch with us at email@example.com to share your experience and/or let me know your thoughts about this topic!
This post was written by Ms. Reina Kirpalani (@rkirpalani), a third year student on the BSc in Psychology with Education degree at UCL with minor comments from Dr Keri Wong (@DrKeriWong). You can reach Reina directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.