The current COVID-19 pandemic has forced most of us to slow down and take a break from our busy lifestyles. For some, it has been easy to adapt, working from home to break up the day and provide some structure. But, for others, constant negative news and the lack of things to do has caused unease and anxiety. One thing that can help to keep a healthy mind is to learn mindfulness - a great way to spend free time and hopefully make us feel better.
If you’re particularly struggling, please call the Samaritans free on 116 123 for confidential help and support.
What is mindfulness?
It’s common for our brain to take flight and never switch off, leading to increased levels of stress and anxiety as we obsess over things we can’t change. Mindfulness can help us enjoy life more and understand ourselves better. It aims to help us:
- Reduce stress and feel calmer
- Cope with difficult thoughts
- Become more self-aware
- Be kinder to ourselves
- Help us control how we respond to thoughts and feelings
Mindfulness also means reconnecting with our bodies and anything that’s going on around us: sights, smells, sounds, taste and touch of the present moment. So many of us live hectic lives and it’s easy to stop noticing our surroundings. Practicing mindfulness helps us work towards becoming completely aware of the present moment, of our thoughts and feelings, mentally and physically, without judging.
When we are more aware of the things around us, we can experience things we have previously been taking for granted. Because of this, mindfulness is said to positively change the way we see ourselves and the lives we live. It also helps us avoid being overwhelmed by certain situations.
How to be more mindful
Mindfulness is innate, but it can be accomplished by practicing different techniques. Most of these can be done during everyday life, which is currently staying safe at home. Whilst you may not be able to practice on a commute to work, you can give it a go during your daily walk or sat eating breakfast.
Set time aside
One of the most important things about learning mindfulness is that you must dedicate time every day, or as often as you can, to practice. This could be straight after you wake up or before you go to bed, mid-morning or afternoon, or after you’ve eaten in the evenings. The choice is yours! It may help to make this consistent and have a regular time set aside. This can help structure your days whilst at home, too.
Start to notice your surroundings
We all have busy lives to live, with distractions coming in many forms. Therefore, mindfulness isn’t something that is practiced 24/7. But we can choose to practice mindfulness during certain points of our day. Whilst at home, it could be when eating food – paying extra attention to the texture, appearance and taste of what you’re consuming. Another example is mindful walking. Focus on your body moving, the breeze against your skin and the various smells around you.
Keep trying and go slowly
Learning mindfulness can be a long process, and certain styles of practice might not work for you. Keep trying until you find one that does. It can help to be somewhere you feel safe and comfortable and are unlikely to be distracted. It’s also important to be patient – the goal is simple, but it is hard to achieve immediately for most people, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t get it straight away. Taking mindfulness one step at a time can help; start by practicing for just a few minutes and work your way up to longer periods.
Online courses, apps, books and CDs
You can try full online courses, which are a good alternative to in person courses, and can be found as one-on-one, group courses, or sessions which you can follow in your own time. But there are many other resources on mindfulness available out there as well, from online apps to books or CDs. These are typically less structured than an online course, which may or may not work better for you. These resources can guide you through certain techniques and provide instructions on how to get the most of them.
How to do mindful meditation
Meditation involves sitting somewhere quiet, training your awareness and gaining a healthier perspective. Mindful meditation is a technique that many people use in their quest to learn how to be more mindful. The method involves focusing on your breathing, thoughts, bodily sensations and what you can hear around you.
Mindful meditation is a great way to learn mindfulness, as you can start it from the comfort of your own home, and then adapt to more distracting spaces when you feel you can.
Step one: Find a suitable space
This should be somewhere you can relax and won’t be disturbed. Find a seat – a chair, cushion, bench, the floor – anywhere that gives a stable and solid place to sit. You shouldn’t be perched or hanging off anything. Take note of how comfortable your legs are and that you feel stable.
Step two: Adjust your body
First, straighten your upper body. It’s important to not feel stiff and that you allow your back to curve naturally. Your head and shoulders should feel comfortably rested. Then, lay your arms parallel to your upper body. This is simply letting your hands drop and rest on the top of your legs. Having your arms too far forward will make you hunched over, and too far back will make you stiffen too much. It should all feel natural.
Step three: Begin the practice
Letting your chin drop a little and your gaze fall downward will start the meditative practice. If you like, you may let your eyelids drop and close your eyes - this is personal choice and isn’t a necessity. If your eyes are open, make sure you aren’t focusing on any objects that are in front of you, simply let the objects be there.
Step four: Stay here for a few moments
Relax, and start to attend to your breath and any other sensations your body may be feeling. Follow or feel your breath as you breathe in and out. If you’re following a meditation app, they may ask you to take notice of particular aspects of your breath. Draw attention to the physicality of breathing – the air making its way through your nose and mouth and the rising and falling of your upper body. It may help to mentally note when you breathe in and out as “breathing in” and “breathing out”.
Step five: Bring back any wandering thoughts
It is inevitable that your mind will start to wander. When you start to notice this, return your attention to your breath, and you can take as long as you like to do this. It is completely normal to find your mind is constantly wandering. Wrestling with these thoughts defeats the purpose of meditation, so allow yourself to calm down and observe the thoughts instead. Then, move your focus back to your breathing.
Step six: Arise
After you’ve finished (this could be 5 minutes or 45 - the choice is yours), gently lift your eyelids and your gaze. Take a moment to take in your surroundings again and how your body feels. Take note of any thoughts and emotions and think about how you’d like to continue your day.
The arts of mindfulness and meditation are often said to be very simple, but far from easy. The main thing is to keep trying and practising and you will slowly reach your goal. The current situation gives us a fantastic opportunity to give mindfulness a go and try something new. If you’re struggling for alternative ways to spend each day, our guide of things to do at home may help.