Amie Eipers-Ponzio, LCSW, C.H., Licensed Clinical Social WorkerAmie Eipers-Ponzio, LCSW, C.H., Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Being Mindful in the COVID-19 World

Amie Eipers-Ponzio, LCSW Services

National Customer Service Association, viewed May 2020

This time of year is usually filled with anticipation and excitement for the increasing warm weather and fun to be had over the summer months ahead. This year, however, those positive thoughts and feelings have a shadow hanging over them. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and for many, continued stay-at-home orders, have significantly impacted our ability to interact with each other let alone feel secure in our lives. To that end, it is important that everyone takes the time to understand, and put into practice, the technique of mindfulness. A general definition of Mindfulness is "maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations and surrounding environment with openness and curiosity".

As Steven Covey would remind us, being mindful may seem to be a basic and easy concept but it isn't simple to do.  If it were, we all would do it. In our “normal” day-to-day lives, most people are able to choose how they will interact with others situation-by-situation.  This could mean responding with a smile (with your eyes since we can't necessarily see mouths in our "masked" world!) and saying “no problem” to a harried mom, as she is trying to get her child to move out of your way in a grocery store aisle or being patient with an on-line vendor who is trying to help you solve a problem. On those days when we are not feeling our best mentally and/or emotionally, however, those same scenarios could result in you glaring at the mom, even criticizing her for not making her child mind or being rude and over-demanding with the on-line vendor. We can choose (and it is a choice) to be “anti-mindful”, if you will, or make a conscious decision to be mindful of our words, tone, mannerisms and behaviors when interacting with others.

It is painfully apparent how we are all being impacted by the pandemic--being ordered to stay at home, and the resulting loss of our routines, schedules, support systems and income.  Most people have felt the gradual increase of stress, anxiety, depression, and fear, among other feelings, over the past several weeks.  As those negative thoughts and feelings have increased, our ability to manage our interactions with others has decreased proportionately. It’s as if we are all at our “breaking point” more of the time, so it doesn't take much for us to react in a negative, and occasionally inappropriate, way to those with whom we are interacting—personally or professionally.  For these reasons, becoming mindful as we go about our day is imperative.

Simply put, being mindful is paying attention to how you are feeling and how to best manage your behavior based on any given situation. The hard part is slowing down our thought process so that we are able to respond in a more positive, or at least, in a neutral way. It has become more common to hear stories of customers yelling at grocery store employees, for example, because the store has no more toilet paper. It is easy to understand how a customer could be frustrated by this, but it is necessary for each of us to stop and consider the entire situation. We must make a conscious choice to respond to the employee in a civil, kind, and even polite way, because doing so will be to both people.

It is fairly common for us to get caught up in how things are affecting us, and forget how others might be feeling. Mindfulness requires us to take others into consideration, and to use that information to assist us in determining an appropriate, productive and respectful response situation-by-situation. It is easy to understand that being mindful is becoming more difficult with each passing week, but it takes just a few seconds to remind yourself to turn that around, again, situation-by-situation. 

It is helpful to find ways to manage and decrease your stress on a daily basis using exercise, hobbies, establishing a routine and other activities to give us a more positive outlook--that our life is more under our control. Then, when going out to the store, for instance, we need to begin the process of being mindfulUsing positive self-talk can truly make a difference. We are, in essence, coaching ourselves on how to behave and interact in a positive way, and the more we do that, the easier and more natural being mindful becomes.

While it may "feel good" momentarily to react in a harsh and angry manner, it only serves to increase one's own negative feelings and rarely solves any problems.  And the people with whom you are interacting whether in person, by phone/text or email/messaging deserve your respect. They are feeling similar stress as you may be and are trying to serve you as best they can. Also never forget that those with whom you live deserve your highest level of respect as well. "Practice" mindfulness on them with every interaction and see if the moods lighten at home going from "dark" to "light"—"sheltering in place" becomes far more tolerable in the light. 

People are taking advantage of the extra free time bestowed upon us due to COVID-19 precautions with a lot of cleaning, home projects, reading, etc.. Use some of that time to give yourself positive self-talk and practice being mindful of your thoughts and feelings as you interact with othersTaking the time to “rehearse” how you want to behave in different situations may sound silly, but you will see and feel the positive impact of your "practicing" the next time you find yourself in a difficult interaction. And even if you face an unanticipated situation, your overall "practicing" will leave you better prepared to be spontaneously mindful.

We all have the absolute power to control our minds and, therefore, our behavior. Let’s use that to our advantage and make your time at home with loved ones or those with whom you interact outside the home through any medium, positive.  Be a good customer! Everyone wins!