Remember airplanes? In the event of an emergency, flight attendants advise us to adjust our own oxygen masks before helping others. I’ve always found that an apt metaphor for anyone in the healing arts.
Tomorrow I’m presenting on self-care during a pandemic (but it could be any personal or shared crisis really). Not self-care for our patients and clients—but self-care for ourselves. The main message concerns the relationship that we have toward time and the present, although there will some other stuff sprinkled in as well.
I’m helping one of my employers with a four-week “meditation challenge.” It grew out of a recent lunch and learn for employees that included some material on mindfulness. The more the merrier, so I’m sharing this with my entire social network.
Here’s the challenge: Meditate three times per day, generally in the morning when you wake up; sometime in the afternoon; and again in the evening right before you go to bed. Start with 5-minute sessions, increasing the duration week-by-week as follows:
Week 1: 5 minutes, 3 times per day
Week 2: 10 minutes, 3 times per day
Week 3: 15 minutes, 3 times per day
Week 4: 20 minutes, 3 times per day
In terms of technique:
Assume any comfortable position. I personally like a semi-supine position (see below)
Set a timer (e.g., on your phone) with a soft alarm
Close your eyes
Direct your attention to your breath. This might be your nose, chest or belly
Follow your breath in and out. Some people use simple mental mantras for each in-breath and out-breath. Examples are: in-out, deep-slow and calm-ease
Internal and external distractions will occur. Just let thoughts, emotions and sensations pass without judgment. Return to your breath, using a mantra, if needed. On the flip side, don’t worry if you feel sleepy or even doze off. Allow that to pass without judgment, too.
And that’s it!
Please let me know how you feel during and after the challenge.
We’ll be discussing a recent NORC at the University of Chicago study that found a historic decrease in happiness. NORC has been surveying Americans since 1972 with the following question:
Taken all together, how would you say things are these days—would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?
Only 14% of people reported feeling “very happy,” which was a sharp drop from the usual run rate. In contrast, 23% of respondents indicated that they are “not too happy.” Both findings are unprecedented (red oval)
Correlation does not imply causation, however, the investigators pursued some provocative Covid-19-related explanations dealing with viral hotspots, loneliness and income. And while George Floyd was not mentioned in NORC’s report, his senseless death on May 25th occurred right in the middle of the survey period. I’d speculate that tragedy and the national reckoning which has followed was also on respondents’ minds
Regardless of the causes, what are some ways to improve happiness?
I generally recommend making peace with the present. This perennial wisdom that has strong, contemporary scientific support. For example, a seminal study by Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert tracked happiness in real time using iPhone surveys. They found that people were happiest when their minds weren’t wandering—that is, when they were totally present in the now
In conclusion, a human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost
Present moment awareness is sometimes called mindfulness, a trendy, frequently misunderstood word that I’ve avoided up until now. If you’re intrigued, I suggest snagging a copy of The Power of Now, the classic book by Eckhart Tolle. I often point people to “Wherever You Are, Be There Totally” (section), which starts on Page 82 in Google Books
I’ll try to mention other tips and tricks on the air, and hope to add them to my profile page at Allina Health later this week. ✸