How to Remain Sane in our Untethered Times

“The stage seems to be set for a global mental health crisis.” So proclaims MIT Technology Review this week. We can all understand this. The pandemic has uprooted everything that was routine. We don’t know what day of the week it is. We have no reason to get dressed, except from the waist up for an online meeting. Our exceptionally cool and rainy spring has encouraged us to stay indoors, reinforcing our asynchrony with the natural world. We are left alone with anxieties which, if left unchecked, can escalate into more serious mental health conditions, like addiction and depression.

How can adults and children stay sane at home, alone? Enter the mindfulness app, a type of mobile application which comes in flavors for kids, students, teens, college students and adults. Mindfulness is defined as “the awareness that emerges by way of paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.” Mindfulness can teach you to monitor your experiences with acceptance, a key mechanism for reducing stress. Studies have also shown that mindfulness can help reduce loneliness.

Mindfulness apps are not a new thing. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has been using them for years to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. VA apps include the PTSD Coach and the Mindfulness Coach. PTSD can be brought on by any experience that threatens your or someone else’s life. It. can be triggered by a single event, like an automobile accident. It can also be induced by prolonged exposure to life threatening situations, like a series of military experiences, living with an abusive individual, or experiencing a pandemic. This explains why the VA has recently released a mindfulness tool called COVID Coach app to “support self-care and overall mental health during the … pandemic.”

The VA emphasizes that such apps do not replace formal treatment by mental health care professionals. THERE IS NO SHAME IN SEEKING PROFESSIONAL CARE. It is far better to explore such options before reticence translates to tragedy. Mental health care professionals today are conducting talk therapy via secure online telemedicine platforms like

Are mindfulness apps useful if you don’t have PTSD? Yes. According to a 2019 Nature study, mindfulness apps can also lead “to gains in both sustained attention and working memory in young adults,” ages 18-35. This is good news. Every day, we parents and teachers observe how information technologies hijack kids’ attention spans. Studies like the one in Nature suggest that mindfulness apps may help.

The tenets of mindfulness are nicely summarized in Reinhold Niebuhr’s 1943 Serenity Prayer:

“God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

We have to accept that that are dealing with a pandemic; no amount of worry will change that. Each and every one of us can seek serenity by controlling our stress. If the moment to moment news feeds about pandemic statistics or stock market fluctuations cause you anxiety, TURN THEM OFF (I did). Check in once in a while to track the overall trends. The rest of the world will find ways to alert you if anything really important happens.

We have to courageously live our lives, both during and after the pandemic. You don’t have time to be consumed by anxieties. Our children need us to creatively find ways to bring joy into our insular homes. Old fashioned fun like movie night, croquet games, and family dinners can take on new significance.

After the lockdown is over, we will have renewed anxiety. We’ll both crave and fear leaving our homes. Our kids will be clamoring to hang out with their friends at the mall. You don’t have time to be paralyzed by fear. You will have to find the courage to give a balanced, rational answer on whether they can or can’t, and why.

Which brings us to wisdom. Mindfulness can help children and adults access their wisdom. Continued mindfulness can help us constructively address stress, live in the moment, and focus on what is most important, now and for the future.

On Memorial Day today, I mindfully and gratefully acknowledge the supreme sacrifice made by American men and women in uniform so I can live free.