How to Pursue Mindfulness During Social Distancing
Even during an average, unremarkable season of life – words which certainly do not describe the reality most of us have lived recently – mindfulness can be a difficult state to achieve. The past year has seen moms juggling work, life, children’s schooling, health precautions, and everything in between, without the tangibility of a support system and the Mom Tribe that we lean on most. If the internal strain is already palpable, mindfulness offers a positive coping strategy, one that has been shown to reduce stress, improve relationship satisfaction, increase our empathy, and even lower blood pressure, alleviate chronic pain, and improve sleep.
The good news is that you don’t have to be a meditation guru or a seasoned yogi to employ a little mindfulness. I myself am neither of the above – but I have certainly felt the benefits of mindfulness in my own experience, and particularly during seasons of unique challenges. Even if you’ve never explored it before or don’t practice meditation, there are plenty of simple ways to integrate mindfulness tips and principles into your habits and usher some peace and calm into your frame of mind during quarantine and social distancing.
What is mindfulness?
“Mindfulness” has become a bit of a trendy catchphrase with the rise of wellness culture over the past few decades, but at its core, it refers to a basic human ability that all of us possess, even when we don’t activate it. A good definition of mindfulness is already baked into the word itself: it’s the practice of being open and aware of what is happening in the moment, fully present in mind and body, in tune with our thoughts, feelings, surrounding environment, and bodily sensations.
In addition to that sense of attentiveness comes acceptance: it’s important to pay attention to what we’re feeling without chastising ourselves for having those feelings or believing that there is a “right” or a “wrong” way to feel internally. Mindfulness allows us to suspend judgment and instead explore our natural curiosity.
It sounds straightforward enough, but all too often the stress and distractions of the day-to-day have our minds veering from topic to topic without ever fully attending to the here and now. Mindfulness equips us to be cognizant of where we are and what we’re doing without becoming overly reactive to our circumstances. If we’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that there’s a lot we can’t control – but a few things within ourselves that we can, and this is where mindfulness comes into play.
Tips for practicing mindfulness during social distancing
From the disappointment of having to cancel our plans for the foreseeable future to the ever-present temptation to binge-eat our way to forgetting (I know I’m guilty of this one), we need to find a healthy and sustainable way to manage the stress of what many have come to call our “new normal.” Maintaining a practice of mindfulness during this era of disrupted routines, monotony and social distancing can alleviate these pressures and allow us to make the most of the time, opportunities and blessings we have.
Be conscious of others’ emotions as well as your own
Keep in mind that everyone in your home is feeling some level of frustration through lockdown and social distancing. Tuning into the feelings and reactions of those around you will offer you the ability to connect with them, show compassion, and ultimately build a stronger relationship through this challenging moment in time.
And the sentiments you’re feeling are just as valid; the collective sense of limbo, the inability to make plans, and loss of agency can bring up the whole spectrum of emotions. For many people, this year’s heightened isolation prompts feelings of sadness, loneliness, grief, and loss. Mindfulness encourages you to make space and accept those emotions rather than ignoring or working to get rid of them.
Work on active listening
Instead of tuning out when around others (even – and especially – your own family), try to pay attention and actively listen to what those around you say, and not just verbally, but with actions and body language as well. Put down your phone (because that’s just rude) and turn down the music to a level that allows you to hear what’s being said. Eye contact and an encouraging nod or a smile acknowledge people’s words and help them feel that their communication is welcomed and mindfully received.
Expand your “love language”
Zulily recently surveyed moms across America and found that over the course of the pandemic, their “love language” has changed. Love languages exist in every relationship in your life, from dating and marriage, to relationships with children, friends and even coworkers. Now, unique gestures or activities that may once have seemed mundane have taken on a whole new meaning.
No matter what season or time of year, every day is packed with moments to show your love for those around you using the “love language” that speaks the most directly to them. They’ve probably never needed it more!
Mindfully consider what you’d like to communicate to someone close to you and think about how you typically demonstrate your affection: are there alternative ways to show that person how you feel about them? Perhaps spending quality time together, performing acts of service or support, or gifting thoughtfully-enshrined words of encouragement are better than a purchased gift when it comes to communicating how much you value them.
Release old habits or patterns that are detrimental to you
Traditions and rituals are central to our daily lives and may be so ingrained in our habits that we don’t recognize their power and impact. Old patterns can perpetuate negativity and keep us trapped in a bad cycle of emotions.
Maybe unresolved conflict with a family member makes it hard for you to treat her with genuine kindness, or perhaps you’re annoyed with your spouse for not pitching in to help out with the extra burdens and responsibilities that social distancing has introduced to our lives. The trick here is to pay attention to these feelings as they are happening – let yourself be curious about what you’re experiencing in the present moment without rehashing the past. Mindfulness allows you to accept what you feel, which reduces your frustration and opens the possibility to new ways of interacting with the same people.
Let go of judgment
There’s a lot of narrative surrounding parenting and home-schooling that attempts to tell us how we should or should not feel about these tasks and our role in them. If wild enthusiasm and “Hallmark moments” aren’t exactly what you’re experiencing, that’s perfectly fine. If reflecting on the year behind causes you to feel disappointment, that’s an emotion worth acknowledging. If you’re blaming your kids for bad behavior and then feeling guilty for casting blame, that’s valid too.
Take a step back from your judgments and avoid labeling them with qualifiers like “bad” or “wrong.” Simply noticing when you indulge in judgment and criticism is the first step. Then you can let those thoughts sit, without entangling yourself in them, and get some perspective on the feelings behind them.
Take the pressure off yourself
Obligations and must-do lists are always a part of the package of adulthood, parenting and family life. From finding the best-suited home-schooling activities for your little ones to preparing a well-balanced meal, it’s easy to fall into a mindset where things have to be perfect, but attempting to be all things to everyone can only result in resentment and burnout. Take note of how expectations arising from this period if intensified home life are affecting you, because how you deal with this realization will determine your well-being. Getting caught in the elusive trap of perfection will drain your family time of its joy and set you up for more disappointment.
Committing to mindfulness
To re-center yourself, try to mindfully reflect on the good things – whatever they might be – that quarantine and social distancing have ushered into your life. Perhaps boredom forced you to pick up a new hobby (sourdough, anyone?), or to learn a new skill like cutting your kids’ hair or recreating the items you used to shop for. Perhaps you’ve started coloring with your children, listening to music and taking deep breaths – all great mindfulness practices!
Maybe, despite the challenges of working and schooling from home, you’ve gained more time with your little ones or your partner. Focus on what you’re truly grateful for (a gratitude journal is a great place to start this habit). Exercise self-compassion by getting regular sleep and exercise, and set aside time to relax and enjoy the moments with your dear ones. You might just look back one day and realize that, despite all of its very real hardships, this oh-so-tough lockdown gave you more time with them than the standard day-to-day ever would have.
And of course, mindfulness as a practice doesn’t need to peter out as communities open up again (although we certainly can’t wait for a return to normalcy)! You stand to benefit all year round from remaining fully present, physically, mentally and emotionally, from releasing old habits, and from focusing on the beauty and truth in front of you in every moment.