Frankie Engelking

Utilizing Mindfulness in the Time of COVID-19

Frankie EngelkingRegardless of whether you’re a parent, teacher, or student, there’s no denying these are stressful times. There’s an almost constant buzz of uncertainty in the air, and at times, practically anything can be distracting. In moments like these, it’s important to focus on what you have complete control over, starting with yourself. Practicing mindfulness can truly decrease stress and support you in being present in the moment. Not worrying about tomorrow, not thinking about yesterday.

McLean School is a nationally recognized leader in the field of Mindfulness Education – a scientific and skills-based program that increases one’s awareness of thoughts, feelings, and surroundings to calm the nervous system, reduce stress, and increase focus in school and in life.

Our Mindfulness practice is integrated into all we do, and “notice, shift, rewire” is a common refrain among students, teachers, staff – and parents, too! We stress the importance of mindfulness to our community when it comes to their work and emotional well being. Using the five tenets of mindfulness, here’s an overview of how you may find each of them useful during this time.

Practice Breathing and Body Awareness

When learning and working from home, there will be distractions not often present in the classroom. Whether it’s a newscast on the television, the microwave beeping, or someone talking on the phone, you’re going to run into things you’re not used to in your typical day to day schedule. While this can certainly be stressful, remember to breathe. Breathe deep from the belly and use this as a way to reset yourself in your surroundings. If you require a quieter space to work constructively, find one in the house that is conducive to paying attention. Use mindful breathing to your benefit throughout the day when distractions or daily stressors pop up and you simply need to get yourself back on track.

Keep Your Emotional Health Sound

While we can’t have complete control over how we’re feeling one hundred percent of the time, it’s important to be mindful of emotions running high when everyone is already in a heightened state of stress. Identifying negative behaviors is the first step to changing those behaviors. So, while your typical schedule is upended for the foreseeable future, keep an eye out for actions you normally wouldn’t be exhibiting, such as lethargy or putting off work until the very last second.

You may not struggle with the former or the latter but as your time spent indoors increases, it’s best to be aware of actions that can pile up and impact your emotional health and well being. If you begin noticing subtle or major changes to your emotional health, take time to identify the problem first and then utilize a mindful response, such as Mindful breathing, that can increase self-control, and self behavior day after day to encourage more productive behaviors.

Remember What to be Grateful For

With our normal schedules in flux, it’s easy to feel like life is against you. You’re likely not in your usual state of mind to be productive, particularly while surrounded by the distractions of home, and, due to this, your mind can wander to everything that’s not going according to plan. While this is a natural response to stressful times, it does not promote positive behaviors in the long run. Considering that, focusing on the good things in your life can be a powerful motivator when it comes to both your emotional and physical well being.

Appreciating yourself and others important in your life can increase dopamine levels in your brain while decreasing stress hormones at the same time. Additionally, thinking about all you are grateful for in such a charged time really puts into perspective what’s important in your life. By developing an appreciation for all that is good, you’ll find it easier to lift your own spirits. Writing a thank you note to someone you appreciate can increase your feelings of gratitude.Think about starting each morning writing in a gratitude journal, or going to bed each night thinking about what you were grateful for that day.

Listen Intently and Interact Positively

Distance learning and working from home are not what we’re most accustomed to, so try your best to truly listen to teachers and colleagues throughout this quarantine period. Getting distracted during lessons and meetings can lead to stress and anxiety over missed information. With that in mind, practice mindful listening so you can listen with intent. By becoming a better listener, you can find better ways to authentically communicate with others too.

Engage Your Senses

Engaging your senses while sitting at home all day can be a bit of a challenge but finding a sound, smell, or something to touch to help pull your attention back to the task at hand can be a helpful tool in mitigating stress and anxiety. If you find yourself getting distracted throughout the day or falling down a rabbit hole of pandemic news, find something to engage your senses and pull yourself back to the present. When you direct your focus onto one of your senses your brain is not available to focus on negative thoughts or anxious feelings. Continually practicing this skill allows us to get out of our heads and back into bodies. It’s a useful tool in your mindfulness toolbox to quell anxiety in times of high stress. The smell of freshly baked cookies, running your hands through the grass, listening intently to birds chirping – all these can ignite your senses and bring you to a calm and present state.

Use Mindfulness to Stay Healthy and On Track

The COVID-19 pandemic is interfering with many aspects of our daily lives but we can control how we react to it by practicing mindfulness every day. Use the five tenets listed above to keep yourself on track with school, your relationships, and, most importantly, yourself.

Frankie Engelking, Director of Student and Community Wellness