Mindfulness, Itchy Eyes, and Protecting Yourself From COVID-19

Mindfulness, Itchy Eyes, and Protecting Yourself From COVID-19

Getty/Ozge Emir

In the age of COVID-19, mindfulness is a way to stay safe.

One of the most basic ways I teach people about mindfulness is to pause, focus on the body, and notice a small part of the body that feels even a little itchy. I tell them when they find an itchy spot to not scratch it. Just be present to the itch. See if it gets stronger, fades, or stays the same. This is a simple introduction to noticing things in the present moment without reacting to them immediately.

With all the emphasis on not touching our faces during the spread of this coronavirus, I’ve been realizing how often I feel a bit of itch in my eyes, perhaps after looking at a computer screen for a while. For decades it’s been automatic to feel the itch, rub my eyes with my fingers, and make the itch go away. In our current environment of concern about COVID-19, that same automatic response could kill me!

Mindfulness is about slowing down enough to put a gap between stimulus and response. The itch on my face is the stimulus, the rubbing of my eyes is the automatic response. Staying mindful about not touching my face requires feeling an itch and either ignoring it or making sure I rub my eyes after washing my hands or using a clean tissue rather than bare fingers to rub my eyes. The don’t-scratch-your-itch mindfulness lesson turns out to be an important survival skill!

Times of crisis can be advanced mindfulness training, and not just for avoiding touching our faces. The “itch” of anxiety, panic, fear, uncertainty can all show up in us. Mindfulness with these itches requires noticing them but not going on a ride with them every time they show up. There are many other disturbances—financial, practical, work-related, spiritual—that can be stirred up by an unusual crisis. Mindfulness begins with noticing those disturbances and letting them be present. Why let them be present? Because by the time we notice them, they are already present. We can say to our worry, fear, or disruption: “I see you. I accept that you are here.”

How does saying “I accept” help? The “I” that accepts is not the small-i that lives dominated by fear and lower energies. It is our highest self that can lead the way into how to be present to difficult times.

Want more? Read Kevin Anderson's advice column, The Soul of Therapy.

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