Mindfulness: A Path to Wellbeing Amid the Pandemic

Mindfulness: A Path to Wellbeing Amid the Pandemic
Victoria Lembo

We had the pleasure of virtually receiving a very special guest, Francisco Vanoni, who delighted us with a valuable talk about mindfulness and wellbeing during the pandemic. Francisco is the director of the Mindfulness, Science, and Meditation program at the prestigious Torcuato Di Tella university and has vast professional experience in this area.

Why did we invite him?

Because we know that good feelings make good professionals — it’s as simple as that. Feeling well in such a dangerous and complex environment is extremely difficult, so we asked Francisco to offer us some tools to help us avoid being paralyzed by fear, carry on with this situation and future obstacles, and overcome the pandemic with a healthy attitude.

Most of our team members participated in the talk, including our founders, developers, project managers, HR , psychologist, and even some of their family members.

Francisco started the talk by focusing on why it’s important to understand the context of what we’re going through. “It’s OK to live through these experiences,” he said. It was a relief to know the reactions we’ve been having — such as fear, panic, and worry — are logical and right for the situation. “Our thoughts have an impact on our sensations and our brains. Every time we think, there’s neuronal activity,” he added.

During the last few months, we’ve all experienced extreme changes. Everyone is filled with uncertainty. As Francisco noted, our brain is programmed for survival and, when something threatens us, fear is our first response. The global community  is  experiencing this reaction today more than ever. We live with constant fear.

Francisco explained that, during uncertain times, people become less tolerant. We’re more predisposed to disagreements with those we spend the most time with. Many want the situation to end as quickly as possible and sometimes we even want to escape to a different reality. 

Francisco provided a scientific hypothesis for this response that involves the brain being hard-wired to make decisions based on the drive to survive. Fear is the emotional response that occurs when we perceive a threat to that survival. 

In recent months, Francisco pointed out, many people have responded to the situation by becoming “hyperactive” or “hypoactive.” Hyperactive  means a considerable increase in our sensations, and being more “emotionally reactive.” We anger more easily and become anxious as a result of a constant sensibility and hypervigilance. 

Hypoactive, on the other hand, means we experience emotional and sensational numbness, sometimes resulting in sluggishness. 

However, the WHO warns us not to make psychological diagnoses based on these behaviors. We may feel a bit crazy but, during uncertain times, what we’ve experienced is normal. For example, someone who sleeps longer during quarantine isn’t necessarily “depressed.” Nor is someone who is worried about their job or the future necessarily “anxious.” 

Rather, the questions we should ask are, what happens if these situations continue, and what can we do to move on from our tormenting emotional states? 

The second question is especially important because remaining in these states of mind can have serious consequences like chronic stress, which could potentially lead to illness. It can also inhibit  cognitive functions, deteriorating the ability to regulate our own emotions.

While listening to the information about the science behind our overwhelming emotions, we laughed a lot as Gabo, one of our developers, said, “I’m already convinced.” 

Francisco recommended a small but effective practice. “We know that it isn’t healthy to be in a chair for nine hour straight, and pausing is necessary,” he said.

At that point we shut down our cameras and followed a series of instructions. Francisco asked us to sit in a healthy posture and close our eyes to rest our vision and feel our bodies. The goal was to achieve something very basic, but difficult: connecting with our physical sensations and staying in the present moment. He proposed a challenge of “shutting down our thoughts” through a series of instructions. 

After the practice, Francisco guided us on how to lead a life of mindfulness. He suggested that we take the following three steps each day: 

  1. Pause two minutes every hour to connect with our bodies and focus on breathing.
  2. Stop multitasking and instead develop the ability to do one thing at a time, getting the same results in a healthier way.
  3. Engage in one formal practice per day because lasting changes require regular training.

Finally, Francisco answered our questions. Some participants were brave enough to inquire about their own experiences and talk about their doubts and concerns. Everyone clearly wanted to know more about this subject and to continue using the recommended techniques in their daily lives. 

We finished the talk with a loud and warm virtual applause, thanking Francisco for providing us with valuable tools to support the wellbeing of our team.

Internally, we did a drawing for five sessions of mindfulness training. The lucky winners were: Julian, Reynaldo, Elio, Miguel, and Gabriel. I hope to be luckier next time!