If you’re reading this from the United States, you’re more than 300 days into quarantine. Congratulations? As we approach the one year mark of the first lockdown many of us have experienced in our lives, it’s easy to recall those strong first emotions: panic, fear, anxiety, doom. For the privileged among us who were able to stay home, we also experienced a long-lost lover: boredom.
At first, I filled the space I’d normally use for protesting, volunteering with my local Sierra Club chapter, and camping with social events on zoom, helping local activist groups with their social media, and generally spending way too much time on screens. When it comes to relieving anxiety, that’s an awful lot like presenting a raging fire with alternative species of tree trunks in order to quell its thirst. Finally, I tried just sitting outside in my yard and watching the birds do their thing. That helped.
Practicing mindfulness has been proven to physically alter your brain for the better.
A 2011 Harvard study found that just eight weeks of meditation can make the part of your brain that sends fear, anxiety, and stress signals (the amygdala) smaller. That same study found that participants’ learning and memory center (the hippocampus) was thicker. The point? Mindfulness works to treat anxiety and depression, among other illnesses.
Mindfulness can look like yoga and meditation, but it can also occur while washing your hands, gardening, or going for a walk.
Using apps like Headspace is a great way to explore the practice of mindfulness, but it’s not the only way to experience serenity. “It is really about being in the moment, observing what’s coming at you from the outside and what’s coming up inside—taking it in and observing, and not reacting to it,” Dr. Rajita Sinha, director of the Yale Stress Center, said. “With extended practice, you can begin to let go of what’s coming at you. But that takes longer.”
Settling into yourself helps you to settle into your place on this planet.
The stress of this pandemic and climate change is enough to become a brain in a jar. When we are able to sit with our stressors rather than outpace them with action, we come into our true power. Experts suggest that as you start to experience anxiety or stress, return to your body. Today, when I take out the recycling and start future-tripping, I try to feel the weight of the can, the sound of wheels on pavement, and I look up and can suddenly hear birds singing.