We have now been living in challenging and uncertain times for greater then 2 years. This uncertainly, requires us to navigate as best we can through an ever-changing world. Just when we think things are returning to “normal” they change again.
If there is one major lesson, I have learnt over these past years is that taking care of our mental health has never been more important. With things changing so quickly, such uncertainty and unpredictability can take a toll on our mental and physical health.
Managing our emotions and supporting each other can be challenging at the best of times. We all need to be doing our best to regularly pause, take a breath and be proactive in looking after ourselves and others.
It is important to find practical tools and techniques to help manage uncertainty, reduce anxiety, and stay connected and grounded. For me mindfulness is one of those tools.
Mindfulness provides us with a means of cultivating greater and more objective awareness of our own emotional landscape. Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. It is a quality that every human being already possesses, it’s not something you have to conjure up, you just must learn how to access it.
In doing so, it gives us more choice in how we respond to challenges we may face and the ability to more consciously choose where we place our attention.
Acknowledging that feeling fearful and anxious at a time such as this is normal, and we should be present with these feelings and not fight against them. Fear and anxiety alert us to the fact that we need to be taking appropriate action to keep ourselves as healthy as possible. By acting early, we can often stop these feelings escalating and affecting us in negative ways.
Mindfulness helps us get better at recognising and understanding our own personal signals that tell us we are struggling or not coping with certain situations. It is important to understand what triggers increased stress in our lives. When we find ourselves in situations where stress and anxiety are increasing, we act early.
We may find changes in our behaviour are a good indication that we are not coping. We may become more irritable or loose patience. We may have difficulty sleeping or find ourselves eating or drinking more than usual. We may find an inability to focus.
In addition to knowing and recognising our warning signals, mindfulness gives us the opportunity to respond by taking steps to settle and soothe our nervous system. This in turn enables us to think more clearly, make better decisions and respond as opposed to react.
It can also be tempting to turn away from and deny the seriousness of what’s happening. While temporary distractions can be useful for giving our minds a break, on the whole denial is not a helpful approach. It can leave us vulnerable as we may not take appropriate action to support ourselves.
Mindfulness can help us see things more clearly, which in turn helps us strike a balance between staying informed and making sensible choices without becoming overwhelmed.
When we feel anxious or overwhelmed it is important to give ourselves a break. Deactivate our stress. Even short moments of reprieve are beneficial as they help us to reset. It’s in this place that we’re able to make better choices and are best placed to support ourselves and those around us.
Here are some activities that may help when you feel anxious or stressed:
Move - any kind of physical movement is a great way of releasing the excess energy that accompanies stress. Take time each day for a walk, run or do any other physical exercise that you love.
Breathe – when you slow your breathing rate down the uncomfortable physical sensations of fear and anxiety start to subside. Stop what you’re doing, take three long, slow deep breaths.
Ground - connect to what is happening in this moment right now more consciously engaging your senses. Be as present as you can and try taking a moment to enjoy a cup of tea, while really paying attention to the aroma and taste.
Sleep – sleep is important for our mental and physical wellbeing. Establishing good habits around sleep is important. Consider creating a pre-sleep routine by turning off news and screens at least an hour before going to bed.
Connect - staying connected to others is important as we are social beings and seek comfort and care from others. Technology enables us to stay connected to family, friends, and colleagues. Try video conferencing, allowing you to both see and hear your family and friends. Thus, making the connection more personal and enjoyable.
Contribute - Contributing to the wellbeing of others helps shift our attention from ourselves onto what we can do for them. This helps us connect with others and positively impacts our own wellbeing. Consider how you might help others during challenging times.
Create healthy habits - mindfulness is one way we can create healthy habits. There are many others and exploring what works for you will often produce the best results. Consistency is the key. Taking daily action to look after our mental health and wellness is vital.