Wherever You Go, There You Are, the title of Jon Kabat-Zinn's (2009) book on mindfulness, offers a powerful reminder: wherever you go, your energies and awareness inform everything you do. Today, when so many of us are dealing with the stress of COVID-19, we can benefit from taking short mindfulness breaks.
In these uncertain times, millions of us have been feeling distressed, fearful, and anxious. Yet research has shown that chronic stress not only weakens our immune system (Cresswell & Lindsey, 2014), but undermines our ability to respond to the people and situations around us. It prevents us from seeing the larger patterns, engaging in long-range planning, and coming up with new solutions to the problems in our lives. It triggers defensive reactions when other people disagree with us, sabotaging our relationships at home and at work (Dreher, 2015; Lupien, McEwen, Gunnar, & Heim, 2009). Does any of this sound familiar?
Studying how our attitudes and energies affect those around us, researchers in Singapore measured the mindfulness of 96 supervisors along with their employees' health, well-being, and job performance. They found that the employees with leaders who practiced mindfulness were not only significantly healthier and more balanced, but also demonstrated better job performance—a win-win on all counts (Reb, Narayan, & Chaturvedi, 2012). Like the ripples from a pebble tossed into a pond, the mindfulness of these leaders rippled out to touch everything and everyone around them.
Beginning a daily mindfulness practice can make a positive difference in your life. Whenever you feel stressed, you can take this brief mindfulness break:
- Pause for a moment. Take a deep breath and, if possible, close your eyes.
- Ask "What am I feeling right now?" Name the feeling—stress, anger, fear, disappointment. Whatever it is, naming it makes it manageable.
- Then return your attention to your breathing, noticing the awareness that lies beneath the feeling, beyond the feeling.
- Now expand your attention to your body as a whole. How are you feeling—your shoulders, your neck, your muscles, your breath? Just notice this and let it go.
- Take another long, deep breath and release it, feeling your body gradually release the tension you've been holding, as you experience a new sense of presence and wholeness.
With greater mindfulness, you can transform the atmosphere around you, bringing greater clarity, compassion, and cooperation to our world. The answer is as close as your next breath.
Cresswell, J. D., & Lindsay, E.K. (2014). How does mindfulness training affect health? A mindfulness stress buffering account. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23, 401-407.
Dreher, D. E. (2015). Leading with compassion: A moral compass for our time. In T. G. Plante (Ed.). The psychology of compassion and cruelty: Understanding the emotional, spiritual, and religious influences (pp. 73-87). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2009). Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. New York: Hachette Books.
Lupien, S. McEwen, B. S., Gunnar, M. R., & Heim, C. (2009). Effects of stress throughout the lifespan on the brain, behaviour, and cognition. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10, 434-445.
Reb, J., Narayanan, J., & Chaturvedi, S. (2012). Leading mindfully: Two studies on the influence of supervisor trait mindfulness on employee well-being and performance. Mindfulness, September 4, 1-10.