Mindfulness can be an invaluable resource at a time like this as it helps us navigate our thoughts and emotions more skillfully. This enables us to make better decisions and respond, both to ourselves and others, in ways that are less reactive and more caring, productive and helpful.
One of the greatest benefits of mindfulness is that it helps us notice how we’re feeling. For example, when we notice we’re feeling fearful, mindfulness helps us check in and ascertain whether in this moment right now we are in imminent danger. If we are, immediate action is required. If not, we have the opportunity to take a step back and give our brain a break by settling and soothing our nervous system. Then, when we check back in we can usually think more clearly and distinguish between smart precautions and overreactions that may in fact impact negatively on others.
Mindfulness helps us create space around how we’re feeling and from there we can choose how we want to respond as opposed to reacting automatically in ways that may not always be so helpful.
It’s important to remember that our thoughts have a direct impact on our emotions and to be aware that our mind can often predict the worst. This natural tendency to focus more on negatives than positives is known as the Negativity Bias. The brain is like velcro for negative experiences but teflon for positive ones, so it is normal and natural at times like these that our minds will have a tendency to get caught up in negative, and potentially unhelpful, thinking.
By bringing mindful awareness to how your brain reacts to feeling threatened, you can stimulate and develop a mind that has more calm, wisdom and inner strength. A mind that sees real threats more clearly, acts more effectively in dealing with them, and is less rattled or distracted by exaggerated, manageable, or false alarms.
Mindfulness also helps develop our capacity to tolerate things that are unpleasant or uncomfortable which builds resilience. It’s human nature to resist and struggle against discomfort and pain, however, doing so only adds to our suffering. As the saying goes – ‘what we resist persists’ and often intensifies. Building our capacity to tolerate discomfort, starting with small discomforts, helps us get better at navigating the inevitable challenges life throws at us in ways that don’t unnecessarily add to our suffering.
When we’re being mindful we practice in small ways noticing and being with what’s here (e.g. noticing and accepting the discomfort of a distracted mind when we’re meditating). It doesn’t mean we have to like or want discomfort, just that we get better at being with it. Like building a muscle mindfulness strengthens our ability to navigate pain and discomfort more skillfully. We learn through experience that, paradoxically, the more we can lean into and be with discomfort, the better we are able to navigate it.