Using Mindfulness to Cope With Life During Lockdown
written by: Zia Marshall
It goes without saying that life during a lockdown is difficult. Normal life comes to a standstill. All the little things we took for granted are no longer available. You may be juggling a million priorities as you try to achieve work life balance, get your domestic chores done while meeting work deadlines. You may be separated from your loved ones, your family and your friends. All the people you cherish may be reduced to text messages and video calls as you check in on them anxiously to find out how they are doing. The shelves on grocery stores are wiped clean as supply chains are interrupted by mass panic buying and ‘make do’ becomes your new mantra. Life during a lock down is stripped to its bare necessities.
Add an autoimmune condition to the mix and you are skating on thin ice. Of course there are the normal fears associated with the pandemic compounded by the fact that you fall into the high-risk category because you are immune compromised. You have Multiple Sclerosis. A thousand questions race through your mind – do you get off your immune-suppressants because they leave you wide open to the virus attack? But getting off the immune suppressant leaves you wide open to a flare up or relapse of your autoimmune condition.
There are no easy answers and it is not an easy time for people dealing with chronic conditions.
How can you cope with the fears and anxieties that are bound to crop up in such a situation? As all autoimmune patients are well aware, Covid takes no prisoners. The consequences of catching the virus when your immune system is so severely compromised don’t need to be spelled out.
I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, an autoimmune condition seven years back. Some of the lessons I have learned during my seven year long journey with MS I have applied to cope with the lockdown. They are simple lessons in every day living which would benefit not just auto immune patients but anyone caught in a crisis situation. Read on and I hope you find these tips helpful.
Acknowledge the Fear: At first there is the fear. Now fear is a very natural emotion to experience during a pandemic. Those who say they aren’t afraid are not acknowledging their fear.
Why is it important to acknowledge the fear? When fear is left unacknowledged, it often results in either panic or irrational behaviour.
Being a practitioner of mindfulness, I acknowledged the fear and allowed it to work its way through my system.
During my morning meditation, I practiced breathing techniques to deal with the fear. The breathing exercises helped me stay grounded in the present moment.
I practiced affirmations. I affirmed ‘I am safe, I am healthy, I am well. My family is safe, healthy and well. My friends are safe, healthy and well.’
I also included visualisation techniques. I visualised green healing energy coursing through my body as I practiced my health affirmations. I visualised the same green healing energy coursing through the bodies of all those I wished to see safe and healthy.
I looked beyond myself at the chaos without. I did healing meditations for Mother Earth. I sent out many prayers of gratitude to healthcare workers, doctors and everyone on the frontline including social workers who were braving all odds to travel into red zones to deliver supplies to the needy.
I read about the plight of the migrants and daily wage workers and knew there were problems far larger than my own.
Now if there is one lesson coping with an auto immune condition has taught me it is this: if we stay focused on our individual problems, we tend to magnify them in our minds. But if we read about larger issues, larger problems either faced by an individual or a collective majority, our problems shrink and seem insignificant in comparison. I have used this tool often to conquer many of the challenges my auto immune condition has thrown my way, and I used it in this case as well.
As the days passed, fear finally gave way and a strange peace settled over me. The incessant monkey chatter in my brain had given way to peace and calmness. How did I achieve this?
Here are some of the mindfulness tools I used to achieve calm in the midst of the Covid commotion and tedium of lockdown.
Gratitude: I started acknowledging the things I was grateful for. And each day I made it a practice to list 5 to 10 things I was grateful for. As my gratitude levels soared, my fear levels plummeted. It was a strange kind of magic. I would highly recommend a gratitude practice for everyone not just during the lockdown but as a part of your regular day to day life.
Now I practice gratitude all the time. While sweeping my home, I am grateful for a clean home. And for that matter when I think of the thousands who are homeless, I am grateful I have a home and make a mental note to make a donation when I am done with this chore.
When I sit down to my meal, I am grateful I have food to eat for there are so many who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Yes, getting that food on the table wasn’t easy. Braving the kitchen heat when you have a thermo-sensitive condition where regular exposure to heat can result in a relapse can be a bit scary at times. But then it depends on whether you see your glass as half full or half empty. Me, I am just happy I have a glass.
When my family pitches in with the chores, I am grateful. When my dogs lavish me with affection, I feel blessed. Yes, I have much to be thankful for.
Staying in the present moment: I stay in the present moment and that can be a wondrous thing. Tomorrow is a question mark. Worrying about it will rob me of precious energy. And if there is one thing Multiple Sclerosis Warriors learn it is to conserve energy because they deal with exceptionally high fatigue levels. So no thinking about tomorrow and no worrying about it. That is definitely off the list.
I stay focused in the here and the now. I savour the present moment. And from the fabric of several present moments, I weave together a life of simple moments during the lockdown. Pouring over recipes, trying them out, sharing them with friends. The moments I spend in the backyard with my husband talking about this, that and what-nots. Chatting with my daughter while we make a simple potted plant she can place on her bedside. Cleaning my home, playing with my dog family, losing myself in a book, practicing yoga, writing. Yes, there is much in the present moment to keep me happy.
Awareness: I have developed a heightened level of awareness of both my external surroundings and my internal feelings. Externally I am aware of the events taking place in the world. Earlier I reacted to these events. Now I adopt an observational and objective quality to the events. Like clouds floating in a clear sky, I observe the events with detachment without reaction.
Internally I stay connected with my feelings and my emotions. I listen to my body. In the absence of available medical help I know I need to look out for myself. If fatigue levels sky rocket, I skip a chore and take a nap. I have learned to be kind to myself.
Lend a helping hand: How can I help when I am cooped up at home? Stay home are the strict instructions given to all MS patients.
Offer emotional support. Stay in touch with someone coping on their own. Especially the elderly. There may be some facing lockdown crisis. Offer support. Check in on them regularly.
Making a donation to a Covid Cause is of course the most obvious answer that springs to mind. But there are so many other little ways to help.
The other day the doorbell rang. It had been weeks since we had heard the sound of the doorbell. Startled I wondered who could it be. I opened the door. A lady was standing there in ragged attire. ‘Can you spare me some rice?’ she whispered. Her eyes spoke their own tale of hunger. She looked like she hadn’t eaten in days and she had a little boy in tow. ‘Who are you?’ I asked because I knew my colony had strict rules about allowing visitors and outsiders all of whom were banned. ‘I collect your garbage,’ she said. I hurriedly went in emptied out the rice box into a bag, grabbed a few packets of biscuits and gave it to her.
When we sat down to lunch, I told my family there was hardly any rice in the house. Sourcing raw material is a bit of an issue at the moment but they smiled and said ‘we’ll manage’.
Feeding the stray dogs is something else my daughter and I did one afternoon. We knew they must be hungry because we used to feed them regularly during our forays to the grocery store in the pre-lockdown days. These dogs survive on the food given to them by the street vendors and other small grocery store owners. Now in the absence of these, the dogs were skin and bone. It was a heart-wrenching sight to see them so grateful for the few morsels of rice and biscuits we had brought out for them.
Meditation and breathing: Spirituality lends inner strength in both good times and during a crisis. It gives you that extra ounce of courage to go on when you are ready to give up. There is a wonderful peace and joy that arises when you learn to hand your problems to God.
A regular meditation practice quiets the mind. Meditation combined with pranayama and breathing techniques bring an infinite measure of calm.
As peace and tranquility descend over me, it is as comforting as wrapping myself in a warm blanket on a cold winter morning. No the myriad problems don’t go away. There are days when the fatigue rolls in like a thick fog and wading through it is like walking through quick sand with heavy boots on. There are days when you feel you simply can’t put another foot forward and you know you are functioning on sheer willpower.
The MS aches and pains are your constant companions. You learn to live with them.
But there is a certain core inner strength you gain from mindfulness practices that help you rise above all this. You learn to focus on the things that work in your body, and ignore the things that don’t. And when you tumble into bed at the end of the day you know how runners must feel when they cross the finish line of the marathon. And you snuggle in thankful that you made it through another day safe and mostly healthy as you drift off to sleep.
Words I have lived my life by for many a year and I would like to end by sharing them here:
“See nothing, look at nothing but your goal, ever shining before you. The things that happened to us do not matter; what we become through them does. Each day, accept everything as coming to you from God. At night, give everything back into His hands.” – Sri Gyanamata
Zia Marshall, with an MPhil and PhD in English Literature, is a Learning Designer and Communication Specialist skilled in performance and competency development for personal and professional growth. She has created context-sensitive, solution-oriented e-learning, blended learning, and mobile learning programs for corporate houses like Wipro, Infosys, HCL, DHL, IIIT, Macmillan and also for the education sector. She has published a course on Time Management for Productivity and Work-Life Balance at Udemy. Her short stories have been featured in Adelaide Literary Magazine, the Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore, Contemporary Literary Journal of India and the Scarlet Leaf Review.