When someone mentions ‘Mindfulness’ it’s common to associate it with a full body sensory experience – one that can only be obtained through deep intensive meditation used by devout spiritual gurus. However, mindfulness can just be as simple as breathing.
In times like these we are continually wondering ‘what will happen next?’ Things in New Zealand are moving fast as we are one of the most progressive countries in the world with our response to COVID-19 and the world around us is not quite what it used to be. Even though we are coming out at the end of lock-down, there will still be residual concerns lurking under the surface. As we are in the process of constant change it is perfectly normal to be in a state of mind fog.
Just taking a moment to breathe, to focus on that breath, to feel your lungs expand and then deflate, is an act of mindfulness. It is easy to get caught up in the traffic jam of anxiety, when you feel like you might be stuck like it forever. There is no doubt that we will feel anxious coming out of lock-down. However, taking small moments out of your day, even when you are managing the work-from-home-while-social-distancing-while-multitasking scenario, can be helpful in order to keep your head from feeling like it’s going to fall off.
Mindfulness is the process of focussing on the now. Paying attention to the small things so that you can cope with the big things. It is the act of being present.
The art of practising true mindfulness is by meditation. This is when you focus on your breath, body scan or pay attention to your senses in a guided format. Practising regular mindfulness has shown to decrease stress, increase focus and boost happiness. But as much as we would like to take specified moments to meditate every day, it is not always possible.
Here are 4 ways to incorporate acts of mindfulness into your everyday life:
Look at the clouds
When you are outside, maybe going from the car to the house, try looking up. My mother would always tell me “If you have enough time to look at the clouds, you’re having a good day”. Try looking at the clouds, looking at their shapes, their colours or what sort of animal they look like. The act of looking at the clouds in the sky is a mindfulness exercise. Take yourself away from the everyday routine that you have developed over the last 2 months to appreciate something that is in the present moment.
Practise noticing your surroundings
If you ever have a moment, try concentrating on the sounds around you. Whether or not you are sitting at your desk or walking from A to B. Try focussing on the background noises that make up your environment. Can you hear the birds chirping? Can you hear the rush of traffic? Or the hum of the washing machine? It is mindful to stop and listen. It is also important to take a moment to notice your surroundings. Noticing different people walking past or how trees sway in the wind, is mindfully teaching yourself to observe. Especially before hoping back in the car after weeks of driving on empty roads, the sudden rush of traffic and the abundance of sounds can be overwhelming. To help ease the transition back into busy life, practising mindful observation can help retrain your brain to have faster reaction times.
Do one thing at a time
After coming out of your bubbles from weeks of watching Netflix and scrolling through Facebook on the daily, you may experience a sensory overload the first time you go into the local shopping centre. With all the different smells, lights, signs and choices to be made, a trip to run typical errands can be overly stimulating. Try to not feel too much pressure to do everything all at once. In pre-covid days we were able to tick everything off on the to-do list within one day or have multiple social meet ups. Take things at your own pace. The art of being mindful is looking after yourself.
The purest way to practise mindfulness, when you notice yourself feeling anxious, is to breathe. By focussing only on your breath, you can slow down your heart rate and your mind will ease that fight-or-flight response by getting more oxygen to your brain. An easy way to do this is by breathing in for four seconds, holding it for four seconds and breathing out for four seconds. While you breathe you may notice the sounds around you, the sights you see and the touch of your body on the surfaces.
Having a complete lock-down of the whole country is not a normal occurrence that you can plan for. It was a sudden but necessary change to the lives of all kiwis, and there will be a level of uncertainty coming back into your everyday life. There will still be elements of fear within the community and it is perfectly common to feel uneasy and overwhelmed when going back into a mega-store, gym, library or any place with more people than your bubble. The practise of mindfulness is designed to help one be aware of the present. It is to not worry about the past or the future but to be in the here and now. By practising mindfulness in small ways throughout your days coming out of the lock-down, you will be able to clear your mind and adjust faster to your new everyday routine.