For those facing mounting anxiety about the future, Neda Gould wants to help quiet your mind.
An assistant professor in the School of Medicine's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and director of its Mindfulness Program, Gould has held mindfulness sessions on the university's Homewood campus for years. Now, she is sharing anxiety-relieving techniques with members of the wider online community who may be experiencing increased stress as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"In times of uncertainty, our brain can get so consumed by potential catastrophes that it can be overwhelming," Gould said. "In the current crisis, with news that's on your mind all the time, I think it's important to have a tool that helps manage that."
Last Tuesday, Gould began offering online guided meditation sessions to the entire Johns Hopkins community. The half-hour sessions are hosted on Zoom every weekday, with sessions at noon on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and at 9 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. Anyone is welcome to participate.
Each session has its own unique focus. During meditation, participants may focus on their emotional state, highlight the sensations in different parts of the body, or take stock of the things they are grateful for. According to Gould, meditation is less about the process and more about bringing the mind into the present.
"If you think about anxiety, it's future oriented, and so it's getting you stuck in a cycle of thoughts and catastrophic thinking," Gould said. "Mindfulness allows you to have a little bit of space from the constant narrative of the mind."
In the week that the sessions have been offered online, the class has grown from about 20 to 50 participants, and Gould said the plan is to continue offering sessions for as long as people are interested.
In addition to Gould's mindfulness courses, the university is working to move other mental health and wellness programs online. In coming weeks, the Homewood Mindful Yoga workshops will be livestreamed and recorded for the Wellness website. The Homewood Counseling Center will also soon conduct a live anxiety and stress workshop open to Homewood and Peabody students.
Gould said there are many steps that can be taken to strengthen your ability to tap into the power of mindfulness to quiet questions about the future and manage anxiety. She recommends building routines and structure to help provide normalcy in a world that currently feels very abnormal. She also recommends taking regular breaks from work for self-care and limiting your news intake to specific times each day.
Mindfulness, she said, is less about controlling your feelings and worries, and more about being in touch with yourself.
"It's OK to feel anxious," Gould said. "Everybody feels anxiety at some point in their lives, and this is a pretty anxiety-provoking situation. But it's important to have the tools that will help you accept and manage your anxiety so that you can be fully present in your day."