In much of the world, Covid-19 is still tangibly affecting day-to-day life. With possible effective vaccines on the horizon, there is cause for hope, yet we still face months of restrictions on what we can do.
It’s natural to feel ‘over it’ and want things back to normal. This kind of pandemic fatigue may be making things feel very difficult at the moment. While mindfulness can’t solve everything, here are six steps that might offer some help.
1. Spend time outside
In the northern hemisphere, we are experiencing shorter days and colder temperatures, and if we are working from home, that may mean that our daily routine isn’t making us spend time outside.
While it’s tempting to huddle up and stay cosy inside, it can be beneficial to resist. Instead, by wrapping up warm and going outside, we may will a little better. Use mindfulness to become aware of your steps (even if walking fast!), trees and nature, the sky, and the cold air on your face.
2. Question your idea of happiness
We all have ideas of what happiness is. Sometimes these can be very subtle. It could be a promotion at work, a holiday, or even just a kind word from someone whose acceptance we would like. Somewhere at the back of our mind, we have an idea that “if x happens, we will be happy”. But Thich Nhat Hanh has warned us that this idea of happiness can cause us to suffer.
With so many restrictions, now is a time to try to identify and question our ideas of happiness. What we think is necessary to our happiness may not be so essential after all; we might not have considered other ways to be happy. Establishing this could help tackle pandemic fatigue.
3. Find joy in the small things
Mindfulness allows us to squeeze joy from the most ‘mundane’ activities. When we sit and meditate, our breath can become a wonder and the simple fact of being alive can become a reason to be happy. An ordinary stroll can make us marvel at the human anatomy that allows us to walk. Eating a meal or a snack mindfully can become a symphony of sensation.
We can even use our mindfulness to transform ‘neutral’ feelings into positive ones.
When we have a toothache, we would love for it to end – but do we appreciate all the time that our teeth don’t ache? Or having a roof over our heads? Or being safe from war and violence?
If we can refresh our mindfulness practice and find joy and wonder each day, we will be able to have more patience for the coming months.
(You can read more about mindful eating here.)
4. Expand our perspective with metta meditation
During metta meditation, or listening to the Avalokiteshvara chant, we send the wish to be happy and not to suffer first to ourselves, then to those close to us, and finally to all beings.
In this pandemic, healthcare workers are exhausted and overwhelmed; other people are suffering incredible economic hardship from jobs and businesses being compromised; millions have been hospitalised with Covid, or are still suffering from symptoms months later; and others still are experiencing loneliness in hospitals or care homes which aren’t admitting visitors.
We may want to bring an awareness of this suffering into our metta meditation. Not so that we become overwhelmed by it, but in order to feel part of the larger human story of what is happening, and to offer the wish that our fellow beings can be free from suffering.
5. Put compassion into action
Thich Nhat Hanh has said that compassion is a verb. It’s not enough to only send others our positive wishes – we must also ask ourselves what we can do.
If we have capacity, see what is possible. Does a local food bank need donations or volunteers? Is there someone we know who is lonely and would benefit from a phone call, or company on a walk? Is there a group of people being overlooked for economic support and any way to support a campaign to change their situation? Despite the restrictions in place, there are practical things that can be done to reduce the suffering around us.
Putting compassion into action will give us a source of meaning and energy to counteract pandemic fatigue.
6. Tenderly embrace our strong emotions
This pandemic has undoubtedly brought up strong emotions. Some of us might be angry at the response of our politicians. We might fear for our health. We might be concerned about friends or loved ones. We might have uncertainty and worry about work and how to pay the bills.
With mindfulness, we can embrace these strong emotions, neither pushing them away, nor letting them overwhelm us. Thich Nhat Hanh used the image of a mother caring for a crying baby. We might lay down on our bed with our hands on our belly and feel our breathing while experiencing a strong emotion, or we might walk outside and let nature help us.
Whatever technique we use, mindfulness will not magically solve a problem, but it can help us to manage the strong emotions that might be making us feel even worse. If we can embrace and accept the emotion, feel any pain that is there, then let the emotion pass, we will be able to see the best path forward more clearly.
The Plum Village App is here to support you in tough times; it is free to use and contains a range of guided meditations and talks.
If you can afford to, support us to continue offering it freely to the world.