Coach, mindfulness trainer, mindfulness supervisor, mentor, facilitator www.greenspacecoaching.com
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Practising mindfulness through times of uncertainty

Fear, panic and stress have the potential to define us – how we live, work, feel and manage our day to day. But there is another way. We can make choices about how we deal with adversity so that we stay connected, resilient and maintain good mental health. And we can embed mindfulness practise into our daily lives.

19th Mar 2020
Coach, mindfulness trainer, mindfulness supervisor, mentor, facilitator www.greenspacecoaching.com
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Woman practising mindfulness at home
Eva-Katalin/iStock

We are living in unusual times. The coronavirus challenges the status quo, forces us to see that nothing is certain, that we can’t control what’s happening, that in the face of real danger our hard-wired fight-flight-freeze survival response is triggered.

This is normal and human but if we stay in this state of high alert, our sense of uncertainty, lack of control and isolation can have a detrimental effect on our mental health. Low mood, a foggy mind, lack of sleep, despair, hopelessness, disconnection, isolation and loneliness are the result.

(To get straight to the tips on practising mindulness in these unsettling times, please scroll further down the page.)

The rapid spread of the coronavirus is having a severe and sudden impact on our health, work, private and social lives. Many of us share similar feelings of fear and anxiety. That’s our actual, direct experience, and we can’t do very much about it. It’s called primary experience (see diagram).  

Primary and Secondary experiences

Source: Green Space Coaching

One thought leads to another….

Unfortunately, we often cause ourselves extra unnecessary stress and pressure by following that experience up with various thoughts, emotions and judgements.

For example, you might think: “What if I catch the virus and die. Why me? It’s not fair!” (catastrophic thought). These thoughts are mostly likely accompanied by feelings of panic and fear: “What if my loved ones catch it?” (another catastrophic thought), “What if I lose my job, my business?” (another catastrophic thought), “It’s unbearable being stuck in this country.”, “I am such a wimp” (judgements).

These kinds of reactions can proliferate and escalate. One thought leads to another, which leads to more feelings of panic, more judgements and we feel overwhelmed and isolated. 

Before we know it we are drowning in a sea of despair. This is called secondary experience. How do you deal with this?

Mindfulness practice can help us come back to our primary experience, to what’s actually happening. And in doing so, it can help us maintain good mental health, to stay calm and resourceful.

Taking back control – how we respond to stress, anxiety, panic and fear is a choice

When we become aware that our feelings of panic, fear and anxiety are caused by our own personal reaction to the situation (and not the situation itself), then choice becomes possible. 

Shall I allow myself to feel panicked, scared and inadequate as I so often do or shall I respond in a different way? 

The breakthrough comes when we recognise that we don’t have to cope with all the extra negative thoughts and feelings our minds then come up with. We may still feel anxious about the current, uncertain and challenging situation and we may experience it as unpleasant and uncomfortable, but it can stop there.

Our reactions are not usually conscious, but automatic and habitual. By contrast our responses are conscious, chosen and creative.

Mindfulness practice can help us come back to our primary experience, to what’s actually happening. And in doing so, it can help us maintain good mental health, to stay calm and resourceful.

Coronavirus hub

Top tips on how to care for your mental health in adverse times

Get to know your circadian rhythm

What are your low points in the day? What do you do then? How do you react to and recover from periods or bursts of intense output of energy? When do you feel most vital and sharp: morning, afternoon or evening? When do you rest? Knowing your circadian rhythm informs the structure of your day. 

Create a structure for your working day at home and write it down

Stick to it so you can stay grounded, focused and resourceful throughout the day. Include all meal times and breaks. Use my sample daily structure as a starting point (based on my own experience; yours may be similar or different).

Pause 5x daily to take 3 deep breaths (it takes about 20 seconds)

Set your alarm or make yourself a post-it note to remember. Connecting with the body and breath in this way activates the parasympathetic nervous-system that lets the brain know that you are safe; it brings us back into our direct sensory experience (primary experience), into the here and now where we can feel safe, grounded, calm. It’s a direct antidote to spiralling off in our head (secondary experience) which activates the sympathetic nervous system, the alarm system (amygdala) of the brain.

Take regular mindful breaks (before you need one)

Taking regular breaks keeps us resourceful, creative and productive throughout the day vs feeling completely wiped-out and exhausted at the end of the day. Set your alarm after 60 or 90 minutes. Here’s some ideas for what you can do in your mindful break.

Reduce information input

Pay attention to how often you check the news or surf the internet. Decide to watch the news two or three times a day but no more. Our mind often suffers from over-stimulation due to information overload. It dulls and clouds the mind, puts it into high alert mode and fosters negative emotion. 

Practice self-care

Do one thing daily to consciously care for yourself. Caring for oneself is not selfish or self-indulgent as often thought. Self-care nourishes the mind and heart.

When that happens we feel well inside and have more to give to others too: cycling, yoga, reading, time in the garden, a bath, combing your hair, making an effort dressing yourself (even at home), eating regularly and healthily, keeping your environment clean and tidy (keeps us grounded and secure), a short nap (clears and restores the mind from over-stimulation), regular conversations with close friends.

Have a regular practice once a week

Yoga, running, meditation, cycling, martial arts, painting, making music, baking bread, cooking, crafting, knitting etc. This is a practice not a habit. A habit slips into the background, we do it without thinking. A practice requires a re-commitment – in this it reminds us that we live lives of meaning, that we take responsibility for our wellbeing so that we can enhance the lives of others too.

Have a work buddy

Ask a colleague to be your work buddy and arrange to talk with each other via phone or video call once or twice daily. Share how your work day has been, what you’ve managed to do, what you’ve found challenging. Avoid going into catastrophic thinking together. Help each other come back to primary experience, to what’s actually going on, the here and now and make wise choices and decisions that are rooted in reality. 

Self-kindness

One of the keys to reducing stress, panic and anxiety and increasing resilience is self-kindness. When we become more aware of our habitual reactions, we often don’t like what we notice and tend to judge ourselves harshly. This adds more unnecessary suffering.

Bringing kindness, curiosity, acceptance and friendliness to our experience, saying to yourself: “This is how I react and feel, this is human, others react and feel this way”, helps us to avoid getting caught up in negative emotions (secondary experience). Self-kindness helps us to become more emotionally robust and resilient.

Common humanity and mindful well-wishing:

Pause several times a day, connect with the quality of your heart and from this place wish yourself and others well, hold them in your mind: colleagues, friends, loved ones, people in your neighbourhood, in your borough, throughout the world… Remember that yes, physically we distance ourselves from others right now but we are all here and in it together. We are connected with each other. 

Reflection and wisdom

Take a moment to reflect on the truth of change and of our interdependence; on the frailty and preciousness of our life. It helps us relax the body and mind, helps us relax into how things are versus wishing them to be different when they are not, which takes up energy and headspace. It broadens our perspective on things and reminds us that we are not alone in this.

30-minute online meditation & mindfulness sessions

Karen is currently offering 30-minute online meditation & mindfulness sessions. In these sessions Karen will be guiding you through a meditation practice to calm the mind, to connect and to remember that you are not alone, to stay resourceful and resilient. She will also share a key mindfulness teaching to help you better deal with these adverse times. 

Each session is a stand-alone session. No prior experience is necessary. Booking is essential. Karen is offering free places, a standard rate and a donation based rate. For more information and to make a booking, follow this link

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