Tips from meditation and mental wellness experts on how to stay patient in quarantine—and in our future travels.
I have gone crazy, and I have a feeling I’m not alone.
I spent the first three weeks of quarantine crying every other hour, working too much, and checking my social media accounts roughly every eight minutes. It became clear pretty quickly that some ground rules were needed, especially as the days ticked by and I realized that “normal” was not reentering the picture anytime soon.
Patience is a virtue all the time, but right now our composure is being collectively tested. While hospital cases and deaths are declining, it’s still very unclear how reopening and resuming our usual lives will affect the spread of COVID-19, and if moving into a second phase would also cause a second wave of the pandemic. There’s a lot we don’t know. And so adhering to local government mandates continues to be important—even as the temperatures being to creep up and springtime weather beckons us outside.
It’s feeling harder to stay put, to stay isolated, to stay patient. But cultivating a sense of patience is valuable both now and when we can get back out into the world again—we all know there are moments during travel that require extreme patience: the TSA, immigration checks, luggage carousel, are just a few examples.
Whether you struggle with anxiety or are just bummed we won’t be able to travel for some time, this new reality is a challenge for pretty much everyone. We reached out to a few experts to understand more about why being patient is so difficult, and ways we can bring more of it into our lives in the current moment—as well as bring it with us the next time our checked luggage gets lost.
Lessen Your Grip on Certainty
“As humans we seek certainty—it regulates our nervous systems and gives us a sense of calm,” says Lia Avellino, who’s the Director of Head & Heart at THE WELL, a New York City-based wellness club. “Those of us who found grounding in being able to plan for the future are feeling a sense of groundlessness in the present moment. Feeling distracted and having difficulty focusing in this time is our nervous systems’ normal response to circumstances that are abnormal.”
Jesse Israel, founder of mass meditation movement The Big Quiet, had just wrapped an arena tour with none other than Oprah, sometimes going to as many as five cities a week when things started shutting down. “It was this really confusing thing because I had so much momentum,” he says.
“We can get so set on how we feel things are supposed to be.”
What Israel focused on to get through the first couple of weeks, was the fact that “life and nature are unpredictable,” as he says. It sounds simple enough, but most of us are hardwired against this fact.
“We can get so set on how we feel things are supposed to be. We plan, we prepare for outcomes, we expect things to be a certain way. And then when things change we can really hold onto the way that we felt like they were supposed to be and that creates suffering,” says Israel.
Some of us are experiencing very real changes to our assumed paths, from losing a loved one, a job, or financial security. “By no way do I want to overlook that,” Israel says. “I also think that with this great change, there’s an opportunity for new creativity, for new ideas to be born. For new ways to look at how we can better take care of ourselves and each other. What’s become clear to me is that some of the most colorful and evolutionary moments in our lives come from things happening in an unexpected manner, come from change.”
Let Feelings Come and Go
I have a tendency to try to talk myself out of my own feelings, as if reasoning with sadness can make it go away. But the first step Avellino recommends is letting go of any self-judgement towards ourselves for feeling overwhelmed, unproductive, or any kind of way right now. “It may be helpful to remember that anxiety is there to help us survive,” says Avellino. “When we are in moments of crisis, the part of our brain that thinks rationally literally shuts off and the part of our brain that is there to help us keep going kicks in. When we are overwhelmed, we do not have access to the tools that help us feel calm, cool, and collected.”
“Stress doesn’t need to be fixed, but it does need to be acknowledged.”
Instead of trying to get away from those feelings, Avellino says it’s better to just let them in. “When we are feeling distracted, this is just our nervous system letting us know that we are experiencing something in the present moment that is hard and that we have unmet needs. It may be helpful to check in with yourself when you bring awareness to frenetic energy or difficulty focusing and ask yourself: what might make me feel liberated, soothed, or connected in this moment? Stress doesn’t need to be fixed, but it does need to be acknowledged.”
Find New Rituals
Without many of our normal coping mechanisms, what are some things that could help us feel soothed or connected? There’s a tendency to pile on more activities in an attempt to feel better (raise your hand if you’ve abandoned that project you swore you would complete during this “down time”), but our experts argue that’s exactly the opposite of what will help right now. Across the board, we learned that this time period should be about doing less, and intentionally setting boundaries.
Make Rest a Priority
Gone are the days of rest as a sign of weakness—Israel says we all need to give ourselves permission to rest, and not view it as lazy or unproductive.
“I’ve been hearing a lot of people talk about how they feel this pressure to be extra productive right now. They’re supposed to be having this free time during all of this because our social lives are so different,” he says. “I think we actually require more rest right now than ever because there’s a heaviness, and a collective sense of fear and anxiety. What I’m really encouraging people to do right now is to see this as an opportunity to use rest as a source of power. How often do we have time in our home to recharge, to rebuild, to catch up on so much of the rest that we need from always hustling so hard?”
There’s no need to overthink rest. It may mean sleeping in a few days a week or reading a book. For Israel, it’s been taking a daily bath, an indulgence he doesn’t normally have time for.
Limit Screen Time
“I really believe that screen time has so much to do with modern exhaustion, and so much of the burnout that we feel,” says Israel. “The blue light, the constant notifications and information and input that we’re processing, they really do overload the system and create a state of fight or flight.”
Now that both our work and social lives are taking place entirely through a screen, our digital consumption is way up—bringing our energy levels way down. Israel is creating intentional boundaries between himself and his phone, sliding it into airplane mode for two hours every night, and for 24 hours straight starting each Friday night. “I find that this really helps me create space for creativity,” he says. “When I create these boundaries, I feel that much more capable of seeing the opportunities that are coming from this. And also get more clear on how I can be of service and help other people while this is going on.”
I am a sporadic meditator at best, but at a District Vision workshop I attended in February, the meditation teacher Manoj Dias said something that frankly blew my mind: Just take five deep breaths. You don’t have to commit to 20 minutes of meditation twice a day, or 10 minutes everyday, or anything else. Before you reach for your phone in the morning, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, or at the end of the day, just stop and take five deep breaths. I’ve been amazed at a) how five breaths could feel so long, and b) how a kind of fog begins to lift around breath number three.
Stay Hopeful for the Future
Science says that anticipation is good for our brains—and that delaying pleasure actually boosts happiness when we finally indulge in a vacation or a good meal with friends. (So in a way, you could look at this as one long buildup to some serious joy.)
“Some of the best musicians talk about the most important aspect of making beautiful music is knowing how and when to pause between playing the notes, not playing the notes themselves,” says Avellino. “If you are privileged enough to use this opportunity to ‘pause,’ it may be helpful to consider what you value, as opposed to what others value about you. It is an opportunity to develop relational self-awareness.”
It’s probably true of most of us that we use aspects of our busy lives to distract ourselves from our own inner dialogue, and uncomfortable truths that are easier to ignore.
“It’s an opportunity to get quiet, even if these moments are limited, so that when we are back out in the world, we don’t need to distract ourselves from what we feel and what we need,” says Avellino. “This is the time to make blueprints, even if we make them for projects and homes that never get built.”
There may be unexpected positives coming out of the quiet. For Israel, he’s recognizing the value of spending two months with his parents and sister in LA, where they grew up. “We have moments where we just sit in the backyard and talk with our feet in the grass. We’ve never done anything like that before,” he says. “There’s no way to know for sure what I will bring from this when we return back to normal, whatever that new normal is. But what I do feel confident about is that I think this time will help a lot of us get clear on what’s important.”