It is more important than ever to take time to nourish our general wellbeing. During these demanding times of social distancing, shielding and quarantining, we are experiencing challenges like never before. Some of these can manifest as loneliness, concerns over health and finances, anxiety, depression, difficulty sleeping, loss of drive and enthusiasm, lethargy, physical tiredness, and worries about our loved ones.
In moments like these it is normal to feel helpless and overwhelmed as the source of our suffering is beyond our control. Sadly, there are situations in our lives we cannot influence or change. However, what we can change is the way we think about these new challenges and how we choose to respond them.
With mindfulness we can learn to respond more productively and prevent our thoughts from adding to our inner turmoil. Positive thoughts can help us quickly restore inner harmony, and with language such as “I am okay, even now when life is difficult we can recover more quickly, feel positive and start enjoying ourselves again.
Accepting our thoughts, emotions and feelings is an important part of learning to respond to difficult situations and make appropriate changes in our lives. Becoming aware of unhelpful automatic thinking patterns can help us break the cycle of thoughts that produce negative feelings, subsequent stress reactions and a downward spiral in mood. Mindfulness of thoughts, for example, can be extremely revealing and helpful in uncovering our thoughts directions and tendencies.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a non-judgemental awareness of the present moment, of what is going on inside us as well as around us. It is about experiencing the present moment as fully as possible. When we are experiencing something unwanted or negative, it is probably the last thing we feel like doing – giving more attention and time to our thoughts. But by accepting these thoughts and allowing them to be part of our experience as much as any positive or pleasant thoughts, we not only regain control over our emotional and mental health, but also begin to slowly move towards a state of wellbeing and inner harmony. Research shows that practising mindfulness can help to reduce stress and anxiety, and increase the sense of happiness. Mindfulness comes in many different forms – meditation, breathing and relaxation exercises, visualisation, tai chi and yoga, walking, journaling, etc. It brings us more fully into our lives and improves the quality of our experiences.
Thinking about thinking
When we are stressed or anxious, it can be very easy to see things somewhat out of perspective and underestimate our ability to cope with these stressors. We can be trapped in a repetitive cycle of thoughts that there is nothing we can do in order to change our current situation. A lot of energy can go into rumination about how things ought to be. But regardless of what has happened in the past or what might happen in the future, the only thing we can actually deal with is the way things are in our life right now.
With continued practise of mindfulness, we can reduce the time we spend caught up in thinking, freeing up mental energy, improving concentration and producing a feeling of calm. When we are able to just observe our thoughts kindly and without judgement, we increase our ability to recognise which ones to act on and which to let be. We also discover the vast, peaceful space beneath thinking and reside there more often, whenever we choose to.
Simple mindful breathing exercise for anxiety
This is a simple technique to focus your mind on the rhythm of your breathing. At first your mind may wander around, but do not worry about it, it is quite natural. With time, your mind will slow down without any external nudging.
Sit in a comfortable position, relax your body, and when you are ready begin to concentrate on your breath. Watch it come and go, feel your chest and abdomen expand as you inhale, and relax back as you exhale. Continue focussing on your breath like this for a few moments. • After a few moments, commence inhaling slowly and deeply to a mental count of 4
- Then, hold your breath for a mental count of 7
- Before you slowly and smoothly exhale for a mental count of 8.
That is one round. Pause briefly and allow your breathing to return to its natural rhythm before you start another round. You can start with five rounds and gradually build up to 20 or 25 rounds each day or whenever you feel anxious, nervous, or stressed.
During this exercise, remember that you can count as quickly or slowly as you want or as feels comfortable for you.
Mindfulness exercise on thoughts, emotions and sensations
Sit comfortably and start observing your breath, the sensations of in-breath and out-breath. Try focussing all your attention on your breathing.
And as you do so, after a while you may become aware of thoughts, sensations, or any experience of emotions coming to your awareness.
Imagine that your mind contains three boxes labelled: “thoughts”, “sensations”, and “emotions”. Continue focusing on your breathing and if anything else enters your awareness, observe if it is a thought, sensation or emotion, and sort it into the right box.
Continue breathing slowly and smoothly, clearing your mind from any unwanted thoughts, sensations, and emotions.