From Change Your Story - Change Your Life: How can the Mona Lisa help with Covid-19?
Updated: Mar 17, 2020
Well last week I was under-reacting and privately amused by those who were stocking up on groceries, etc. This week things have changed. I even had to ask my parents (who are well into the vulnerable age) for toilet paper! They had stocked up. So I am now feeling the worry line between my eyebrows starting to form. I wouldn't call it panic but it is a crazy time! Most of us in this country have never experienced anything like it before, right?
For those of us who like to feel in control and have a fairly
constant sense that we know what we're doing and what life
will look like next week, this is very challenging.
So the best way to cope is, of course, through mindfulness. This pandemic is forcing people to practice mindfulness whether they want to or not. We have to live in the moment because every day produces a different world. This brings me to one of my very favorite mindfulness practices from DBT; the half smile. I call it the Mona Lisa smile.
The first time I used this strategy, my boys, who were very young, were jumping on the furniture. I had been telling them all day to stop but they were doing it anyway. I started to lose my temper but for some reason decided at that moment to use the half-smile technique in an attempt to manage my emotion. I had been teaching this technique for several years at work but had not actually ever practiced it intentionally,
I turned my back to them for a moment to smooth out the look of anger and replace it with a half-smile and then turned back to face them. I was shocked at how my perception changed! Instead of two little hellions, I saw them as the two adorable boys that they were, doing typical boy stuff. I then was able to correct their behavior with patience instead of yelling. The change in my emotion was so extreme that it actually took my breath away. Half smile is based on the idea that the muscles in your face are connected to your brain in such a way that they communicate to your brain about what is happening.
We all know that if we have a sad thought it usually produces a sad expression but what we may not think about is that it can work the other way as well. If we have a sad expression, it can produce sad thoughts and even more helpful, if we smile, this will produce thoughts that correspond to smiling. A half smile is not a huge grin but rather an open, pleasant expression like the one you might have when watching a puppy (or on a very famous painting).
If you're on social media, you've seen lots of memes and advice about focusing on the positives that can occur during this stressful time. Great advice, but for some of us, this may be hard to do. Putting on a Mona Lisa smile, could help you cope better with the effects of this virus by making it easier for your brain to connect to the silver lining. Try it now. Consider the pandemic and put a worried expression on your face and see what type of thoughts you become aware of. Then smooth this expression out into a half smile and notice your thoughts. Your brain may spontaneously come up with some of the positives that this brings.
Putting on a Mona Lisa smile, could help you cope better
with the effects of this virus by making it easier for your
brain to connect to the silver lining.
Some examples that I've seen and found encouraging:
people helping each other
time for family, as in real time to talk and listen
time for a new hobby
time to read a book that you've wanted to start
learning how to make home made hand sanitizer
sending letters through snail mail, real letters
increased empathy for people who have lived with deprivation
using towels instead of paper
people singing together out of their windows in Assisi, Italy
people all over the world are slowing down
people in Wuhan can hear birds for the first time
learning how to use telemarketing or other on line processes
people expressing needs on neighborhood apps and others offering help
and of course, time to practice mindfulness
Another positive result of a crisis is learning to ask for help. If you're feeling anxious or isolated, or if you're simply in need of support, text the word TOMS to 741741 to be connected with a trained crisis counselor, 24/7)
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