Here in the UK, from where I’m writing, it’s been an unusual summer – doing the best we can to get out and about and enjoy ourselves but perhaps having holidays and days-out that are muted in their excitement and adventure.
Yet, there’s one thing that may well have got our pulse racing: Seeing someone not wearing a face mask where they’re supposed to wear one.
If people flouting the rule regularly makes you see red, the bodily stress that this causes may be damaging to your physical and emotional wellbeing. The anger may feel automatic, and powerful, but it is possible to change this response – and thereby feel better emotionally as well as boost physical wellbeing.
A really useful tool in managing our emotions – and reducing the impact of stress on our mind and body – is mindfulness.
Mindfulness is about more than meditation; it’s also about the attitudes we embody as we interact in the world that enable us to understand and relate to other people more considerately as well as to feel better in ourselves emotionally and physically.
Practising mindfulness means noticing our emotions and then pausing to choose our response mindfully.
Through practise, we become more open to acknowledging our difficult emotions, and because of this are then able to respond with awareness rather than react automatically. In turn, acknowledging our emotions and responding mindfully then influences how we feel.
For example, if we experience anger at the sight of someone not wearing a face mask, reacting angrily with our thoughts or words increases the feeling of anger. If, on the other hand, we pause to notice and acknowledge the emotion that’s come up and then choose our response mindfully, we can begin to feel differently about the situation.
So, if you’d like to feel the benefits of letting go of face mask fury, read on. Here are some ways you can apply four of the attitudinal foundations of mindfulness to feel more at ease if you see someone not wearing a face mask.
First off, we can acknowledge what we’re feeling. We’re not trying to banish or suppress anything – in fact, doing so can make the feeling stronger; just as building a dam gives more force to the water. Conversely, by shining a light on our emotion, we can begin to explore what’s going on with us.
Are we scared about the virus? Are we angry that someone appears to be behaving selfishly? Do we have pent-up frustrations about things not being how we’d like them to be? Is there a feeling of ‘well, I’m having to wear one, why can’t they?’
As we turn our attention inwards to the thoughts or beliefs we have that are attached to the feeling, we can both give acknowledgement to what we’re feeling – as it’s important to feel acknowledged – and also open up the possibility for new perspectives…
2. Beginner’s mind
And this is where the next mindful attitude, adopting a beginner’s mind, comes in. As we go through life, we develop certain beliefs, principles and perspectives that we can easily apply without giving things much thought. Life is full of making decisions – big and small – minute by minute so having a set point of view provides a quick means of making decisions about things. It saves us time and energy. It also fulfils an innate need for certainty: knowing where we stand.
However, as with any process that provides an advantage, there is often also a disadvantage: where something is gained, something is lost. In this case, by having a set-point of view, we can lose the benefits and possibilities provided by looking at things afresh and from different angles.
Adopting a beginner’s mind gives us more flexibility of thinking; we can begin to question our perspective and see if there is another way of looking at the situation; we can imagine stepping into someone else’s shoes…
And this brings us to compassion. Having the ability to imagine seeing things from someone else’s perspective and empathise with what they might be experiencing or feeling is what truly nourishes our relationships and helps society to function healthfully.
By adopting our beginner’s mind with compassion, we can caringly explore other perspectives.
There are many reasons why someone might not be wearing a face-mask: from health issues, anxiety or feeling unwell in that moment through to emotional reasons where people are, in their own way, adapting to a new habit or custom. After all in many cultures, up until recently covering the face was felt to be anti-social or inhibitive to communication and so may instinctively feel uncomfortable – all the way through to personality or behavioural tendencies that influence whether or not we follow the restrictions (read more here on people following rules or not during COVID-19].
Some of these reasons may not make sense to us – just as our own actions may sometimes be inexplicable to others – but by adopting an attitude of compassion we can take steps to imagine how someone else might be thinking or feeling.
This not only enhances our understanding of others but also improves our wellbeing when we realise we don’t need to take things as a personal or societal affront: everyone is just doing the best they can to manage what they’re thinking and feeling. And it’s through compassion, rather than conflict, that behaviours can be changed and society can work together.
If it feels difficult or challenging to adopt these attitudes fully, that’s OK. Our minds are prone to making judgements – both about others and about ourselves.
Yet, as we begin to practise acknowledging our thoughts and feelings and looking at others’ behaviours from different perspectives – with compassion and a beginner’s mind – it becomes easier to observe our judgements and detach ourselves from them. And we can also practise mindfully adopting this attitude of non-judging so that we choose to observe our judgements and let them go. Not only does this improve the way we feel towards ourselves and other people but it also frees up our mind so we can opt to think about more neutral or nourishing things, all of which improve our wellbeing.
Choosing mindfully to deactivate the ‘anger button’
The behaviours of others may often prove challenging – as we’re all different – but where there is a challenge, there is always an opportunity for growth.
If, up until now, the sight of someone not wearing a face mask has pushed your ‘anger button’, you might be curious how, rather than being controlled by someone flicking a switch, you could use this situation to practise mindfully choosing your response. And it’s nice to know that by mindfully choosing our response, we improve our emotional and physical wellbeing too.
If you would like to learn more about all the attitudinal foundations of mindfulness and how we can change our emotions through changing our behaviours, keep in touch for more insights.