As lockdown restrictions begin to ease, how are you feeling about going back out into the world? Nervous? Worried about what it might look like? Or excited to get some semblance of normality back?
One thing that all three national lockdowns have given us is time to stop and take stock of what’s important. And perhaps, as we look to the next phase of the pandemic and hopefully moving away from as many restrictions, we should also be thinking what good we can take from the last year. What lessons have we learned that we can apply to life, whatever it might look like in this next phase?
Well, for many of us, one thing we can try to do is avoid the temptation of thinking and doing in auto-pilot, being so busy rushing around feeling the pressure to get things done. When we live life like this, we are not present in the moment. Our minds are busy thinking about yesterday, tomorrow, next week or next month. We’re too busy being busy.
You may think that multi-tasking is the most efficient way of getting things done. And some people do prefer to have lots of plates spinning. But research has shown that our brains are not as good at handling multiple tasks as we think they are. In fact some studies suggest it actually reduces productivity.
All of this rushing around, mentally processing the many things on our ever-expanding to-do list can impact on our mental wellbeing, potentially leading to an increase in stress and anxiety.
So before we jump back into our busy lives and forget the calm of so much time at home over the last year (at least, for those of us who have not been working on the front line) let us look to how mindfulness could just be the self-help tactic we need to maintain good health and wellbeing as we come out of a life in lockdown.
What is mindfulness?
Maybe you’re familiar with the term mindfulness and maybe you’re not. But it’s quite possible you may have been using elements of it during lockdown, perhaps without even realising. Maybe you spent time sitting in your garden with a cup of tea listening to the birds. Possibly you consciously turned off the news and just concentrated on your breathing to avoid feeling overwhelmed by so much suffering. Or perhaps you’ve discovered a love for walking around your community, discovering new areas of nature you never knew were there. All of these are mindful behaviours.
Mindfulness aims to reconnect us with ourselves, allowing us to become aware of our emotions, feelings and actions, giving ourselves time and space to do so.
It facilitates a connection with both mind and body, so we can be aware of ourselves alongside what is going on around us. It moves away from the busyness of our minds, and therefore moves away from the stress of it.
How to do it
Mindfulness can be used in everyday life and doesn’t have to take a lot of time or effort. Here are some examples of mindfulness activities you could try.
Breathing: Breathe in and out as you normally would and notice each inhalation and exhalation, notice your lungs expanding and notice when your mind wanders and bring it back to your breath. How was this different to the breathing you do every day?
Body scan: Spend a minute bringing your awareness to your body. Starting with your feet and moving upwards, notice any sensations, how does it feel where you are sitting/standing? Which part of your body was the easiest and most difficult to focus on? Where did your mind go? You can find guided body scans online, like this one:
Mindful walking: Walk slowly, be aware of the sensations on your feet and in the muscles in your legs. Notice what you are thinking, notice where your mind wanders and bring it back to your walking.
Mindful eating: Observe what you are eating and give it your full attention. Notice the textures of the food, smell it, notice the taste and notice the speed at which you chew your food – slow it down!
Mindful listening: Listen to what is around you, be aware of new noises within a minute of mindful listening, or notice if noises change.
Mindful emotions: As you sit, notice your breath. Move your attention to any emotional sensation you may be feeling. Be interested. How does it feel? If it had a shape what shape would it be, is it hot, cold, pleasant or unpleasant. Notice how it changes as you focus your attention on it.
You might also like to try one of our guided relaxations.
Mindfulness is something we can do every day to reduce stress and anxiety, so why not give it a go? And if you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed by the thought of lockdown lifting, why not browse some of our self-help articles or give us a ring. Our Support Line is open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday and can be contacted by calling 0800 389 8820 or making an enquiry online.