We are all watching the ‘R’ Number, but let’s not forget about the ‘M’ Number

6th January 2021

Our battle with coronavirus is clearly still ongoing, despite the advent of available vaccines. There is some way to go with the effects likely to last well into the future.

The direct, Covid related, impact of the disease on our health is communicated clearly on a daily basis, but the pandemic is impacting other areas of our well-being including that of mental health, that are less well publicised.

On 27th Dec 2020, The Guardian reported Dr Adrian James, the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, saying this about the pandemic – ‘a combination of the disease, its social consequences and the economic fallout are having a profound effect on mental health that will continue long after the epidemic is reined in’. This, under the headline – Covid poses ‘greatest threat to mental health since Second World War’. 

This is greatly worrying, but it may be that the current crisis will not only impact those living today but some not even borne yet. A number of studies have suggested that trauma experience by parents can be passed on to their children.  A 2015 study ( the Holocaust Exposure Induced Intergenerational Effects on FKBP5 Methylation) found that the children of survivors of the Holocaust had epigenetic changes to a gene that was linked to their levels of cortisol, a hormone involved in the stress response. BBC reporting on the study here.

If this is the case, this scenario represents a considerable challenge for those alive today and possibly for generations to come. It is one that will need concentrated effort and consideration of a range of approaches, to successfully counter.

My provocation is that mindfulness can be one of these approaches.

Over the last months we have become acutely aware of the importance of the ‘R number’ or the ‘R rate’. However, I suggest that it is also important to emphasise the value of the ‘M number’ or ‘M rate.’ This is understanding the value of mindfulness as a force for good in the world. Mindfulness represents a positive viral energy and if employed widely and effectively, will spread positivity far and wide. In this way we can hope to counter, at least some of, the effects of the pandemic – especially with reference to mental health.

John Kabat-Zinn referenced this possibility in his recent interview on the subject of Reducing Stress with Action For Happiness. He observed –  ‘Mindfulness is transformative and healing by its very nature. It reduces your own stress, but also reduces stress in the world enormously. It is contagious and in the time of the pandemic I want to emphasise that there are good contagions…..Covid is not the only infections energy on the planet. Wakefulness, happiness kindness, compassion, heartfulness, mindfulness – they are also infections because, when you are in the presence of somebody who is really present and sees you and feels that they’re seeing you and not some narrative about you, there is no greater gift on the planet.’ (55’30” on this video) .

Importantly, there is a growing library of scientific evidence demonstrating that mindfulness can assist in dealing with mental health issues, such as stress and depression. Two such, include the MBCT programme (mindfulness based cognitive therapy) and John Kabat Zinn’s MBSR approach  (mindfulness based stress reduction). Also worth a look is My Year of Living Mindfully , a film I persuaded my sons (young adults) to watch over the holidays and which prompted an interesting debate. It’s an accessible combination of storytelling, science and inspiring insight. Thoroughly recommended.

John Kabat-Zinn says this is in Coming To Our Senses (Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness) –  ‘So, if you wish to take care of the future….the only way we can do that is to recognise each moment as a branch point and realise that it makes all the difference in how the world, your world and your one wild and precious life, will unfold. We take care of the future best by taking care of the present, now.’

As a Mindfulness Teacher and currently studying for a Masters in Mindfulness at Bangor University, I see on a daily basis the positive benefits that mindfulness can bring to a person’s well-being. If we can get the ‘M’ number up, by engaging as many people as possible, I believe the viral power of mindfulness can cause changes that will spread exponentially. In this way we can harness the power of mindfulness for good in the world and for a more positive, hopeful future.