The new COVID-19 world is a world beset by fear. Unseen viral particles can be lurking anywhere. Should one find us, we don’t know for sure how we would respond. And with social patterns dramatically altered and the economy collapsing, we are losing our sense of comfort, safety and being in control, leading to a stressful sense of chronic uncertainty and anxiety.
We know from many scientific studies that stress negatively affects health. But although there may be little we can do to avoid stress in a COVID-19 world, we can use self-care to decrease and minimize the negative effects of stressful feelings.
For example, you can pray or meditate. Or you can simply bring calm and non-judgmental attention to how you’re feeling.
We’ve talked before about a helpful exercise called Body-Feelings-Mind. In this exercise, you find a comfortable position in a quiet place and, with eyes closed, check in with how you’re feeling, first physically, then emotionally, and finally mentally.
BODY: Start by becoming aware of your breath, allowing yourself to breathe fully and deeply. Let the soothing in-and-out rhythm of breathing, like the ebb and flow of ocean waves on the shore, lead you to a deeper sense of calm.
Turning your attention to your physical sensations . . . the air against your cheeks . . . contact between yourself and the support under you . . . your beating heart . . . can bring you into the present moment as concerns for the past and the future drift away.
You may become aware of aches and pains, or tense places. As you exhale, allowing release in these areas often leads to feeling refreshed, and more airy and at ease.
FEELINGS: Checking in with your emotions, you may find you’ve been avoiding unpleasant emotions like anger, fear, and despair. But in this quiet space, let any feelings come up, without judgment, just being present for them with relaxed and compassionate interest. Allowing space for your feelings may lead to insights, or may simply encourage a feeling to find full expression and then subside.
MIND: The mind may be racing to try to find solutions to the new problems that beset us, working overtime to do more than it is equipped for. Thanking the mind for all it does, but letting it know it can rest, will increase feelings of peacefulness.
The last step is to notice that there is a part of you that is not body, feelings or mind but an observer; a witness that some spiritual traditions call the Self and consider a reflection of the Divinity. Whatever it is, it is a place inside that is unperturbed and yet seemingly compassionate.
Practicing this exercise from time to time is a wonderful way of alleviating stress and anxiety by taking care of your body, feelings and mind while cultivating your compassionate observing self.
This Body-Feeling-Mind exercise is adapted from the work of Roberto Assagioli, MD, an Italian psychoanalyst who developed an approach to psychotherapy that integrated Eastern spirituality with Western science. See his book Psychosynthesis. NY, NY: Penguin Books, 1977.