Life can be challenging and overwhelming at the best of times, but the current global crisis that has seen many communities around the world roll out social-distancing and lockdown measures to fight the spread of the Coronavirus presents an even more challenging landscape to navigate. We are aware that there’s a lot of unrest, and concern at the moment and more than ever our self-awareness and how we are looking after ourselves is of pivotal importance.
With this in mind, we thought we’d ask Animas trainer and Mindfulness and Wellbeing Practitioner Emily Johnston to share her top tips around how to incorporate mindfulness into our daily lives and the benefits this brings.
The first thing that came to mind is to meditate, and I think this is absolutely key. This is an amazing opportunity to actually slow down and to really take stock and also to get into a good regular meditation practice. Meditation does a number of things that can help us to increase our empathy towards ourselves and those around us, particularly those we self-isolate with, and I know that many are finding isolating with a family or group challenging.
Meditation can also help us to be able to step back from all current ways of thinking and feeling, to step back and get some perspective and recognise what’s important and allow us to let go of thoughts of worry, doubt or fear, which can be really prevalent at times like this. I think meditation, taken a step further, can also help us to see or get in touch with a more spiritual element, and to really reframe the experience of ‘being’ from one of individuality to a more universal sense of being. So I think meditation would probably be my top tip.
The next one is around exercise. The recommendation from the government is to get out and exercise once a day, and walking is a fantastic way of exercising. It’s really good for us and we can make it a really mindful practice. We can bring our meditation into that and also we can slow down.
Life, as it were, before Coronavirus could be quite stressful, quite goal-orientated, striving for things, and many of us have the opportunity now to just go for a walk without even having a destination in mind, but just go for a walk for the sake of walking and allow yourself just to move and to be mindful of what’s going on around you. Listening to the sounds of what’s happening around you. With Spring here, we are doing this at a wonderful time of year. We can see the birds in the sky, the buds just coming into the plants and on the trees, and the leaves coming out. It’s just a wonderful time to be walking in nature.
It’s all out there to be to be noticed. If we can allow ourselves just to let go of doing, just let go of that stuff that’s constantly going on and be in that space, be present with what’s going on around us, that can give us so much and allow us just to be more connected. I think connection is something that we all strive for in many different ways, it’s so important to us as human beings to have connection and we can do this so easily by literally being mindful and getting in touch with our senses and seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling what’s around us.
3. Be mindful of our relationships
One thing that people may well be struggling with at this time is managing the relationships with the people they’re living with. I’m very lucky in that I live in a particularly green area, have a beautiful garden, and have enough space in my house that we can all find our own spaces to escape if we need to, but I know there are people who are stuck in flats or stuck indoors with no garden, in much smaller spaces with possibly more people than they usually live with. So I think there’s an element of being mindful in our relationships which is also really important.
Meditation can help with this too because it brings with it empathy. It helps us to connect with and develop those mirror neurons within our brain which allow us to be more empathetic with those around us. Meditation can help us be more empathetic in those relationships.
Nancy Klein, for example, in her book Time to Think, does a lot of exercises around being in community or being in communication with other people where each person takes time to speak and to be honest about what’s going on for them in a safe space whilst others practise active listening. It can be very easy in a stressful situation of isolation to not listen, to shut down, to think that that’s going to give us our sanity, but actually opening up, being able to listen can help us to maintain a good relationship, and keep our sanity too.
Often in relationships, the disruptions are caused by the things that aren’t being said. The things that are held back, the resentments that build over time, the irritations that build over time. But if we can communicate about those from the off, and be mindful in our communication, listening and giving space and being careful in how we speak as well, we can avoid so much.
4. Eat mindfully
Another aspect that came to my mind was around eating mindfully. I was reading this really interesting article the other day by an Italian woman writing an article to the UK about the experience in Italy during these times. She was describing daily life and how, at first preparing yourself for the long haul you think of all the things you’re going to do while in self-isolation, but she describes how gradually over time you start to watch more and more TV etc. and the guitar you promised yourself you’d learn still stays untouched.
Another aspect she mentioned was that you then spend more and more time going to the fridge, and looking in the fridge and staring at all the food and having another snack and another, and I think that’s quite a common experience. We’re at home and one of the things we are used to doing at home is eating, especially if we are bored.
In this way, people can potentially eat more and build up bad habits. So it can be a really useful practise to eat mindfully, using all our senses and awareness of the process of eating and notice the effect of food on you. From this we can begin to work out strategies to distract or to not allow yourself to be in that space of boredom where the fridge becomes the go to place to be. Instead being mindful and creative with the food we have and fully enjoying it.
5. Create a new routine
Creating a routine is another way of combating boredom or restlessness and is a fantastic way to maintain a positive mindset. Most people are creatures of habit and it can be very useful to get into a routine, or adjust your current routine to assist you in feeling more positivity, energy and satisfaction in these testing times. Your routine might include small daily touchpoints, or bigger tasks, ultimately it is about whatever works for you. In this current space, we can create the routine that really works for us which is a fantastic opportunity, but also one which can require a lot of focus and discipline to stick to.
6. Give yourself meaning/purpose every day
Whether it’s that you might not have a job to do currently, or maybe your work isn’t possible from isolation, or you might just have less to do in general in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, we can all easily lose sight of a meaningful purpose in life if we don’t pay it any attention. So finding meaning is really very important.
We can find meaning in many, many different ways that help us to give a cause or purpose to our day. Whether it’s giving yourself a project to do, that is something that you’ve been putting off for some time or whether it’s paying attention to your garden or home, it’s about giving yourself something to do on a regular basis that gives meaning to your day. Then it’s about noticing these accomplishments and just being aware of what you’ve accomplished that day. Even if it’s really small, that’s fine!
7. Practice self-gratitude and notice the little things
A daily sense of self-gratitude and noticing the positive things that we have done, no matter how small is really important. If you do have a down day or perhaps don’t get done all the things you planned, don’t beat yourself up. At the end of the day, maybe just noticing what you have achieved and really praising yourself and being grateful. In mindfulness, we talk about having a gratitude diary at the end of the day where you are just thankful for the things that you have achieved that day, or the things that have happened that day that you really appreciate.
Maybe it’s something that someone in your household said to you, or maybe it was that you managed to get the food that you needed at the supermarket or that you saw something beautiful on your daily walk, whatever it is. Focussing on the positive stuff, no matter how small, and being grateful for what this time can bring is a great way to keep your spirits up, and feel like you are still making progress.
We have a negative bias as human beings and that can be difficult, so it’s important to refocus on the positives, particularly during challenging times.
8. Be mindful of the wider community
A lot of the things I’ve explored so far have been very much around the personal, the individual and maybe the household, but I think we can also be very mindful of the wider community as well. What do I mean by this?
I’m talking about being aware and open and empathetic to your neighbours and your community that’s around you. Whether that’s when you’re shopping at the supermarket or just walking down the street, being aware of those other people that are also living through these difficult circumstances and how we interact with them can create a much more mindful place to be.
It may also be a sense of being more mindful of how the news can affect us as well. Listening to the news on TV, or online can be quite scary at the moment, even overwhelming. Just being mindful of how we interact with that and how that affects us and affects the people that are living around us can contribute to a much calmer, and more positive living environment.