It’s been a weird time for us all: isolating in our homes, spending more time than usual with our loved ones and trying our best to adapt to this new ‘norm.’ Let’s be honest, it’s not always easy.
So how do we cope during this time? How do we keep our thoughts from wandering into the future? The answer is simple: by practicing mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on around us. Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, body sensations and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nourishing lens. When we are mindful, the key is not to label or judge what is happening; our feelings aren’t good or bad – they just are.
Too often we focus on the future and worry about the unknown: “What if this happens? Or what if that other thing does? I better remember to pay those bills, and I really need to clean my house this week” – but with COVID 19 our future is very unclear. We also ruminate on the past – thinking “I should have done this rather that”. Of course, it is important to learn from our past and set goals for the future; however, when we spend too much time outside of the present moment, we become vulnerable to depression and anxiety. In this case, mindfulness can be an important tool for helping us to better focus on the present. Research shows that mindfulness helps us reduce anxiety, depression, and even physical pain.
So here are a few tips on how to be in the “now”. It takes patience, but practice makes routine. The more you do it, the easier it will be.
- A simple and effective mindfulness exercise is brining awareness to our breath. When we pay attention to our breathing, we have no other option but to be in the present moment. Take a moment and repeat this: Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 and exhale for 4 or more. Repeat multiple times. The nature of the mind is to move, and if you notice your thoughts wonder, gently guide them back to the breath.
- Practice mindful eating and drinking. Take time to identify what the food / drink looks like. Then feel it – is it warm or cold? How does it smell, taste and sound? Take your time and remember not to judge – just notice it.
- Self- care is important for your health and you can practice mindfulness by doing some things that you really enjoy. Pay attention to your environment and be aware of your body sensations while trying a face mask, lighting a candle, and listening to some music. You can also do this while engaging in an art activity or taking a bath – the choices are endless!
- Go for a walk outside and use your grounding techniques to help you connect to the present moment: Identify 5 things that you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things that you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. Remember to leave your phone at home to limit distractions.
Mindfulness is not necessarily meant to change or take away any feelings – just help us be aware. Remember, most of the benefits of mindfulness require consistent practice but if we stick to it – we will create a noticeable change.