The concept of coping can mean different things to different people. From avoidance to confrontation and from simply surviving to adapting, there are nearly as many coping strategies as there are human beings. The one thing we rarely hear about is coping by learning; in this case, using mindfulness exercises to cope and learn from the current pandemonium surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.
Can Avoiding Feelings Be Healthy?
One of the most common questions people ask is, “When emotions are especially intense, when triggering events happen almost daily as they are now, isn’t it sometimes helpful to not deal with them; to put off dealing with them for a while?”
It may surprise you to learn that my answer to such a question is – Yes!
Yes, this is an opportunity to learn what triggers your feelings of disruption and stress. Yes, this is a chance to get to know your emotional self more intimately and fully. Yes, this is a chance to discover how to be compassionate and kind to yourself, despite the emotional turmoil you’re experiencing.
A mindful way to think of these feelings is to imagine them like a wave. A really large wave can be overwhelming so avoiding it makes sense. Truly deep water is not something you want to just jump into. Instead, you want to learn about that big wave, that deep water. You want to spend a bit of time with it and wait until the tide is a bit lower.
In times of turmoil or crisis, this makes sense. As does thinking of your response to such a situation as a kind of dance; take a step forward and take a step back, then repeat.
Doing this is often necessary when sadness, anger, and frustration or guilt, shame, and fear are visiting your home and inner landscape. Even seeing these things in other people, especially when you are sensitive to the emotions of others, you see the downward spiral taking place in the news or on social media, which is unsettling.
The whole experience of going through this pandemic is about learning to cope with these emotions. Not through total avoidance but by learning and dealing with these feelings, then taking a step back for a while.
Mindfulness Exercises for Coping
So yes, at least temporarily, not attending to intense feelings can be helpful when dealing with the kind of emotional upheaval you’re experiencing right now. Eventually though, you have to deal with the feelings more directly.
Thankfully, there are a few mindfulness exercises you can use to approach those difficult emotions and stepping back when needed.
Abdominal breathing – In the simplest form of mindfulness of breath, you do not change the quality of breathing, you pay attention to the sensations of the inhales and exhales in our body. As an alternative to that, abdominal breathing can be a helpful way to calm down and to help you stimulate your vagus nerve, which can reduce stress, anxiety, anger, and inflammation by activating the “relaxation response” of your parasympathetic nervous system.
Mindful walking – Shifting your focus outside yourself can really help you cope with the turbulence within. If you’re feeling particularly unsettled or agitated by circumstance, take a 15-20 minute walk where you focus on “hearing” or “seeing” the world outside yourself. This will help you to reset your emotional foundation and find balance. You can also practice mindful walking in your living room. Simply slow down and pay close attention to the sensations in your feet as you make each step, staying connected and grounded with the earth.
Mindful thinking – Emotional turmoil can lead to disordered thinking, which can cause more turmoil in a loop or cycle that perpetuates itself. Taking a look inside yourself can help to rearrange the disarray that you’re currently feeling. Much like watching the clouds go by in the sky, this activity can give you a different perspective on your thoughts. It allows your sky-sunny-clouds-cloudy you to see your thoughts as something that you have the choice to keep and name, or the choice to let them keep drifting by.
Mindful yoga – You can use this in short sessions throughout the day, especially if you sit a lot and stare into Zoom screen.
These and other mindfulness exercises can help you to cope and learn from the chaos and commotion that seems to be the new dynamic in your life. Being conscious of your needs, in the moment, as you navigate this unprecedented situation is the key to coping, and coping well.