With President Donald Trump's inaugural weekend underway, many Americans, especially women, are feeling dejected and angry. While these are perfectly normal and healthy emotions — and while they can certainly fuel resistance — feeling outraged all of the time might not be very productive. That's where this trick comes in: Mindfulness can help you cope during Trump's presidency, and may even help you redirect your energy in a positive way.
A Jan. 18 article published by the Harvard Business Review, written by Rasmus Hougaard, Jacqueline Carter, and Gitte Dybkjaer, states that practicing Mindfulness for just 10 minutes a day can change the way you react to everything. It's certainly timely; indeed, with the next four years looming ahead of us like a bad dream, taking some time to practice mindfulness might mean the difference between succeeding and failing when trying to communicate with others whose beliefs may differ from our own.
"We’ve seen over and over again that a diligent approach to mindfulness can help people create a one-second mental space between an event or stimulus and their response to it," Hougaard, Carter, and Dybkjaer wrote in the HBR story. "One second may not sound like a lot, but it can be the difference between making a rushed decision that leads to failure and reaching a thoughtful conclusion that leads to increased performance."
According to Psychology Today, "Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present moment. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience."
Additionally, a post-election story on Vox.com by Eliza Barclay asked Brother Phap Dung, a Vietnamese-American monk, to weigh in on how to best handle emotions during turbulent times, like for example a Trump presidency. During their Skype interview, he said:
"Emotions can be good. Passion can be good, and compassion is very passionate. But compassion doesn’t waste energy. It includes and it understands; it’s more clear. Engage in protest, but not from a place of anger. You need to express your opinion, and you need to go out there and say 'this is wrong.' But don’t do it by saying hateful things. In a way, we Buddhists look more at energy than personality. That helps us be wiser."
So how exactly do you do this? Helpguide.org offers a step-by-step mindfulness guide for beginners that goes a little something like this:
- Basic mindfulness meditation – Sit quietly and focus on your natural breathing or on a word or “mantra” that you repeat silently. Allow thoughts to come and go without judgment and return to your focus on breath or mantra.
- Body sensations – Notice subtle body sensations such as an itch or tingling without judgment and let them pass. Notice each part of your body in succession from head to toe.
- Sensory – Notice sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches. Name them “sight,” “sound,” “smell,” “taste,” or “touch” without judgment and let them go.
- Emotions – Allow emotions to be present without judgment. Practice a steady and relaxed naming of emotions: “joy,” “anger,” “frustration.” Accept the presence of the emotions without judgment and let them go.
- Urge surfing – Cope with cravings (for addictive substances or behaviors) and allow them to pass. Notice how your body feels as the craving enters. Replace the wish for the craving to go away with the certain knowledge that it will subside.
Additionally, mindfulness teacher Amy Sandler said in an interview with Simple Habit, "Doing something every day just for you, even if it’s only a couple of minutes, can be so powerful. It can be something simple that will help you with the things that really matter to you, like maybe when you wake up, instead of grabbing the phone automatically, you lie in bed for two minutes and follow your breath."
After some practice, this could be you.
Now, just how does this make us feel better about four years of Trump? According to the Harvard Business Review story, "Mindfulness practice decreases activity in the parts of the brain responsible for fight-or-flight and knee-jerk reactions while increasing activity in the part of the brain responsible for what’s termed our executive functioning. This part of the brain, and the executive functioning skills it supports, is the control center for our thoughts, words, and actions. It’s the center of logical thought and impulse control. Simply put, relying more on our executive functioning puts us firmly in the driver’s seat of our minds, and by extension our lives."
So, here's the quick and dirty explanation: When you feel anger or anxiety surfacing during conversations with family, friends or even strangers, mindfulness can help keep you centered. It can also affect the way you respond during these interactions.
No one ever changed someone else's mind by yelling. Mindfulness opens up room for you to have a thoughtful human-to-human dialogue with others. By calmly presenting your feelings and ideas, and committing to being fully present, you increase the chance of the other person hearing you, and of your hearing them.
Obviously you may be in dialogue with someone who is not practicing mindfulness, and thus lashes out at you. This is where mindfulness can help you control your reaction to a negative situation. That one-second delay mindfulness creates in your brain could stop you from doing something you may regret, like punching them in the face.