Allow your mind to relax each day

Restless, bored, anxious… as our lives are heavily restricted due to the COVID-19 crisis, many are feeling unsettled and frustrated. We may feel overloaded with information and fearful for our health. We could be feeling isolated and yearning for social interaction. Or maybe we’re just bored of the same four walls and can’t wait for life to feel normal again.

Whatever your struggles, social isolation is bound to take a toll. And although it is temporary, it is not over yet. So how can we find our balance and keep it when life is so topsy turvey? How can we take control of our minds in a situation we have no control over?

With a focus on practical ways of looking after yourself and others, one of the many valuable tips of the #InThisTogether campaign is simply to take a break.

HealthWISE mental health clinician Leon Van Der Linde recommends making use of this time out to be ‘mindful’. This is about being completely in touch with the present moment and open to experiences as they come.

“Rather than framing the current situation in good or bad terms, our challenge is to instead be curious about our thoughts and emotions in response to the isolation, to reflect on how we are affected by this, without passing any judgment, and to realize, that like everything else in life, this will also pass,” he said.

“It is perhaps also the time to mindfully reflect on the relationships that are meaningful and rewarding to us, and to celebrate those in the here and now, being aware that those relationships are as real in our minds as to when we interact face to face with each other.”

Like any skill, mindfulness takes practice. However, if we learn how to use it well, it can become a powerful mental tool – helping us to feel in control despite the chaos of the situation we’re facing.

There are a number of mindfulness exercises out there, from awareness of your breathing or on the sounds around you, to focusing on your thoughts, feelings and even what you’re eating.

Your mind needs rest and time to reboot to reduce anxiety and stress. You will benefit from ‘switching off’. Taking some time each day to do something that allows your mind to relax is good for your mental health.

Each have four main aims. The first is to develop the ability to focus your attention on one thing at a time. This involves being aware of the things going on around you, such as sights and sounds as well as your ability to observe what’s going on inside you – your thoughts and feelings.

Next, mindfulness teaches you to look at your experiences in a non-judgmental way. Whatever you’re focusing on – from the food you’re eating to the thought in your head – this skill is about acknowledging it without labelling it as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. You may acknowledge the thought ‘I’m struggling to help my child with their schoolwork’, but refrain from judging yourself as a bad parent.

Another aspect of mindfulness is being in touch with the present moment. It is very easy to either get caught up with thoughts of the past or worries about the future. Mindfulness helps us become active participants in our experiences, rather than just going through the motions or becoming stuck in auto-pilot.

Lastly, mindfulness teaches us to develop the ‘beginner’s mind’. This is about staying open to new possibilities. It follows on from being non-judgemental as the ‘beginner’s mind’ is about observing things as they truly are, rather than what we evaluate them to be. Mindfulness can help us develop a mind that can view situations as if seeing them for the first time, instead of going in with preconceived notions of how things will turn out.

Below is a simple 10 minute mindfulness exercise focusing on breathing that you can try out for yourself.

  1. Lie down or sit in a comfortable position. If you are sitting, keep your back straight and let your shoulders drop.
  2. Close your eyes.
  3. Focus on your breathing. Just pay attention to what it feels like in your body to slowly breathe in and out.
  4. Bring your attention to your stomach. Feel it rise and expand every time you breathe in. Notice as it falls every time you breathe out.
  5. Keep focusing on the whole experience of breathing. Immerse yourself completely in this experience. Imagine you are ‘riding the waves’ of your own breathing.
  6. If you notice your mind has wandered away from your breathing, simply acknowledge what took your attention and then gently focus back on your breathing.

You can continue this exercise as long as you like. You are encouraged to turn it into a habit by practicing it once every day. Don’t be discouraged if your mind wanders during the exercise, as this is normal.

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