Mindfulness offers solace in a stressful pandemic

It’s not going to kill the COVID-19 virus, but it can help people feel better equipped to respond to anxiety

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      Are you doing okay? It’s been almost seven months since the World Health Organization described the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic. And it’s understandable that we might be feeling frazzled.

      The new normal makes a simple trip to the grocery store or a ride on the transit system an anxiety-ridden event. That’s to say nothing of the economic and career carnage inflicted on millions of Canadians.

      Then imagine the pain for performing artists, most of whom were never flush with cash in the best of times.

      Or for adult children of seniors in care.

      Then consider what it’s like to be one of those seniors—or a low-income person of colour or someone with compromised immunity—knowing that the virus is likely to be more deadly for them than others.

      Health-care providers are also feeling stressed. Family doctors, for example, are likely to encounter patients with flulike symptoms this fall, not knowing whether it’s seasonal influenza or COVID-19.

      Earlier this year, on the Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre website, B.C. Children’s Hospital pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist Dr. Dzung X. Vo offered his top-five mindfulness tips for health-care professionals during the pandemic.

      They’re worth repeating, not only for doctors and nurses but for anyone feeling overwhelmed.

      “A simple way of coming back to the present is by using my breathing as an anchor,” Vo advises. “When I breathe in, I say silently to myself, ‘Here.’ When I breathe out, I say ‘Now.’ Breathing in, breathing out… ‘Here… Now….’ ”

      Vo’s second tip is to make a list of things that have not been cancelled—and say these things out loud or write them down.

      He’s also a big advocate of outdoor “walking meditation”, his third tip. When doing this, ensure there’s physical distancing.

      “This practice helps me to get ‘out of my head’ and into my body, connected to the earth,” Vo writes.

      Fourth, he recommends being careful not to allow the news to overwhelm you.

      “Mindfulness helps me to stop and make an intentional choice about my media consumption—which, in many cases, means that I decide to put down the phone or turn off the computer for the night so I can get a good night’s sleep! I know that the important information will be there for me the next morning.”

      Finally, he endorses daily formal meditation.

      Dr. Dzung Vo speaks about mindfulness in this video.

      Young people benefit from mindfulness

      Mindfulness is also helping youths cope with the stresses of the pandemic.

      For example, the Crisis Centre of B.C. has launched an Indigenous Mindfulness Project. According to the centre’s website, it blends Indigenous “ways of knowing” with the centre’s existing mindfulness-based resiliency program for youths.

      Vo is the author of The Mindful Teen: Powerful Skills to Help You Handle Stress One Moment at a Time.

      “We all experience difficult challenges in our life, like stress, pain, and depression,” Vo says in a video promoting the so-called Breathr App, which was created to help youths. “Mindfulness can give us resilience to rise above those challenges and to live life more fully.

      “Mindfulness is a particular type of meditation where we bring our awareness to the present moment,” he continues in the video. “We can let go of the past, let go of the future, and live life more fully, more joyfully.”

      According to Vo, it can be practised by anyone—regardless of their religion, age, or background—and it’s available anywhere and anytime.

      “We don’t have to wait until we have to do a formal sitting meditation to practise mindfulness,” he points out. “We can bring that same mindful awareness to any activity that we are doing through our daily lives: so walking can be a meditation; eating our lunch, brushing our teeth, being creative—painting, writing, or playing music—can get us deeply in touch with the present moment.”

      Video: Watch Dr. Dzung Vo reading "a poem for his time".