The television, newspapers, the internet — our every source of information is now choc-a-bloc with news of a once-in-a-lifetime health crisis. The second wave of COVID-19 has swept the country, and it is almost impossible to escape the statistics around the devastation it has caused.
In times like these, it can be especially hard to control one’s anxiety and stop our mind from fixating on worst-case scenarios. This is where the practice of mindfulness can be particularly helpful. What is mindfulness, what are its benefits and how can we practice mindfulness in our daily lives? Our Head of Therapy, Dr. Divya Kannan sheds light on the same.
What is Mindfulness?
It refers to focusing on the present in a non-judgemental way. It is our innate human ability to be fully present and aware of where we are and what we’re doing, without being overly reactive or overwhelmed. When we practice mindfulness, we bring our mind back to the present moment, allowing us to control our thoughts and not vice versa.
Mindfulness can also be considered the opposite of living life on autopilot — something that most of us do without even realizing it. Now, how do you recognize if you’re on autopilot mode?
Well, do you find yourself checking off task after task without a breather? Are you often lost in thought while, say, helping your child with their homework? Do you drive to the doctor’s with your mind racing through all that you have lined up for the day?
If the answer’s yes, then it’s time for you to embrace mindfulness. Take a moment’s pause. Notice the sound of your child’s laughter. Embrace the breeze as you drive to your doctor’s appointment.
Find your calm in the chaos and experience benefits such as:
Improved emotional stability:
Studies have shown that mindful individuals cope better with stress and avoid unhealthy coping strategies. They understand their own emotions, as well as those of others. Thus, they approach situations calmly and deal well with unforeseen circumstances.
Research has also stated that people who practice mindfulness cope better with anxiety that arises out of illnesses — making it especially relevant to our current context.
Better professional performance:
Mindful meditation allows us to focus on one thing at a time, bringing down our tendency to get distracted. It also boosts creativity by shutting down negative beliefs that hinder out-of-the-box thinking.
The fact that mindfulness helps us focus on the present allows for improved ideation, clear communication, and active listening — all important skills to possess at the workplace!
Healthier interpersonal relationships:
The practice of mindfulness helps us develop healthier ways to interact with people. It teaches us to avoid knee-jerk reactions and approach every relationship from a place of empathy and patience — something we could all use, especially right now.
All in all, mindfulness is associated with greater consideration towards others and their emotions, which makes it easier for us to adjust our own behaviors accordingly to improve our personal equations.
According to a 2003 clinical trial conducted by a team at the University of Wisconsin, mindfulness meditation could play a role in improving brain and immune function. The team measured brain electrical activity before and after mindfulness meditation training, with both test and control groups receiving an influenza vaccine afterward.
At the end of the eight-week period, they found an increase in antibodies in the test group alongside higher levels of activity in the left side of the brain (which is associated with feelings of excitement, joy and positivity).
Here’s how you can get started with practicing mindfulness
Set the day’s intention:
Mornings are a great time to do this but if you can’t, find a time in the day that’s most suited to you. Just follow these simple steps:
- Sit up with your spine straight — relaxed, not rigid
- Take three long breaths. Breathe in through the nose and out the mouth
- Think about your agenda for the day, and ask yourself what your intention is
- Answer the question, and set your intention (e.g. being kinder to yourself, eating well, getting certain tasks done, and so on)
- Check in with yourself through the day to see if you are on track
Focus on sound:
At times when you are feeling particularly anxious or distressed, bringing your attention to the sounds around you acts as a calming, grounding exercise. All you have to do is:
- Sit comfortably with your eyes shut (or open) for a minute
- Focus on the sounds around you and identify them (e.g the ticking of a clock, the whirring of the fan, the leaves rustling)
After one minute, take some time to notice how relaxed and present you feel. Do this every day to improve your overall state of mind.
Get in some stretches:
Stuck at your desk while working from home and need a quick way to re-energize? As long as your chair has a back, you can:
- Place your left hand over on your right knee
- Place your right arm on the back of the chair
- Stretch lightly with eyes open or closed
- Notice the stretch, and after 60 seconds, bring your body back to center
- Repeat on the other side
Eat what you truly enjoy and don’t just rush through your lunch breaks. Take some time to truly savor it. Focus on:
- The textures in your meal
- The effort that went into putting it together
- The burst of flavors in your mouth
Dive inwards in your body:
It’s simpler than it sounds. Close your eyes and:
- Notice a place in your body where you feel stress — it could express itself as an ache or a constriction
- Move your attention to a place in your body where you feel no stress
- Focus on that absence of stress, and the bodily sensations, such as a steady heartbeat and relaxed jaw
- Remain focused on this for ten seconds
- Picture that sensation spreading across your body for another ten seconds
- Move your attention back to the original area of stress in the body
- If it feels different, focus on that difference
- Repeat this process a few times, and notice where and when the stress has lessened, so that feeling can spread to the rest of your body
You need not follow every single mindfulness technique to feel better and more present. Try and experiment with different practices and techniques that work for you and fit best in your schedule. Then — practice, practice, practice.
We’re going through tough times, and we’ll come out stronger on the other side. In the meantime, allow yourself to breathe, to take a break, and to be grateful for the present — it’s best any of us can do.