In these difficult and uncertain times, it can be challenging to maintain open-heartedness and kindness toward ourselves and others. We may feel we are being tossed by the stormy waves of chaos. We may experience fear and anxiety hearing about all of the misfortunes and confusion in the world during this coronavirus pandemic.
Fear and anxiety about the health and well-being of ourselves and our loved ones can cause us to isolate ourselves, and get swept away in the contagion of negativity. Indeed, in times when our very survival is at risk, the brain’s “negativity bias” can kick in if we’re not mindful.
Kindness is the key in these turbulent times. As Ponlop Rinpoche says, “Go Kind!”
This “kindness checklist” might help us deal with fear and anxiety during this uncertain time, within the framework of Body, Speech, and Mind.
Take care of your physical health. Although it may sound obvious, make sure to get plenty of rest, eat healthy nourishing foods (with the occasional indulgence,) drink water and herbal tea, cut down on caffeine and alcohol.
Remember to breathe with deep, nourishing diaphragmatic breaths – breathing in cool nourishing air and breathing out warm, stale air, letting go of stress with each outbreath.
Slow down. We are so used to speed and doing-ness. Now is the opportunity to slow down and be.
Exercise. Get outside and walk (maintaining social distance,) every day if possible. Do yoga, Pilates, lujong, stretch, dance. Keep your body moving.
Get out of your PJs and maintain your routine hygiene schedule. (There’s nothing like a good warm shower or bath to release stress and anxiety.)
Become aware of your early warning signs of undue stress before it leads to burnout, e.g., increased irritability, forgetfulness, negative self-talk.
With this in mind, create a good balance between caring for yourself and caring for others. Devoting all of our time and energy to the well-being of others without taking care of ourselves can result in what is called “compassion fatigue.”
Be extra mindful of negative thoughts. Not only about others and the world but, in particular, self-critical thoughts. When such thoughts arise, noticing them as thoughts can create space for letting them go and bringing your attention back to what can be most beneficial for you at that moment.
Express your feelings, through journaling, artwork, blogging, poetry and through talking to family and friends. The word “ex-press” literally means to push out, which is particularly important when we are experiencing intense emotions.
Sing dohas, your favorite rock songs (air guitar is good too,) opera, commercials, or whatever else your heart might desire.
Take time to smile and laugh. Exercising our smile muscles naturally relaxes us and creates feelings of positivity and optimism. It is said that laughter is the best medicine, and indeed it is. Moreover, a sense of humor creates perspective and more spaciousness.
Allow yourself to directly experience whatever you may be feeling, bringing body and mind together as a unified whole. As Buddhist psychotherapist John Welwood has said, “Our bodies hold our wisdom.”
Continue to practice and study the dharma. What a precious opportunity this is to have an intentional home retreat!
Take a break from the media. It can be tempting to watch the news all day and obsess about the woes in the world on social media. It’s really not helpful, and can deepen our negativity bias.
Take breaks from your devices. Staying glued to them day and night can increase stress and prevent us from being in the present moment. In particular, turn off all devices at least 30 minutes before bed to digitally detox and become quiet.
Maintain a healthy balance between alone time and time with others. At the same time, be vigilant to not isolate yourself. There are many opportunities to connect with sangha and others via Zoom, Skype, etc.
Maintain your spiritual practice.
Feel gratitude. Despite all the suffering in the world, there is much to be grateful for: friends and family, the beauty of nature, appreciation of others’ generosity and compassion, the song of a bird, the purr of a cat.
Please know that this checklist is not intended to take the place of professional help. If you are experiencing increased anxiety or depression that is seriously interfering with your daily life (e.g., you are not eating or sleeping, isolating yourself, etc.) you are encouraged to seek guidance from a professional mental health and/or physical health provider. For more resources, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org