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Mindfulness and Selfcare as Tools of Resilience During the Pandemic

By Althea Gordon posted 11-24-2020 11:58 AM

Our Reality
“I can be changed by what happens to me.

But I refuse to be reduced by it”- Maya Angelou

The international education landscape has been changed forever in the wake of what seems to be the most monumental event to have occurred in the twenty first century. The Coronavirus Pandemic arrived on the heels of the start of the new academic year. Students were settling into new courses and began preparing for midsemester exams. Faculty were already submitting final examination questions in preparation for the finals in May and administrators were busy on the recruitment trail. For our university, the curtains came down on March 13th, for others, much sooner, but for all nothing would be the same. Social distancing, sanitization and flattening the curve were the new terms being flouted and would become new priorities. All teaching was transferred to online platforms and symmetrical and asymmetrical programme delivery were the new buzz terms. Restrictions on movement and the closing of borders would mean students and faculty were stranded overseas and a total separation from those we worked with and those we served. We were now alone and, in some instances, lonely. Social and physical interaction ended; relationships changed, and the student teacher partnership was transformed to a screen and microphone where the use of the video feed display was optional. There were new challenges for university administrators. Aside from the financial implications of the shut down there was also a rise in psycho-social issues affecting students, faculty, and the administrators themselves.

Colleague psychologists offered their services to the community and began guiding individuals and teams towards “Mindfulness” and increased “Selfcare”. These were the main strategies for developing resilience among persons at the university. This would be the way we ensured our teams would make it to the other side. Practical and deliberate actions had to be taken, and resources made available that were accessible to anyone with an electronic device.

“A mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness
on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging
and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily
sensations, used as a therapeutic technique”- The Oxford Dictionary

Several approaches were introduced in exercising mindfulness. The FIRST, and possibly the most important of the exercises, was to always remember that you were not alone, there were at least 3 billion other people in the world going through the same experience. The knowledge that you were not the only person on lockdown, in isolation, separated from friends and loved ones and using technology to interact removed some of the weight and anxiety. This was not a me problem but everybody’s issue. The SECOND was to be “mindful” in the way you thought about things. This meant that, for every negative thought that came to mind you had to be deliberate in counteracting it with a positive thought. An example, “I am on lockdown isolated and away from everyone. I am so lonely.” A counteracting thought might be, “I can’t believe how much money I have saved since working from home. I need to video call my friends to see if they are having the same experience, this is amazing!” We control our thoughts and once you take control of the thought process the change in mood follows.

The THIRD lesson, practice being grateful even before you receive what you hope for. Living with an attitude of gratitude trains the mind to operate in a positive way. The FOURTH and final exercise is to develop routines and structure your day. Creating a realistic schedule for your activities gives the mind a sense of purpose and prevents time wasting. The schedule should not only include work or study time but also time for leisure, video calls and physical exercise.

“I have come to believe that caring for myself
is not self-indulgence. Caring for myself is
an act of survival”- Audre Lorde

The psychologists stated that there are five types of selfcare: physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, and professional. In all instances the focus is on self and ensuring your mental health. Lesson ONE, get at least ten minutes of exercise every day. Exercise allows the mind to work more efficiently and helps with weight management in a time when physical activity is restricted. Lesson TWO, use every available technology to stay in touch with family and friends. As human beings the emotional connections we have and maintain provides a sense of wellbeing. Conversations with those we love or have history with helps with assimilating what is taking place around us. Lesson THREE, use any allowance to go out to interact with nature. The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in the United States, in an article published in 2013, stated that, “Interaction with nature can increase self-esteem and mood, reduce anger, and improve general psychological well-being with positive effects on emotions and behaviour.” Lesson FOUR, for persons who practice daily prayers and meditation it is vital that this continues in lockdown. This practice ensures that the spiritual connection we had prior to the pandemic is maintained and a measure of normalcy is preserved. The FIFTH and final lesson is that we are careful to measure our time engaged in professional activities. As we work from home the observation of strict work hours becomes blurred. Persons may end up working longer hours, engaging in more online meetings, and leaving very little personal time. It is important that you place yourself on the daily schedule. Me time is just as important as work time as without you the work cannot continue.

The fundamental takeaway from these strategies is that, in developing our resilience during this pandemic it is important that we treat ourselves as well as we treat our closest friends. The same advice we would give our friend going through a tough time we should give ourself by looking in the mirror and repeating these words, “you’re tougher than you think, you will get through this.”