hand drawing flower specimens

Grinnellians Take Pause


It has been one heck of a few months…

Hello, fellow Grinnellians. Wow, what a ride we have been on over the last few months! We are experiencing unprecedented fear, disruption and uncertainty about what our future holds as this global tragedy unfolds. While it can be traumatic and literally life-threatening for some, the vast majority of us are tumbling through numerous emotions, including grief, anxiety, sadness, and fear, to name a few. And with orders to adhere to social distancing, we are frequently dealing with this situation apart from others as our support networks are limited.

The bottom line is, we’re dealing with a lot. The good news is that there is a lot of good information out there about how to cope and respond to difficult situations.  While the make-up of this pandemic is unique, humans have had to respond to permutations of its components in the past and we’ve learned approaches, mind sets, and actions that can help us help manage our thoughts and feelings for the better.

Coping through mindfulness

One of the most referenced concepts for dealing with and responding to overwhelming thoughts and emotions is mindfulness. Mindfulness is perhaps a word you’ve heard a lot over the past few years. What does it mean, exactly, and how does it fit this situation? Essentially, it means being in the present moment, purposefully, and without judgment (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). It is about pausing and checking in with ourselves with an open mind. Mindfulness is frequently portrayed as being calm and Zen-like, like a Buddha. While it is true that mindfulness is a part of the Buddhist tradition, it is really a way of being present in the here-and-now that anyone can practice in a secular manner. It is simple, but it is not always easy. Our brains are wired to be anxious, critical, and fast-moving, especially when potential threats are present. Teaching our brains to slow down and focus on what is going on with us in the moment is a challenge, but ultimately a labor of love with a significant pay-off.

There is a growing body of research that documents the benefits of mindfulness. Namely, it can reduce stress, anxiety, distracted thinking, which can be helpful if you’re frequently fretting over something that happened in the past or anticipating bad outcomes in the future. You’re noticing and accepting what you’re experiencing, and not trying to control what you can’t control. It can be very grounding, especially when life feels out of control. Frequently connected to meditation, mindfulness can be experienced by people when they meditate, when they eat, when they converse, when they do the dishes, and when they walk, just to name a few examples.

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