Recently the American Psychological Association found that 52% of adults report high levels of stress related to the election. Many of us, regardless of political leanings, feel this pervasive sense of anxiety and even fear. We fear the anger and divisiveness we see amongst ourselves. The unknown also creates anxiety. We don’t know what it will look like come Wednesday morning and this can create a sense of helplessness that is uncomfortable. When we are afraid, we tend to take one of two routes: either we ignore the fear by numbing out or burying it deep inside or we act it out in how we behave.
In the first scenario, our anxiety and fear slowly bubbles under the surface and comes out in “sneaky” or unsuspected ways. We numb by distracting ourselves; often with unhealthy distractions such as excessive alcohol consumption or overeating. When we act out our fear and anxiety it becomes the chip on your shoulder. The world is colored by the fear and therefore every interaction becomes jaded and negative.
Mindfulness teaches the middle ground of recognizing and then responding. The first step is to take a breath and be with the fear or the anxiety. Mindfulness encourages us not to stuff it or push it out towards others, but to gently hold it and examine it. What is it that I am afraid of right now? Unless we really know what the fear is about, we can’t respond thoughtfully. The answer may be the fear of the unknown. Whatever it is, mindfulness helps us to name it and acknowledge it.
The next step is to get on the balcony and take a different view. Pull back and create a broader perspective. Can you look at this fear from multiple angles without getting caught up in the story being created by others, by the media or even by your own assumptions.
Finally, respond versus react. When we are in fear or driven by anxiety we react. Often, our knee-jerk reactions are not helpful and can even be harmful. Mindfulness teaches us to come from a place of big perspective and grounded thought. Take a breath, examine and then respond. Remember, it is often our fear of being helpless or of the unknown that drives the anxiety. Mindfulness encourages us to respond, which is taking action in a thoughtful manner. In a recent article, Dalai Lama: Behind Our Anxiety, the Fear of Being Unneeded, the Dalai Lama suggests starting by asking “What can I do today to appreciate the gifts that others offer me?”
This week, as we participate in our nation’s democratic process, see if you can bring mindfulness to the week and the results that come.
Mindful moments are short practices to be used throughout your week to relax, integrate and center yourself. Inspired by the wisdom traditions and science, mindful moments are meant to be accessible and simple enough for anyone to practice. Many teachers and leaders in integrative medicine have influenced our approach to mindful moments. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Pema Chodron would say it is “practicing in the gaps.” Look for the weekly mindful moment every Monday. May it support you in finding your center to live life to the fullest.