Depending on where in the world you live, you have likely been consumed by the Covid-19 pandemic over the last few weeks or months. It has taken over traditional media, social media and many of our daily thoughts and conversations. How this is impacting you will be different for different people. For some it can create fear for your physical health or those you love, anxiety about your financial security, stress from the isolation and a general unease because of the many uncertainties that we now face. All of these emotions create a stress response in our bodies, which dampens our overall health and immunity, which is all the more important now. Mindfulness is a great tool to help us to navigate our new reality.
Mindfulness means to pay attention, on purpose to what you are experiencing in the present moment, non-judgmentally. Sounds simple, right? Just noticing your present moment experience. While it may be simple, it is not necessarily easy to do, because our minds have a habit of dwelling on things that happened in the past, or in the case of this current crisis, worrying about things that may happen in the future. Because it does not come naturally, it helps to have a formal mindfulness practice where you set aside 5 – 30 minutes a day to focus your attention for example on your breathing or a body scan where you notice sensations in your body.
In addition to a formal mindfulness practice, there are many ways you can bring mindful awareness to your day informally by trying to be fully focused on whatever task you are doing. So if you are drinking a cup of tea instead of letting your mind wander, notice the weight of the cup in your hand and feel the temperature of the tea as you take a sip and for that moment just drink tea.
The key to managing our mental health through this time is to be able to regulate our emotions. To do this, we first need to calm our nervous system and that is one of the benefits of the mindfulness practice. In fact just pausing to take three deep breaths helps you to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and relax. Mindfulness also helps you to be more in tune with other people’s emotions as well. People will respond to the stress of this pandemic in different ways and the more we can empathize with other people’s emotions, the better our relationships will be. In addition, mindfulness allows us to act more compassionately towards others and that is exactly what the world needs now to heal.
There are many apps such as Calm and Headspace, YouTube videos and online resources, which can help you get started on a mindfulness practice. I love the breath meditation as a place to start, because our breath is always present – we cannot hold onto the last breath or anticipate the next. And without even changing your breath in anyway, just by noticing your breath you are able to calm the body and the mind. Alternatively you can try focusing on one sense at a time. Unconsciously our brain is processing and filtering all of the information that is coming through our 5 senses. However when we focus on one sense at a time, for example listening, we notice many sounds that are playing in the background that we may not have noticed before. And that concentration on our sense of hearing drowns out the constant chatter of the mind.
If you are a little skeptical about the benefits of mindfulness meditation, let me remind you of a story that dominated the headlines in June 2018. A football coach in Thailand was trapped in a cave with 12 boys from his team for 18 days. Many credit the meditation techniques the coach taught the boys while in the cave as the reason for their survival and calm despite their ordeal. In fact many were surprised when they saw videos of the boys who sat quietly waiting to be rescued. The coach had years of experience and was able to tap into his practice when he needed it the most. So even if you are just beginning today, be consistent with your practice and you will reap the rewards.
While we are dealing with the very real covid-19 pandemic, we are also dealing with a pandemic of fear. We have the opportunity to change that and create a new pandemic of calm using mindfulness techniques. It requires us to be intentional with our self-care and consciously adopting practices that trigger the relaxation response in our bodies and put us at ease. And then we can share that calm with those around us.
Kaylan Bartholomew is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach who incorporates her training as a Hatha Yoga instructor to help her clients transform their bodies and their minds. Graduating from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which is the largest nutrition school in the world, Kaylan learned practical lifestyle management techniques and over 100 dietary theories. She is also a licensed instructor for the Springboard Women’s Development Programme, a revolutionary personal development programme for women. Kaylan can be contacted at +1 868-332-9841.