So many of us are feeling extra pressure and strain as a result of the pandemic. It has affected all our lives, and yet, many of us are giving ourselves a hard time for not being able to proceed as normal, keeping up with all we have to do, staying happy and calm.
The reality is that life is different now, many of our comforting structures have gone with working from home, our social lives have diminished, and uncertainty is a part of daily life.
With this change in how we live our lives, it's wise to adapt accordingly.
I am encouraging clients (and myself) to take some of the pressure of, and lighten the expectations we place on ourselves.
When you're making your to-do list this week, be aware of your energy levels. If you are feeling tired or stressed, can you take a few to-do items off your list? Is there anything that isn't absolutely necessary?
Give yourself permission to take it easy if you need to, what's the worst that can happen?
“The first step towards true enlightenment is to lighten up on yourself.” ― Bashar
Take one minute three times each day to put your worries, thoughts, troubles on a shelf, and just be in this moment.
Breathe deeply and allow the muscles in the shoulders, face, and stomach to relax. Don't worry, anything important will be there when you come back, but for now, rest in the moment.
The more we can allow ourselves to follow this prescription, the more peace we create in our lives.
“The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.” — Abraham Maslow
Back in the days of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, it was necessary to constantly scan for danger, as we were never far from the threat of being dinner for some larger and faster beast than ourselves. This tendency to be on the lookout for what bad thing may happen to us is still alive and well in the most primitive part of our brain today. So if you ever wondered why you remember the one bad thing your boss said about you, and you see to have forgotten the ten good things he or she said, our 'negativity bias' that kept us alive for thousands of years is the answer.
So how do we learn to allow the positive in as well?
We can train our brains to be more aware of the good things by bringing our conscious awareness to those good things.
Each night this week, write down at least 3 things that were good about your day. These things can be big or small, anything from a sweet birdsong you heard on the way to work, to a great performance review, it doesn't matter. What matters is that you consciously look for the good, not allowing the negativity bias to run the show and paint your days grey, when there's so much colour out there if you look for it. :)
"What we focus on, we empower and enlarge. Good multiplies when focused upon. Negativity multiplies when focused upon. The choice is ours: Which do we want more of?" - Julia Cameron
The beauty of coming home to the breath is that you never have far to go. The breath is always with you, and once you learn to work with it, it can be a source of refuge from the ups and downs of life.
A long deep breath signals the nervous system to calm down, that everything is ok. We all know that if we're anxious or upset, having someone tell us to calm down is likely to be of no benefit. Emotions can feel overwhelming, and the chatter of the mind deafening, leaving us feeling powerless and at their mercy. But a few minutes of long deep breathing targets the body directly, bypassing the chatter in your mind, and shifting focus away from emotional overwhelm.
The trick is to stay with the breath, and when the mind pulls you away again and again, come back again and again. Watch out for thoughts such as 'this isn't working', or 'this is too intense', and return to the breath, it will guide you to safety if you can remain patient and persistent.
As with any practice, making it a routine part of your life is key. See if you can commit to taking a few minutes out to belly breathe each day this week, and connect with the sense of safety and peace within.
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh
In times of uncertainty, instability, and change, it's really important to ground ourselves, and connect with the inner stability we are all capable of.
This short meditation is excellent for tapping into our inner stillness and strength, see if you can manage to do it every day this week.
(It may take a few seconds to start after you press play, thanks for your patience!)
Stay safe and well.
“Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look.”
The effects of the Covid-19 situation are being felt by all, and there's not much we can be sure of at the moment. That in itself is a challenge, we humans tend to feel uncomfortable in the face of uncertainty.
It would seem that things will be this way for a while, and our best bet is to take good care of ourselves until life returns to 'normal'. Instead of fighting against what is, or getting stressed, we can learn to accept, and turn toward the difficult, and not allow an already challenging time to defeat us.
This week's Weekly Minute is a meditation which teaches us to be with difficult thoughts, emotions, and sensations in an easier and more calm way.
As with all mindfulness practices, it's the doing that helps, so see if you can challenge yourself to revise this meditation daily, knowing that each day, you're building your tolerance to be with the uncomfortable.
The Guest House
Fact: The Weather is Bad (For everyone but the ducks)
Thoughts about the fact: Oh my God if I see one more day of rain I'll go crazy. I'm sick of the cold, the wet, the weekend storms, the grey. I can't go anywhere, I can't do anything, this has gone on so long I can't remember summer, no wonder I'm so porky I can't get out to do any exercise. I was supposed to have the garden prepared by now and it'll be too late by the time this stops, it'll be ruined for the year now.............
Thoughts about the fact: Wow the queues into Tesco this morning, everyone is out buying up stuff, should I be out buying up stuff? Where would I put it, this house is so small, imagine being quarantined in here I'll climb the walls! What if we all get it, will we turn on each other for supplies? I hear they're shunning people who recovered from it in China, what if that happened to me? What would I do if all my friends and family shunned me?.........
The mind can run wild (and often does) when we are faced with adversity. There's the fact of the thing, and then the thousand thoughts we have about the fact.
We are programmed as humans to problem-solve, and this part of our brain kicks into action when a problem arises, this is generally a good thing. However, when we are faced with a problem we don't have much control over, many of the thoughts we have about it are pointless.
We can only do what we can do (remember your umbrella in the rain, wash your hands properly to avoid Coronavirus etc.), then, we should try as much as we can to let other thoughts go. Worrying increases our vulnerability to stress, and can have an impact on the body. To be at your best so you can effectively face life's challenges, let worry go, that means, choosing to disengage from worry thoughts.
"The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another" - William James
Have you ever thought about how the information you take in is affecting your mental health?
I'm noticing more and more people mention how the state of the world is getting them down, making them feel anxious and hopeless, and I've noticed the same within myself. I notice when I limit my news intake to once a day, instead of each bulletin, I feel happier and more relaxed.
If we think about what we know about nutrition - we know that the body benefits from nutritional foods, and suffers under processed foods. Can we think of the mind in the same way? If we feed it a diet of fear and horror, that becomes our reality, unless we bring balance.
I'm not advising people to bury their heads in the sand, it's important to know what's happening in the world around you. However, we need to balance the bad with good.
There are some good news sites out there that are worth a look, such as the Good News Network, and Positive News. Other ideas would be to watch a comedy, or read a novel.
If you want to go a step further, you could take some action to make change such as volunteering with an organisation that captures your heart, writing a letter to your TD about an issue that matters to you, or make a donation to a charity. Taking action combats the feelings of helplessness we can sometimes feel in response to bad news.
Bring awareness to your mental diet this week, and see how it makes you feel.
“One reason that cats are happier than people is that they have no newspapers.”
This week in The Weekly Minute, two guided grounding practices, so the winds of life (and outside!!) don't blow us away.
It's important to have a grounding practice so we feel stable and rooted within ourselves. As we know, life can be full of surprises, and change is inevitable, but if you feel grounded, you'll be more able to face challenges without falling.
Think of a tree, they grow so tall and sturdy because they have strong roots under the earth.
Practice these a few times this week, so you get familiar with them, and they are in your toolbox, ready for when you reach for them.
“Flying starts from the ground. The more grounded you are, the higher you fly.”
It's a busy time of year so this week, we'll keep it short and sweet.
Tension can build up in the body as we move through our day, so see if you can so a quick sweep from head to toe several times a day, looking for areas of tension. (pay extra attention to the head, shoulders, chest, and stomach)
If you find you are holding tension anywhere, direct the breath to those areas, one at a time, and invite them to relax.
As with anything, remembering to do this can be a challenge, so set a reminder on your phone, or put a post-it somewhere where you'll see it. (The kettle is a good spot, or your desk, your car, or even the bathroom! ;))
"It's very important that we re-learn the art of resting and relaxing. Not only does it help prevent the onset of many illnesses that develop through chronic tension and worrying; it allows us to clear our minds, focus, and find creative solutions to problems." - Thich Nhat Hanh
The Weekly Minute is a blog I write each week with the aim of providing proven tools to help promote positive mental health.
The collection of short, practical mindfulness and therapy tools for self-reflection and self-improvement, can equip people to take their mental well-being into their own hands, and improve their quality of life.
The Weekly Minute is posted here every Monday, or you can sign up to get it delivered to your inbox via the link below.
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