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How Mindfulness Helped Me Through the Pandemic

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

By Joanna Urban

What if the key to letting go of the anxiety, fear, and frustration surrounding Covid-19 is simply to embrace these feelings?

I’m not saying to walk around without a mask on, ignore public health precautions, or find an alternate reality to live in. But instead of pushing away negative emotions — the minutes, hours, even days of hopelessness and anxiety that have characterized this surreal time — what if we learned how to feel them, and then allowed them to pass?

I am a yogi and have practiced yoga for over ten years. Since I moved to Washington, D.C., almost six years ago, yoga has been a ritual that helps me separate work and life, allows me the space to be grounded in my body, and most importantly, has taught me about mindfulness and meditation. Breathing through a difficult posture and integrating that knowledge into my body teaches me that physical and emotional discomfort will always pass.

Last fall, I started hearing the phrase “new normal” crop up everywhere in reference to Zoom meetings, virtual interactions, and the lack of work-life balance resulting from this lifestyle. I began to despise this expression.

A “new normal” minimized how hard all of this was: my partner and I shouting over each other on our respective virtual meetings in our studio apartment, attempting to exercise our puppy with walks and dog park trips throughout our hectic days, and developing a repetitive stress injury in my hands from constant computer use.

I was grateful that we both had jobs, for my health, our adorable new rescue puppy, and for supportive friends and family members to lean on. I knew I was lucky in the grand scheme, but I was still struggling with low-grade (and sometimes intense) pandemic anxiety. I didn’t want to normalize this virtual way of living and the deteriorating work-life boundaries that came along with it.

Instead of carrying on stoically and filling my calendar with virtual events, I tried to heed the advice that is offered to me each time I pull out my mat for a (now online) yoga class: cultivate awareness in the body and live in the moment.

These days, when I’m hit with an overwhelming wave of loneliness or anxiety, I try to acknowledge, identify, and feel the emotion I’m struggling with. Instead of trying to “power through” this difficult time, rationalizing that others have it worse, or feeling guilty for my small pieces of sadness and stress, the best way to get through the rest of the pandemic is to sit with these feelings and not label them as “good” or “bad.”

At its core, mindfulness is the practice of living in the present moment and accepting our emotions and current circumstances as they are, not as we would like them to be. This is especially relevant now as we live through a time many of us wish we could fast forward. Tough days are days like any other, because they are here to teach us something. To numb ourselves during the dark times would be to extinguish the joy and light, too.

When I’m hit with an overwhelming wave of loneliness or anxiety, I try to acknowledge, identify, and feel the emotion I’m struggling with.

Feelings and seasons of life are all temporary. This has been a powerful mantra for me throughout this pandemic. When I feel frustrated with the state of the world, I visualize that emotion atop its own leaf, floating down a stream, where it will soon be out of reach. This is an easy meditation exercise to try: visualize each emotion or bodily sensation you experience physically moving.

The healing and intentional movements of yoga have also been invaluable to me during Covid-19. Working from home, at a desk six feet away from my bed and ten feet away from my kitchen, I miss out on all the small pockets of movement in my pre-pandemic life. Like many remote workers, I’m no longer walking to the metro stop, going out to grab lunch, or getting up from my desk to walk down the hall to a meeting. As my physical therapist put it, it’s not even exercise we’re missing out on, but simple movement.

It seems like the worst of the pandemic will soon be in the rearview, but even this forecast can induce anxiety. There have been so many guesses and hypotheses about our timeline for returning to normalcy that predictions themselves can become triggering.

Be gentle with yourself as the fog of the pandemic slowly begins to lift. As we gradually start trading messy buns and sweatpants for blow-dried hair and jeans; as we close our laptops to venture out to meet friends IRL, let yourself be happy. Rejoice as you hug loved ones. Appreciate and acknowledge gratitude for the things once taken for granted.


Joanna Urban is a writer and public-relations guru who is working on her first novel. She lives in Washington, D.C., where she works at a scientific non-profit organization by day. She has studied writing at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and at Georgetown’s School of Continuing Studies. Her writing has appeared in numerous online publications such as District Lit and Yoga Digest.

Website: lafilleamericaine.com/

Instagram: urbann_jo