Mindfulness as a Lifeline to Alleviate Stress and Suffering, Increase Health and Well-Being

By Michele Rivers Murphy, CEI Associate Director of Heart Centered Learning

The expression, “Hindsight is 20/20” becomes more meaningful as we struggle and are challenged daily in the year 2020. Before COVID-19 hit, many school communities struggled with unspeakable trauma and stress at unprecedented rates, with no zip code immune to experiencing some type of significant loss, tragedy, or suffering. Before COVID-19, we (Mason, Rivers Murphy, & Jackson) wrote our companion books Mindfulness Practices (2019) and Mindful School Communities (2020) to show educators how they can combat stress and trauma. We also wrote these books to passionately convey the scientifically proven healing that mindfulness practices can have and how educating with heart provides students and educators who are experiencing unthinkable suffering possible paths towards healing. At the time of publication we could not have imagined that a worldwide pandemic was imminent, unnerving and coming without warning like a tsunami.

As we begin to peel back the layers of COVID-19, it appears no person is immune to even one degree of separation from significant loss, tragedy, or suffering, but rather everyone is profoundly affected firsthand, in some way. Indeed, the mental health challenge has become the shadow and sometimes silent pandemic of COVID-19, creeping in and upon our students, educators, school leaders, families, and communities as a whole, often without notice at unimaginable and unmanageable rates. As communities around the globe head back to school remotely, in hybrid fashion, virtually, or in-person, the most critical priority we share is to support positive mental health and well-being. Without a significant shift in mindset and a clear vision and plan to maintain positive mental health and well-being, we will most certainly find ourselves backpaddling through another lost school year of trial rather than triumph.

Starting with Reflection

When we are able to take a step back, reflect, breathe, and observe with a calm, quieted nervous system, with our physiological response system in check, educators will be better equipped to meet the challenges of real time. With COVID-19, and the tremendous anxiety and distress that is associated with it, educators need ways to make important decisions about safety, curriculum, scheduling, technology use, staffing, and providing specific supports for students who have specific learning needs.

In the Tomfoolery (2020) video The Great Realization, Hindsight is 2020, we are reminded of “why clarity comes more easily when we are thinking about things after they happened instead of doing what we know is right now.” Mindfulness can bring about a conscious awareness of needs and also help mitigate the impact of profound suffering and mental health issues currently experienced by so many. Practicing breathwork, yoga, or meditation helps us reduce our stress, anxiety, and depression right now.  These practices can also help us create more space and build more emotional regulation skills that support healing. Mindfulness doesn’t require extensive training or materials and can be naturally woven into the very fabric of every community of learning for little or no cost, whether remote, virtual, or in person.

Mindfulness: Coming Back to the Present to Heal the Past

Mindfulness can be a lifeline that shifts the mental health pendulum back to the present, the here and now. It can naturally alleviate pain and suffering and restore good mental health and well-being because “trauma and presence (or mindfulness) cannot coexist” (Linder,  2020). Mindfulness practices can help those who are experiencing trauma bring their thoughts back to the present, helping to heal past experiences and reduce the impact of  daily stressors. Mindfulness can also greatly diminish the frequency, intensity, and duration of suffering through stabilizing and training the mind and body to relax, calm, and quiet. With mindfulness, we can return safely to a peaceful, mindful state in the here and now known as “equanimity.”

Our current world COVID-19 crisis has left us with much uncertainty, lack of clarity, profound pain of the past, and/or fear of the future. It has also left a large number of teachers, students, and their families feeling anxious, distracted, depressed, or uneasy about the unknown. In fact, many mental health issues stem from rumination on our past or future. However, one cannot see something from five seconds ago or smell something three seconds from now; the present is all that you can fully experience with all your senses right now.

Mindfulness as an Empowerment Tool
Children and adults find mindfulness to be empowering because it provides a sense of control in a world that often feels as if it is spinning out of control. Students and educators cannot access the prefrontal cortex of their brains needed for learning and instruction unless their physiological response system is under control. Mindfulness is a lifeline for helping both students and educators ground themselves in the present moment, quiet and calm their central nervous systems, and restore the equilibrium needed to reduce their distress, be at their best, and find gratitude and hope in each new day.

More Resources

There are many mindfulness school-based programs that offer trainings such as:

There are also a variety free resources that will help you get started:

References

Linder, J.N. (2019).  What is trauma, and can mindfulness help treat it? Psychology Today.

Mason, C., Rivers Murphy, M. & Jackson, Y. (2018). Mindfulness practices: Cultivating heart centered communities where students focus and flourish. Solution Tree.

Mason, C., Rivers Murphy, M, & Jackson, Y. (2020). Mindful school communities: The five Cs of  nurturing heart centered learning. Solution Tree.

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