I’m not going to try and sugarcoat it, this is a sh*t time for all of us. COVID-19 is worrying from a health perspective, a business perspective, a financial perspective and a mental health perspective. The situation itself is totally out of our control. We just have to follow government advice and stay home. But there are things we can all do to deal with the situation in a more positive way. And one great way to do this is through practising mindfulness. But what is mindfulness? How can we practise it? And why is it more important now than ever?
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is, essentially, understanding and accepting what is going on, inside and outside of ourselves, in every moment. Whether you’re in the middle of exercising, cooking dinner, working, or whatever, it is important to be fully present in that moment. It allows us to retrain our brains into being less emotional and more rational.
Though many of us have full use of all of our senses, we often don’t engage with them completely, so we can sometimes go into auto-pilot mode and miss certain sounds, smells and sights around us. Understandable due to the stresses and busyness of everyday life, but, actually, by being fully engaged and aware of what’s going on around us, experts say we’ll actually lead happier lives.
According to top mindfulness expert Professor Mark Williams, “Mindfulness is about observation without criticism; being compassionate with yourself. When unhappiness or stress hover overhead, rather than taking it all personally, you learn to treat them as if they were black clouds in the sky, and to observe them with friendly curiosity as they drift past. In essence, mindfulness allows you to catch negative thought patterns before they tip you into a downward spiral. It begins the process of putting you back in control of your life.”
Why is mindfulness more important now than ever?
We’re actually in an unprecedented situation, so it’s natural that our heads might be spinning right now. But now is a good time to start practising mindfulness, as it can actually help us get through this difficult time. Professor Mark Williams states, “It's about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives." And when you think about it, switching off the news and actually sitting down to process what is going on is vital to how we react to it.
As I mentioned earlier, we are powerless to change the situation itself, but we can make changes to the way we are currently dealing with it in our own lives. Mindfulness can also allow us to become aware of any anxiety and stress we may be feeling.
How can we all practise mindfulness?
One of the most common ways to practise mindfulness is through meditation. Now, I get it - some people hear the word ‘meditation’ and they run. But it doesn’t have to be so daunting. Actually, apps like Headspace are great for just taking a bit of time out of your day to focus on your breathing and thoughts. You get 10 free sessions with the app, which is awesome, and then if you want to continue, there’s additional fees. But it’s a brilliant way to get you started on your journey to mindfulness.
And it doesn’t even have to be a case of meditating if that seems a bit too airy fairy for you. Taking time to bake, craft, colour in or write are all amazing ways to take time out and be aware of yourself and your surroundings in the moment.
Not an arty type? No problem! There’s loads more stuff you can do. For, example, one thing that’s becoming really popular is gratitude diaries. And, basically, they are what they say on the tin. A gratitude diary is a diary you can record the things you’re grateful for each day. Your submissions might be big or small. You might even be wondering what the hell you’re actually grateful for at all at the moment, but if you think carefully, you’ll be able to come up with something.
Even if it’s just ‘I’m grateful for the sunshine we had today’, or ‘I’m grateful for my favourite radio station for keeping me entertained.’ There’s always something or someone to be grateful for. Even in the darkest of times.
And if that doesn’t sound like your kind of thing either, try practising mindfulness while you’re exercising - e.g. walking or running. This is a perfect opportunity to open your mind and focus on your thoughts and breathing.
You can even do mindful eating, where you take something small - such as a grape, blueberry or piece of chocolate - and you focus on the sensation of the food in your mouth, flavour and the feeling as you chew and swallow the food.
According to Mind, “When you do any mindfulness exercise, the key steps are to:
- Pay attention – for example, when you shower in the morning, make a special effort to really pay attention to the feel of the water on your skin.
- Notice – when your mind wanders, which is just what minds do, simply notice where your thoughts have drifted to.
- Choose and return – choose to bring your attention back to the present moment, usually by focusing on your breathing or another sensation in your body.
- Be aware and accept – notice and be aware of emotions you are feeling or sensations in your body. Try to observe and accept these feelings with friendly curiosity and without judgement.
- Be kind to yourself – remember that mindfulness is difficult to do and our minds will always wander. Try not to be critical of yourself. When you notice your mind wandering, you can just gently bring yourself back to the exercise.”
So, next time you’re feeling stressed, anxious or not in control of the current situation, think about taking a bit of time out to practise mindfulness in any way you prefer, and see if you notice a difference the more you do it.