Early last spring, how many of us thought that certainly by fall at the latest, life and work would return to normal?
Most of us.
However, with autumn around the corner, everything remains quite different, and it continues to change.
Life now requires near constant adaptation to shifting and uncertain circumstances. Families who are sending their children back to school and college are preparing for the possibility of their students’ return home, should circumstances require. Similarly, people who worked in an office in the “before times” continue to work from home, with return dates pushed farther out, and some companies discussing the possibility of a permanent work-from-home model.
While working from home is a dream come true for some folks — no commute, no draining social interactions, and you can get the laundry done by dinner time — for others, it is a real struggle. The social ties we develop with our colleagues contribute to a sense of belonging, which is crucial to our well-being. So especially for people who enjoyed a large part of life’s social interactions at the workplace, the shift to working from home can impact a sense of connectedness and contribute to a sense of isolation.
Isolation and its relative loneliness are implicated in several things we want to avoid: burnout, depression, and earlier death. How can we recognize the signs that we may be struggling with working from home?
Reduced ability to focus is the canary in the coal mine for many problems. Coupled with waning interest and productivity — or worse...disillusionment, exhaustion, and frustration — you have a clear indication there is a significant disruption or imbalance in your body-heart-mind system.
1. Monitor yourself.
As a mindfulness teacher, I help my clients learn to regularly connect with the physical, emotional, and mental aspects of their being so they are aware of how they are doing before it's too late. Sustained mindfulness practice builds self-awareness and can reveal changes and trends that need course correction.
In this way, mindfulness practice is a monitoring tool for our well-being. Without it, we might not catch or understand the signals our own bodies, hearts, and minds are sending us.
While mindfulness is an inherent psychological faculty we all possess, I recommend learning mindfulness meditation from a trained teacher who can provide the methods and support necessary for establishing and maintaining a regular practice. Only 10 minutes a day can make a big difference in how readily we can attune to ourselves and the life around us.
While getting started with a practice can feel like a hurdle, once you’re over it, the only thing you need to do is continue. That’s it. And the motivation to do so will arise naturally as you notice improvements in focus, relationships, and your ability to manage stress.
But what if, using mindfulness, you notice that against the backdrop of these troubled times you feel increasingly out of sorts, unable to focus, frustrated in your relationships?
2. Seek outside help.
This may be from a doctor, therapist, or coach. We can’t always feel well on our own, and a trained professional will be able to support your journey toward wellness with evidence-based and time-tested methods.
If you have a meditation practice, check in with a teacher as well. It may make sense to adjust something about your practice, perhaps even the method you are using. When difficulties in our bodies, hearts, or minds plague us, mindfulness might be contraindicated, and a different type of meditation could be useful.
3. Practice lovingkindness meditation.
This sister practice to mindfulness meditation in which we stimulate a sense of goodwill, is a great way of antidoting a sense of disconnection.
While the formal practice involves repeatedly inwardly reciting phrases to help cultivate a sense of friendliness and ease toward yourself and others, you can use this practice informally, at any time. Simply pause in your day and silently wish yourself and your co-workers — those you like and those you have a difficult time with — safety, health, happiness, and peace.
Say “May we be safe, healthy, happy, and peaceful.”
Say it again.
Then a third time.
May it be so!
Pause often, stay in the body, allow vulnerability, and connect to what matters to wake up and show up to life right now.
What a year.
The novel and unpredictable circumstances created by the pandemic and the uncertain outcome of righteous unrest calling for racial justice — both exacerbated by leadership's uneven and inadequate responses — have provoked deep anxiety in individuals and communities.
They also offer enormous potential.
Here are four tips for coping with anxiety and lowering stress in times of crisis so you can effectively engage in fights for our lives.
Now is always the time to capacitate ourselves to meet what is present.
Learn to use the powerful anti-anxiety tool that's with you in every moment.
Yesterday a yoga student I hadn't spent any 1:1 time with shyly asked me: Can breathing exercises help anxiety?
They can down-regulate the part of the nervous system that is partly responsible for keeping us in a state of heightened alertness unnecessarily and for too long. And they can up-regulate the part of the nervous system responsible for governing functions related to resting and digesting.
The more science uncovers about the way we humans work, the more our contemporary views of health and well-being align with that of ancient systems.
For example: from the yogic point of view, anxiety is an overabundance of rajas (excitement) in the body. We can stop feeling the fire and slow things down through practicing physical poses, breathing exercises, chanting, and meditation.
If you know where to look, there is an abundance of information on how to help address anxiety with self-led breathing methods. These practices will complement whatever treatment strategies your doctor may suggest.
People wonder, which breathing exercise works best? That depends on a person’s constitution, what conditions are present in the body, their energy level, what time of day it is, and more.
Breaking down the parts of the breath, the inhale promotes alertness and the exhale promotes calmness. Therefore, focusing on and lengthening our exhales as opposed to inhales — or any breathing exercise that involves that relationship of exhale to inhale — is a tool available immediately, at any time, for anyone experiencing anxiety.
I’ve been asked why a deep breath calms you down. Well, I would not say a deep breath calms you down. I never suggest breathing deeply to students and clients. Ask someone to breathe deeply and they might gulp air quickly. Instead, I suggest a slow and full breath through the nose.
Yoga teachers and other wellness professionals are coming to understand the wisdom of this — as I did through the work of various researchers and teachers, and most notably through James Nestor. A science journalist who has spent time studying contemporary research on breathing, Nestor recently published an entire book on the topic, called simply Breath. Since its successful publication, he can be heard on many science, health, and wellness podcasts debunking decades of thinking and teaching about respiration.
If you haven’t yet heard about taping your mouth shut at night in order to ensure you breathe through your nose, you might soon. Thank James Nestor for popularizing this idea. And if you happen to try it, be sure to use a small patch of surgical tape, not duct tape!
Practically speaking, remember the lengthened exhale. Next time you feel restless or even anxious, see if it’s possible to note how your breathing is, and then to elongate the exhale. You might count to 4 as you inhale through the nose, and gently stretch the exhale out for 8.
To those living with anxiety, which includes nearly all of us to some degree: may you get the support you need from the professionals you see, and may you also be empowered by tools to promote your own well-being.
is a mindfulness educator, Insight Yoga mentor, and end-of-life doula who cares about individual and collective well-being at every stage of life.