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Coronavirus Teaches Us About Mindfulness




If I have to answer one more question about Coronavirus between my family, friends, and patients, I will scream. Actually, not really. I’m grateful for the awareness that the press has brought to a novel contagious disease. I’ve observed over the last few weeks that there is another process occurring. How one reacts to the coronavirus news may be a surrogate gauge for how mindful one is.


Remembering that mindfulness is purposeful non-judgmental awareness of the present moment, every day we are hearing about what happened in the past, abroad and locally, and what could happen. A lot of future thinking and catastrophizing occurring.


As stated “by Rick Hanson, PhD, “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones.”


This is the way we are wired. To have negative attention bias- that is we notice and hang onto negative events, thoughts, emotions more readily and longer than positive ones. There was an evolutionary advantage to this. Our prehistoric ancestors who were more attune to the possibility of danger lived longer. That hard wiring though, in the 21st century does not serve us as much. Humans react to non-life threatening stressors whether internal or external, in much the same way as if there were a predator trying to attack us. When this chronically occurs, one becomes more at risk for health ailments.


Coronavirus is sticking to a lot of people like Velcro. Coronavirus reaffirms humans’ negative attention bias. It’s like Armageddon has just been announced, scheduled to come to you at some nebulous time in the future with the wipe out of hand sanitizers, toilet paper, and face masks. Who knew one needed so much toilet paper for Armageddon? And more importantly what will one be eating to necessitate such massive quantities of toilet paper? But I digress.


The Coronavirus news is an excellent gauge of how one deals with stress. Because yes Coronavirus is a stressor, as are all diseases, or anything that seeks to endanger our health, but because of its novelty it seems to be a bigger stressor for many.


I invite you to participate in a noticing exercise:

When you hear or read Coronavirus or COVID-19, what do you notice?

What are the thoughts, emotions, and body sensations that you have about it?

Are the thoughts actually true? If not, then are the emotions and body sensations that you have about it actually proportional to the facts? And are the actions you are taking then warranted, or are you resorting to a maladaptive coping mechanism? Because facts are neutral. It’s when we assign meaning and start getting spun up into thought stories of the past and future that causes stress. Be vigilant, and yes, mindful of Coronavirus, and be prepared within reason, but no need to stress yourself, your loved ones, and stores of supplies because of disproportionate fight or flight response.


Here are the facts as of 3/5/2020 from the CDC:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/prevention-treatment.html

Check there for updated facts and answers to frequently asked questions.

Thus far in the US: Total cases: 99 Total deaths: 10 States reporting cases: 13


Coronavirus testing is not as readily available as one would hope in the US. Yes, if a person under investigation (a PUI) is identified and sent to the hospital, then they will have a nose, throat, or mucous specimen collected, then sent to the CDC for further testing for confirmation.


What you can do to prevent the spread of Coronavirus (or any infectious respiratory disease):


1) Wash your hands: soap and water for 20 seconds (singing Happy birthday, or the alphabet song), if not available then alcohol hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol


2) If you cough or sneeze, please do so in a clean tissue and throw away immediately. If not available, please cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow.


3) If you are sick, do not go to work, or frankly, out in public.


4) Do not buy masks. Please. There is already a shortage for healthcare professionals, who actually need the masks to care for people with diagnosed infectious diseases such as the flu, TB, and the other myriad of viruses that are flying around during this severe cold and flu season. Masks should also be reserved for symptomatic patients.


5) Avoid touching your face.


6) Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces with a regular household cleaning spray or wipes.


So Coronavirus can be reframed and viewed as an opportunity to practice mindfulness.

And when in doubt, before heading out to a clinic, urgent care, or hospital with a fever, please check-in with your healthcare professionals.


And if you want to work on developing or advancing your ability to be mindful, and to help retrain your mind to have less Velcro for negativity, I’m happy to help. Reserve time with me for a 1:1 online session here.


If you are a woman healthcare professional, I invite you to come with me and Jessie Mahoney, MD, registered yoga teacher and life coach to Green Gulch Farm near San Francisco California 7/12/2020 Sunday to our Pause Retreat where we will delve in together, in community to practice yoga, mindfulness, and experience the transformative process of coaching. Early-bird registration: find out more here.

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© 2019 by NI-CHENG LIANG M.D., INC. 

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