We’ve all been caught in this coronavirus quarantine holding pattern. It can be stressful and create anxiety. Therefore, many of us are feeling some increased worry or anxiety. Chris Kelly Glavin, Editor-in-Chief of Mama Lama, sat down with Dr. Marilyn Jean Hauser PSYD and asked for her advice on how to relieve anxiety during these uncertain times.
Dr. Hauser (“Jean”) offers some insight into how one might reframe our thinking to improve our mental health and self-care. Mindfulness is a large part of Dr. Hauser’s approach. In this time, when many are looking for solutions, one thing to try is changing your focus.
Change Your Focus to Soften Worry
Use the power of wisdom practices
Chris: I’m talking to a lot of anxious people in my community. With this in mind, is there any advice you can give to help us deal with the worry caused by this pandemic and relieve anxiety?
Jean: So far, you’ve heard the message on the news, you’ve got the information. If there’s something you can do about it, do it! Otherwise, change your focus of thought with the underlying intention of being helpful. You might send loving kindness to yourself and compassion to the entire world.
Chiefly, the point is to refocus… Drop it and go on about your business so that you are acknowledging what you heard. If you can help, help. If you’re puzzled by something, ask your own self, your own higher wisdom, “Can I come to the meaning of this? Can I know what I could do with this,” and then let it go, something will come.
Find a Mantra to Relieve Anxiety
Chris: What do you mean by “let it go” when we keep going back to the thought over and over again?
Jean: To begin with, you could say a mantra to help relieve anxiety. Just begin to say to yourself, “Peace… Peace… Peace…,” or whatever word or words would help you come into a kinder state of mind. You can use a group of words like a prayer or simply a positive word.
In the same fashion, consider a word like “love” and say it over and over again. Say it until something else grabs your awareness. You keep that mantra going all day long or all night long if it is something that touches your heart.
You don’t say it out loud, you just say it in your mind all the time and it fills that space. Otherwise, your mind fills the space for you. Similarly, if you are an artist, you do creative work and immerse yourself in your art. The point is to reframe to shift your focus, to calm distress. A mantra can help or find time to meditate.
Write Your Own Ending
Chris: What would you suggest to someone having nightmares?
Jean: Acknowledge the nightmare. Look at the story of it. Then end the nightmare however you would like it to end. It is just as if you’ve written the story yourself. As an example, somebody is about to harm me in a nightmare and I wake up. I see that, and then I add my own ending and it can change the entire sense of the dream story. I could change it and see myself vacationing in California. End the dream in a positive way, really see it, however, you feel it would be beneficial to you at the moment.
Chris: Perfect! You taught me that technique years ago. It really works and helps to relieve anxiety when you wake up from the nightmare!
Jean: You have to reframe that nightmare so that it ends on a positive note.
Clearing the Heart and Mind
Chris: Finally, is there one last piece of advice that you might give people stuck in the house right now, working from home, homeschooling children?
Jean: Just recently, I had a friend call me and boy was she angry at her mother-in-law. She didn’t want to be kind, and yet she’s a very kind and generous person. So I said to her, Why don’t you just say to yourself, “May I be generous? Or may I open my heart?” Or she could say, “May I begin to calm down.” And take three deep breaths. It helps to take deep breaths during the day from time to time to reset your mind.
Find calm in the chaos with new techniques you can apply in everyday life
You could also work with gathas. Let me get the book and tell you what I mean, before we finish this interview.
Chris: By all means, what book are you talking about?
Jean: We call these sayings gathas from Thich Nhat Hanh in, The Energy of Prayer: How To Deepen Your Spiritual Practice. There are different gathas for different happenings.
Say you have to sweep the floor, and you might say to yourself, “As I sweep the floor, may the ground of enlightenment, a tree of understanding spring up from the Earth.” So you’re sweeping, and you’re asking that you’re sweeping the ground for enlightenment and for understanding, as well as cleaning the floor. Do you get it?
Washing the vegetables, “In these fresh vegetables I see a sun. So many things join together to make life possible.” You could say something like, “In these fresh vegetables I’m washing, may I be calm, not only in my body but in my mind and my heart.”
Cleaning the bathroom, “How wonderful it is to scrub and clean day by day, while the heart and mind grow clearer.”
This is a good one, “Water flows over these hands. May I use them skillfully to preserve our precious planet.”
To put it another way, use whatever you’re doing as an intention. Thich Nhat Hanh would call that a gatha.
Chris: In a word, I love that last one!
[End of interview]
Meet stress head-on in times of uneasiness
Generally speaking, reframing our thoughts and changing our focus is not avoiding stress. By and large, it is meeting it, acknowledging it, and allowing for other possibilities. We have the ability to relieve anxiety as it arises. Therapists Linda and Charlie Bloom, explain:
Reframing is not a denial that the challenge that we have been dealt is a difficult one. Even though our circumstance may be fraught with hardship, we can learn to trust the cycles of life. We discover that this is a process of life that repeats itself, as do the cycles of summer, fall, winter, and then rebirth in spring.
Through an understanding and trust of this transformative process, we come to have faith that periods of decline, whether they last for minutes or months, can become periods of vibrancy. We are less likely to be possessed by ongoing moods of pessimism, hopelessness, or resentment. Our prevailing attitude becomes one that is more optimistic. (PsychologyToday.com)
In the final analysis, where are we going and how will this pandemic end?
Much like Dr. Hauser suggests writing your own ending to overcome fear and relieve anxiety, Kelly Corrigan uses creative visualization to write a positive ending to the Covid-19 pandemic. Corrigan tells Judy Woodruff of PBS Newshour, “Sometimes when I feel outmatched by the thing in front of me, I do a little mental exercise. I tell myself the story of what happened as if it’s over and I nailed it” (Corrigan).
In essence, whatever label is placed upon the practice, be it mindfulness, mantras, intention, reframing, or creative visualization, the ultimate purpose is the same. Everyone wants to find peace within themselves, with the world, and for the world.
In short, Corrigan’s detailed visualization of the ending of this pandemic comes down to one overarching goal. She says, “We came, finally and forever, to appreciate the profound face of our shared humanity and relish the full force of our love for one another (Corrigan).” A lovely vision, indeed. Namaste.
If you or someone you know is in need of assistance or has questions regarding their mental or physical health, please always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers.
FOR FURTHER STUDY
The Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation offers resources specific to managing the impact of Covid-19 on ourselves and on our community here: https://thichnhathanhfoundation.org/covid-resources-dharmatalks
- Gathas: Gathas are short verses that help us practice mindfulness in our daily activities. (“Be Mindful…”)
- Mantra: A mantra is a motivating chant […] usually any repeated word or phrase, but it can also refer more specifically to a word repeated in meditation. (“Mantra”)
- Thich Nhat Hanh: Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh is a global spiritual leader, poet, and peace activist, renowned for his powerful teachings and bestselling writings on mindfulness and peace. (“The Life Story…”)