MINDFULNESS & COPING WITH FEARS AND ANXIETY
In our normal lives we all face stress and uncertainty at times. This COVID-19 pandemic has increased that above normal levels for us all.
Anxiety can be a good thing when it calls us to be present and to take action to be safe and take care of the people we love and to be resilient.
Anxiety is a bad thing when we are constantly worrying about the future. We tell ourselves stories about and predict the future and start to believe our thoughts.
When we are gripped by fear and anxiety, what is called our sympathetic system is activated. Practising mindfulness, particularly breathing activates our para-sympathetic nervous system which, calms us down. It also brings our mind into the present moment and not ruminating about the past ( which we can’t change) and the future, which, often we don’t know what will happen.
Research has shown that practising mindfulness meditation can reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety at home and in the workplace.
MINDFULNESS – BREATHING
A simple way to do this is with long, deep breaths. Close your eyes if you can and its comfortable. Take a deep breath for a count of five through your nose and slowly let it out through your mouth for a count of five. When we exhale, we intentionally release tension. It begins to calm down our nervous system. Do it five times. You can do it anywhere e.g. in bed, in your car, while parked for example in shopping centre, sitting in a chair at home. Your breath is your most portable and powerful meditation device. its always with you and always available.
USING R.A.I.N. TO COPE WITH FEAR
Another meditation you can practice, developed by Tara Brach is called RAIN. It’s an acronym for Recognise, Allow, Investigate and Nurture.
First, just recognise – ” Okay I’m feeling fear” mentally whisper it to yourself. When you recognise and name a fear, it loses some of its power over you. Our rational thinking part of our brain starts to take over from our fearful and reactive part of our brain.
Then just allow it to be there. Don’t try to run away or fix or control or judge it.
Then just investigate it. How you are feeling it in your thoughts and in your body. What are you afraid of? In mindfulness we practice acceptance. Acceptance is not giving in or giving up. It simply means we acknowledge that something exists. Some things we accept and cannot change, others we accept but resolve to to the best we can to minimise the risk or change the situation. An example now would be to follow all the best practices that we are advised to minimise and mitigate the risk of getting COVID-19 or passing it to someone else.
Finally – Nurture. Put your hand on your heart and offer a kind soothing message to yourself. e.g. ” I will be ok, I’m doing my best” ” if we all look out for each other, things will be OK”
Your brain will find it hard to be anxious when you are busy being grateful. Humans have a negativity bias. We get fixated on threats, what we don’t have, and often overlook all the good things we have and the beauty around us. It’s a good way to start each day by listing out 5-10 things you are grateful for. They can be simple things like – food, shelter, health, love, friendship, nature, water, electricity, sanitation and so on. Things maybe we take for granted.
INFORMAL MINDFULNESS PRACTICE
Mindful Walking – Go for a walk and use your senses. what can you – see, hear, feel, smell . So for example you could see the trees, hear the birds, feel the breeze on your face, smell the flowers etc.
Some people find other things to focus their mind in the present like: Exercises, Yoga, Prayer, Cooking, Listening to music etc.
Writing thoughts down is a great way to get them out of your head. You may have heard of ” Think and Ink”. When we write down what we are anxious about or afraid of, it takes it out of the reactive and worrying part of our brain and allows our thinking and logical brain to work on it. When we write down and name our fear and anxiety, it looses a lot of its power over you. You can set yourself free.
I also teach Mindfulness and do Life Coaching on a one to one basis on a face to face basis or online by Skype/Zoom etc. Both methods are very successful in their application.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is returning your awareness from your wandering mind to what’s happening in the present moment, and doing so with acceptance. You have to return your awareness again and again because the mind wanders endlessly.
Mindfulness means being aware of what you are doing, while you are doing it. This means being aware that you are breathing, walking, driving, running making a phone call, cooking a meal and so on. When you have thoughts, notice that you have thoughts and come back to awareness of what you are actually doing. When you are emotional just notice the emotion – not trying to deepen it and not trying to push it away – and come back to awareness of what you are doing.
Mindfulness lowers stress, helps you to relate in a different way to the challenges of life and enhances your sense of well-being. You can be mindful anywhere and you don’t need any kind of equipment – so mindfulness is completely mobile.
How can I practice mindfulness?
Mindfulness can be practiced in a variety of ways as part of your daily life. The simplest method is to practice returning your awareness to your breathing because your breathing is always happening in the present moment.
I don’t have the time for mindfulness.
Yes you do. You can make mindfulness part of your day and you can decide that you will do some of your routine activities (drinking tea, brushing your teeth etc) mindfully, for instance. If you can put some time aside to just be mindful. Mindfulness exercises and mindfulness techniques are aimed at people who are very busy – and nowadays that means almost everybody.
Is mindfulness the same as living in the now?
Yes. When you practice mindfulness, you gently bring yourself back into the present moment every time you notice that you have drifted in your mind back to the past or into the future. Also, you gently bring yourself back to the present moment whenever you realise that you have drifted off into your imagination. The word “gently” is important. Never, ever scold yourself for drifting away from awareness. Drifting is what minds do. Accept this fact and take your awareness back to the present moment.