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Submitted by the USPS Employee Assistance Program
COVID-19 impacts all of us. And while it affects each of us in different ways, loss, worry and fear have been common threads. We have been battling concerns about our safety and our family’s safety. We have been worrying about the loss of our loved ones or waiting for a loved one’s recovery.
We have had to change our daily routines, distance ourselves from others and practice strict hygiene measures. All the while, we have had to navigate through this time without some of our favorite pastimes and coping strategies.
All this worry and uncertainty can really take its toll. They can lead to increased stress, as well as physical and emotional fatigue. You, your families, your colleagues and your employees likely have experienced anger, fear, sadness, grief and confusion; sometimes, all of these!
Essential workers particularly have been prone to suffer emotional fatigue. The USPS is no exception. The pandemic has required us to hone our abilities to be resilient.
The American Psychological Association defines resilience as the “process of adapting well in the face of significant sources of stress.” By being resilient, we are flexing our mental muscles to help ourselves navigate hardship and get through difficult times.
Our resiliency can be strengthened over time; there is no time like the pandemic to begin to consider how we might increase our resiliency as a tool for success. One helpful practice that can work to decrease the stress we experience is mindfulness.
The word “mindfulness” may make you think of ads for stress relief products or, maybe, self-help books. Perhaps you’re someone who already practices mindfulness; maybe it’s a family or community tradition. Oxford Languages defines mindfulness as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations.”
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present rather than coasting by as if on autopilot. It means being aware of where we are and what we’re doing in this exact moment, rather than being stuck in fast-forward or rewind mode. Mindfulness also relates to avoiding being overly reactive or sidetracked by the noise and chaos of what may be going on around us.
In other words, mindfulness takes us to the present moment as it is. It lets our judgments roll by and takes us back to observing the present. Mindfulness practice focuses not on finding answers, but, rather, on focusing our awareness.
The goal of mindfulness is to diminish the obsessive thoughts about what is happening around us. It helps us lower our anxiety about the unpredictable future and the loss of control we all are feeling every day. No matter how far our minds go down the rabbit hole or spiral with catastrophic thoughts, mindfulness uses its agenda to bring us back to where we are and what we are doing right now.
Mindfulness allows us to be kind to our wandering minds. The goal is to work at acknowledging and allowing your thoughts, feelings and emotions to move on as they appear and fade away. Some key words to consider are breathe, observe and accept.
Mindfulness is a form of meditation available to us in every moment. It can be integrated into our daily life routines. It can be done while you are seated, walking, standing or moving or during yoga and sports. Mindfulness is proven through research and studies to be helpful in reducing stress and enhancing our performance—either on the job or in our personal lives.
Research shows that mindfulness practices may be helpful in treating chronic pain, as well. Working this into your life and practicing mindfulness can help you gain insight, suspend your judgement of those around you and yourself and help you experience increased warmth and kindness.
As with any new skill, the more you practice, the more your brain will have a chance to hardwire the new habit. For example, picture a new sledding trail. It’s slow-going over fresh, fluffy snow, but, after several runs down the hill, the ride just whisks you away down the track of tightly packed snow. Think of practicing mindfulness as your tool to pack a new sled run full of snow. Strategies to begin practicing include:
Take five minutes for diaphragmatic or belly breathing. This is a style of breathing with physiological benefits to our nervous system. The aim is to fill your diaphragm with each breath rather than taking superficial breaths in your high chest. To know you are doing it right, place one hand above your belly button and one hand on your chest. When you breath in and out, the hand on your stomach should be the one rising and falling. This breathing creates balance and calm and slows down our brain when we are feeling ourselves in high-stress mode.
Try a guided meditation. Often by focusing on the person’s voice that is conveying a kind and calm message, we have an easier time quieting our inner dialogue. Guided meditations are great tools to use to spend time thinking about a specific message of kindness and gratitude or working toward a specific goal. There are many meditations available for free on the internet, ranging from a few minutes to an hour. Get your body in a comfortable position, close your eyes (or don’t!) and follow along with the message being shared.
Try a meditation focusing on “both-and” thinking. Both-and thinking, especially with unprecedented stress such as we now are experiencing, can help increase our resiliency. Focus your awareness on the idea that both sides of any situation can be true at the same time. You can experience profound loss and you can grow. You can feel anger and you can breathe. You can feel deep sadness and allow joy to creep in. You can ache with grief and experience connection. You can acknowledge uncertainty and expect opportunity. Add some belly breaths while you’re at it.
Try a grounding exercise and check in with your senses. Using the 5-4-3-2-1 technique gives you a chance to check in with your body’s senses and get out of your head. Try to find five things in this moment you can see, four things you can feel, three things that you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. Depending on the situation, you can adjust which sense gets connected with which number. By doing this, you’ll give your mind a chance to slow down and focus on your surroundings.
There are many ways to incorporate mindfulness into your life. There is no one-size-fits-all or wrong approach. Some people like to practice mindfulness while seated in a quiet room with some calming music playing or candles or incense burning. Others practice mindfulness while walking their pets on busy sidewalks. The idea is to find a space or place that allows you to check out of having a full mind and check into being mindful. Feel free to collect a variety of ideas and run with them to make it work for you specifically.
We all are trying to navigate the pandemic to the best of our abilities. Mindfulness can be a tool that helps increase our resiliency, which is what we need to find strength in challenging times.
Maybe with some mindfulness, we all can find ourselves feeling more patient with ourselves and others. And remember, the Employee Assistance Program is here to help you through this.
You can reach out any time, day or night, to connect to a counselor to talk about this further by contacting us at 800-327-4968 (800-EAP-4YOU), TTY: 877-492-7341. For more resources on building mindfulness and resiliency, visit our Health Resource Library through the EAP website: EAP4YOU.com.