Living Dharma

How Hindu spiritual practices can help manage your COVID-19 anxiety

By March 21, 2020 September 21st, 2020 7 Comments

Unprecedented… This is our generation’s war… Nothing will ever be the same…

In the last few weeks many have tried to explain how all of the disruptions from COVID-19 have felt to them. There has been an overwhelming feeling of unfairness, as people have cancelled everything from weddings to funerals. The sacrifices required have been big, whether risking personal health and safety to provide for others, losing the opportunity to celebrate once in a lifetime events or, increasingly losing your job.

Given the level of ambiguity and uncertainty about how life will look tomorrow, next week or a month or two from now, the level of anxiety many of us have had to process has been high.

In the face of the financial and physical stress brought on by COVID-19, it can be difficult to consider our emotional and spiritual health.

However, in a world of uncertainty, Hindu teachings and practices are helpful in taking care of ourselves in the most essential and basic of ways.

Accept your feelings

Angry, frustrated, scared, lonely… we’re all feeling a lot of big feelings right now.

It’s tempting to push away them and all the discomfort they bring. However, until we’re able to process and accept how we’re feeling, we can’t move on, and any suppression will just lead things to bubble up with other consequences down the line.

It’s particularly appealing to many of us to go down the “at least I’m not…” road to push away how we’re doing by focusing on the plight of others. But then we’re just invalidating ourselves and creating guilt, without offering anything to the others that we’re worried about.

Practice accepting what you’re feeling, and validating the feelings of those around you first. This is really difficult for each of us in unique ways, and it’s okay to accept that.

You’ll find that when you accept yourself, and your feelings, they pass.

Like waves, they crash over us, but then they pull away on their own, leaving our innate strength and resilience exposed like seashells on a beach. The next wave of emotion is inevitable, but when we accept this, rather than fighting it, we can tap into our inherent goodness more easily. We can see the things more clearly, and choose the positive frames with which we take in the world around us, and the opportunities that have become available to us — to spend more time on ourselves or with our loved ones, even as they come at the expense of the sacrifices we’re making.

Understand what can and can’t be controlled

The Bhagavad Gita can be a particular source of comfort at this time.

Arjun’s war was very different from what we are facing today, but he too felt overwhelmed by the circumstances he was in, and Krishna encouraged him to let go of the fruits of his actions, while doing the right thing.

For most of us, our dharma today is to first and foremost follow the guidelines being put out by our local, state, and federal governments to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities on small and large scales, despite the sacrifices entailed.

I say most because dharma is context driven, and many among us may have a dharma that drives them in a different direction as they provide health care and other essential services despite the personal and even familial risks they’ll incur in doing so.

Some of us will have to make difficult decisions that have an impact on the people around us if we are business owners or in other positions of power.

This can be harrowing and confusing, especially given the lack of information on how the situation will look over time.

Remembering some of the many principles of dharma: satya (truth), ahimsa (non-harming), karuna (compassion), and aparigraha (non-greed) all grounded in our individual context, to make decisions while letting go of expectations of the results can bring much needed clarity and peace.

What can be controlled?

Even as much is outside of our power, we have the ability and responsibility to take care of ourselves holistically, on physical, mental, and spiritual levels.

Routines are important, and predictability can be soothing.

Nourish yourself with exercise and food you enjoy, and use newly available time to do things that help yourself move towards your values, towards your dharma.

Kama, enjoyment of the material world, too is one of the four traditional goals of human life as per our Hindu teachings, and it is important to find both meaning and joy in these times.

Social distancing doesn’t have to mean social disconnecting, and we can still find ways to connect with friends, family, and others who inspire us or make us laugh with the limitless potential of the internet.

What can’t be controlled? A lot.

Just as we need to let go of the fruits of our actions, we need to let go of that which is not in our control.

Hindu teachings and spiritual practices offer many ways for us to bring ourselves back to the here and now, and release ourselves from the pain and regret around thinking about that which has already passed, and the anxiety and fear around thinking about the future which we cannot predict or control.

Use hatha yoga and pranayama to ground yourself in the moment. If you don’t already have a practice you like, and are looking for something concrete and app-based as you begin, The Breathing App by Eddie Stern is helpful.

Hindu rituals can also help ground us in the here and now.

Though many mandirs (temples) are currently closed to devotees, many are also using streaming services to help people feel spiritually connected, and it can be an easy and convenient time to engage in them virtually, or bring practice to your home.

Psychologists love to encourage people to use all their senses in grounding techniques, and Hinduism offers many ways to engage.

Puja in particular can call upon all the senses: the smell of agarbatti (incense), the reverberation of a bell, visually pleasing murtis, the sensation of bringing our palms together, and the taste of prasad melting on in our mouths together in a puja can be lovely ways to set aside stress and center ourselves.

Science has proven what we know intuitively: music can decrease stress, and bhajans, with their uplifting lyrics, can bring peace of mind. Expressions of bhakti through art, from bharatnatyam (a dance form) to rangoli (a 2 dimensional art form), are all uplifting ways to bring yourself to the moment.

If the path of bhakti yoga, or liberation through devotion, described here isn’t appealing, there are three other paths as well.

We can use jnana yoga, or intellectual stimulation, to engage in reading scripture or even watching the Mahabharata or finding videos of Puranic tales on youtube.

Raja yoga, or meditation, is an option for those of us who can simply look within to find calm.

Karma yoga, selfless action, can bring particular fulfillment and peace at these times, if we can safely check on elderly neighbors, donate supplies, or spend time advocating for voices that are going unheard.

As you make time for all of these practices, find ways to limit your intake of things that can disturb your peace.

Though it may feel like the news is changing by the minute and needs to be followed closely, there’s little that we can actually respond to, and much that is put out with the express purpose of preying on our emotions. Figure out what boundaries work for you.

Can you push yourself to check Whatsapp no more than once an hour? Read less than 3 COVID-19 articles a day or decide that you can only watch the news from 6-7?

Pay attention to how you feel when you do intake news versus when you are able to create boundaries for yourself, and you’ll find it easier and easier to stick to them.

Access Resources and Help

Too often I’ve been told that the Hindu tradition requires an individual journey, and that seeking help feels weak, difficult, and counterintuitive. This is a misunderstanding!

We’ve always had strong examples across our scriptures of people in difficult situations using conversation with gurus and Gods to heal pain.

Pay attention to your distress and understand when you could use some help. If you’re feeling aches and pains that don’t have a medical basis, they may be from suppressing stress or depression. If you feel like you can’t control your racing thoughts, and are experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety like sweating palms or shallow breathing, you don’t have to keep suffering.

Yoga and pranayama can be helpful, but at a certain level of distress, are very difficult to do, and accessing another tier of help can be important.

Therapists are neither gods nor gurus, but their training does allow them to provide a function that’s always been valued in our faith — the space to slow things down, process how you’re feeling, and to come to a clarity about what you need and how to get it. Restrictions on telehealth have been lifted recently for many providers, so seeking help is still feasible! MannMukti.org has great resources on how to navigate the process of finding a provider.

These unprecedented times have brought unprecedented levels of distress upon us all, and taking care of ourselves is important though it can be difficult.

Above all else, it’s important to be kind and patient with yourself, as you navigate your circumstances and figure out your dharma in this moment. Nama-stay healthy!

7 Comments

  • Vibhav Sekhsaria says:

    This is one of the most comprehensive and yet soothing piece I have read about dealing with the stress and anxiety in these times. As is always the case the psychological aspects of trying times such as these are often minimized or overlooked completely. Anyone and everyone could benefit from reading this and taking comfort in the practices espoused here.

  • Shobha Rander says:

    Happy to read your article, being in India ,Hindustan we r not able to spread Hinduism to our kids .They want to follow western culture. Really inspired by your writing.

  • Sushma Pallod says:

    Great article very well written

  • Girishkumar Naik says:

    Very comprehensive article and some good information in this troubling times.

  • Anon says:

    Nice and calming article. Time to reconnect with our spirituality!

  • Mamata Dahad says:

    I am extremely proud to be an Indian! A vibrant place to live in, it gives us peace of mind that we belong to a place we can call our motherland. It will grow old but but will never lose it’s sheen and glitter! …

  • Mala Sanjivi says:

    I already feel destressed when I read through these lines.

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