Psychological Resilience in the Time of Coronavirus

5. Mindfulness (Part 2): Responding, Not Reacting, to Challenges

May 05, 2020 Ann Marie Roepke, Ph.D.
Psychological Resilience in the Time of Coronavirus
5. Mindfulness (Part 2): Responding, Not Reacting, to Challenges
Chapters
Psychological Resilience in the Time of Coronavirus
5. Mindfulness (Part 2): Responding, Not Reacting, to Challenges
May 05, 2020
Ann Marie Roepke, Ph.D.

Episode 5 continues to explore mindfulness, discusses how mindfulness can help us respond wisely vs. react unhelpfully to challenges, briefly covers neuroplasticity (how the brain rewires itself!), and provides guidance for doing a formal mindfulness practice. (The mindfulness practice begins at about 11:00 minutes.)

Resources and references:

1. Mindfulness research (selected):
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1809754
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272735817303847
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272735815000197

2. Mindfulness authors to check out:
Thich Nhat Hanh
Jon Kabat-Zinn

3. Mental health resources:

Directory of therapists: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists

National Suicide Prevention Life Line: 1-800-273-8255

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI

SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990

NAMI’s guide on coronavirus: https://www.nami.org/covid-19-guide

CDC’s coronavirus information page: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html

Show Notes Transcript

Episode 5 continues to explore mindfulness, discusses how mindfulness can help us respond wisely vs. react unhelpfully to challenges, briefly covers neuroplasticity (how the brain rewires itself!), and provides guidance for doing a formal mindfulness practice. (The mindfulness practice begins at about 11:00 minutes.)

Resources and references:

1. Mindfulness research (selected):
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1809754
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272735817303847
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272735815000197

2. Mindfulness authors to check out:
Thich Nhat Hanh
Jon Kabat-Zinn

3. Mental health resources:

Directory of therapists: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists

National Suicide Prevention Life Line: 1-800-273-8255

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI

SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990

NAMI’s guide on coronavirus: https://www.nami.org/covid-19-guide

CDC’s coronavirus information page: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html

speaker 0:   0:00
hello and welcome back to psychological resilience in the time of Corona virus. This is a podcast about the ideas, thes skills and the relationships that can help us to get through this Cove in 19 Crisis together, I'm your host, Anne Marie Rep E. And I'm also a psychologist, trainer and consultant based in Seattle, Washington. Now, this is Episode five, which is thesis and part of a discussion about mindfulness. Last week we talked about what mindfulness is and how it's playing a bigger role in therapy these days. How it might be helpful during challenging times, some risks and benefits of mindfulness practice and how to do informal mindfulness practice. So today will be picking up the conversation there and talking about how to do formal mindfulness practice. Now, as always, this podcast is intended for informational and educational purposes, and it's not intended as a health care service, medical advice, a doctor patient relationship or diagnosis and treatment. So if you do need some help and some extra support, there's no shame in that, and you can check out the show notes. For some, resource is about where to find it. Also, ask a mental health provider if you have questions or concerns about how mindfulness might fit your unique needs. Alright. So back to mindfulness. And as we returned to the topic of mindfulness, I want to start with a story now who knows if this story is historically accurate? But it's a story about the Buddha, and as the story goes one day the Buddha is walking through the forest on a path and then up ahead of him. This guy, out of nowhere, just jumps out of the bushes and he throws this glass. Orb this glass ball at the Buddha or to the Buddha and the Buddha just stands there. He doesn't make any move to catch it, and this glass ball hits him in the chest, falls to the ground and shatters, and the guy threw it. Sort of starts yelling and waving his arms, and he says, What's wrong with you? You had time. You saw it coming. Why didn't you catch it? And the Buddha's response is just because you throw it doesn't mean that I have to catch it. And I love this story because I think that it drives home the point that we spoke about last time the way that mindfulness can help us to ground ourselves in the present moment. And in doing so, it can help us find some freedom to respond rather than to react to challenges and to painful feelings. So last week we talked about what we were calling informal mindfulness practice. So this is about bringing that spirit of mindfulness two activities in our daily lives, that spirit of paying attention on purpose to the present moment without judgment, with an accepting and curious stance. And so we talked about the way that we can approach things like going for a walk or doing the dishes, taking a shower or eating a single raisin or a single bite of food with a slow and thoughtful and mindful approach. And some of you might have wondered, Well, how on earth does eating a raisin really slowly and noticing its texture and its smell? How can that help me to not be depressed? Or how can that help me to not freak out? When I see someone at the store without a mask on? Well, let's talk about that. How does something like eating a reason really slowly help with those things First of all, mindfulness might not help a given person at all. So let's be real about that as we talked about last time. It is not a cure all for every single person and every situation. So if you should end up finding that mindfulness just doesn't fit for you, it's not a problem. Now. Secondly, some informal mindfulness practice is also unlikely to help if it's just a one time slowly eating a reason sort of intervention. The real benefit is probably in retraining our brain over time, retraining the way that we react to stimuli the way that we react to our world. It's sort of like putting a lump of clay on a pottery wheel and then just gently and steadily pressing or pulling on that lump of clay in a particular way to help shape it into something new with every spin of that pottery wheel. And this relates to a broader topic of how psychological change happens now. It used to be that neuroscientists, psychologists and other researchers thought that the brain basically stopped changing or stopped developing after some point in childhood that it was sort of like a piece of pottery that had already been baked, were fired and was just totally set, rigid, finished. And now we know that that is just not the case. More modern research has shown that the brain is continually able to be remodeled to form new connections between neurons and let other connections fade. This is called neural plasticity in psychological research, and it is a really hot area of research Now there's a lot that we still don't know about how the brain changes and how are intentional efforts, whether that's mindfulness or something else, change the brain. One of the many things that we don't really know for sure is how exactly mindfulness meditation affects us and how that shows up in the brain. There's some evidence coming out, though, that meditation might cause some changes to both the structure in the function of certain particular areas of the brain. And those are the parts of the brain that are involved in things like regulating our attention, our emotions and our self awareness. Now, when it comes to this neural plasticity, thes changes that could be made in the brain over time, the metaphor that really fits for me is about imagining being on a walking path or a hiking trail in the forest, so you could imagine one trail that has been trod many times. And because of that, it's wide. It's flat. It's easy to find on. It's really easy to follow. It's really easy to walk down time and time again. Now off to the side. There might be another little faint beginning of a trail, one that has hardly been used at all and isn't particularly broad or easy to follow. But the more times that we take that new path, the easier that it becomes to see it on to follow it the next time. And the more times that we refrain from walking down that original path, the more that it might sort of fall into disuse and start to kind of, Ah, grow over. And I think that that is a nice visual metaphor for what can happen in the brain as we make intentional choices about which old paths we might choose to refrain from following and what new paths we might try to continually take so back to mindfulness. How do we undertake this process of forging those new trails, figuring out new ways of thinking and responding rather than reacting out of habit or instinct or strong emotion. I think that it can be helpful to work on mindfulness in a progression that at first blush I want to call a progression from easier to harder mindfulness practices. But I feel like those aren't quite the right words because they put a label or a judgment or a preconceived expectation on what that process is going to be like. So I think it's not so much about starting easy and then getting two more difficult, but about starting with something that's really concrete and tangible things, like our immediate sensory experience and then moving to things that are a little bit more intangible and slippery things like our thoughts and our emotions, and then eventually, maybe even intentionally inviting in some more difficult or challenging or painful thoughts and emotions into that process. What I want to do right now is walk through a basic formal meditation practice that includes mostly more concrete, tangible things to focus on things like physical sensations, sounds and the breath, and also does a quick check in with thoughts and feelings. Now, again, I would really encourage you to decide if mindfulness is a good fit for you or not and to talk to a mental health professional. If you want any advice on that and also know that you can adapt mindfulness practices to make them fit better for you again if this formal practices into fit doing informal practices like mindful, walking or mindful eating another option is when you're doing formal mindfulness practice toe. Leave your eyes open if you find that sitting alone with your eyes closed brings up too much painful emotion or memory, or if you're just too tired to stay awake with your eyes closed, all right, so at this point I'm going to switch into guiding a basic formal mindfulness meditation. So if you want to go for it, then go ahead and just allow this to play and start out by getting in a comfortable position as best as you're able and know that you can readjust your position, your posture at any time as we go along. If it works for you, you might choose to gently close your eyes and start out by just giving yourself a few moments to settle in here, letting the mind catch up with the body and just arrive here in the present moment. And maybe set an intention to take that mindful approach to this activity, to pay attention on purpose to this present moment here and now without judgment, as best you can with the spirit of allowing a spirit of curiosity and start out by bringing that mindful awareness to the sounds that you can hear simply paying careful attention teach sound and to the space and the silence between each sound. And as you notice each sound, you might also notice that you have some reaction or a judgment of those sounds. Maybe that you like one sound or you dislike another one. I just noticed that, too. Next. Bringing that mindful awareness to your body, noticing all the points of contact where the body is resting on the chair or other surface that you might be sitting or resting on. And just tracing all those points of contact where your body is resting or touching another surface. Almost a ziff. Those other surfaces were covered in paint, and you could imagine all the places where the surface of your clothing of your body was going to be painted, and from time to time you'll probably notice that your mind has wandered off somewhere else. Maybe your mind is trying to help you out by thinking about the future or running through things from the past. Totally normal, not a problem at all. In fact, as soon as you've noticed that you're already back here observing the present moment, so there's nothing to fix, it's no trouble. Any time you noticed, the mind does wander just gently escorting your attention back toothy area that we're focusing on right now. That's sensations in the body and those points of contact between the body and another surface, and then turning your mindful attention to any other sensations in the body. For instance, the surface of the skin. Can you notice the temperature of the air? Can you notice any textures that you can feel on your skin like the fabric of your clothing? Then bringing your mindful awareness to your breathing, just noticing the fact that you are breathing and noticing any movement or motion as you breathe in and out, being curious about if you feel any movement in the chest, in the belly, maybe even in the sides or back of the rib cage, and there's no need to breathe in any particular way. No need to force anything or fix anything. You're really just sort of watching the body breathe itself may be noticing the pace of your breathing, maybe counting in as you breathe in to see how many seconds that is. Hand counting out as you breathe out to see how many seconds that is. And now let him go off the focus on your breathing and perhaps bringing that same quality of mindful awareness. So what's going on inside your mind right now? Just simply noticing what thoughts air there or aren't there what you might be feeling again with no need to fix it, force it or change it just simply watching that it's almost like you are a mountain in the thoughts and the emotions that you might be experiencing are the weather surrounding you. There might be rain and clouds. There might be, son, there might be hail. There might be all sorts of weather, all sorts of thoughts and feelings that you're experiencing right now, but those aren't you. Their experiences that you're having you are more like the mountain that's there, steady through all of that. Okay. And as we get ready to close this mindfulness practice, just noticing what your mind did with that information. Maybe relief that it's finally over, or disappointment wishing that it could go on more, or some judgment about how you did, as if there were a right way or a wrong way to do this. And as we get ready to close, just gently bringing your awareness to your breathing again noticing any movement or sensation with your breathing. Gently bringing your awareness to your body again noticing any sensations on the surface of the skin, noticing the points of contact between the body and where it's resting and noticing sounds. Once again, that's we get ready to close, maybe gently wiggling your toes or your fingers coming back to the body. More Feli and as you're ready in your own time, gently opening your eyes if they were closed, all right, so that is an example of a more formal mindfulness practice, and I'd invite you to just take a moment right now to consider whether any sort of formal or informal mindfulness practice would be a good fit for you right now. And if so, to maybe think about what would be a good time for this in your life. First thing in the morning, at some transition time during the day, in the evening when you're starting to wind down If you'd like. This could even be an opportunity to set a little reminder alarm to help you remember this intention to practice. All right, team. So that is it for today. I will be back next week with a new topic related to resilience skills during covet 19. If you're enjoying the podcast, it would be great if you subscribe, follow it or leave a rating. Because that really helps other people to find it too. All right, take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. And I look forward to connecting with you again next time. Bye for now.