During times of uncertainty, such as this current COVID-19 pandemic, it can be easy to feel stress, anxiety and overwhelm. Not only are we trying to decipher and untangle the barrage of new information from multiple sources, we are also trying to plan for the upcoming weeks and months, with our families at home, off of the “normal” routine. On top of all this, we are striving to keep everyone healthy.
It’s a lot to manage!
In times such as these, turning toward mindfulness practices, which can help us ground in the present moment and reconnect with our thoughts and emotions, can be extremely helpful when it comes to navigating these unchartered seas. Below, we’ve put together some useful practices and tools that we hope you and your family will consider turning to when and if you find yourself needing support and encouragement.
Schedule in Time to Breathe
Fortunately, we breathe all day long without even needing to remember. Thank goodness our bodies do this automatically, otherwise, with our busy lives, we might actually forget! The thing is, we often don’t pay attention to our breath and the extraordinary power it has to support our mental and physical well-being.
With this in mind, we invite you to try setting an alarm on your watch or phone, four times a day, to remind yourself to take time to intentionally focus on your breath. During this time, you can pause, place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach, just focusing your attention on your inhalations and exhalations.
Another breathing practice we love is called 4-4-8 breathing. This is where you breathe in for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 4 and exhale out for a count of 8. Some studies have shown that a longer exhale helps to calm the parasympathetic nervous system more quickly.
These small breaks can do wonders to clear your head, calm your body and give your worried, ruminating mind a rest.
Did you know that the simple act of experiencing and expressing gratitude can actually raise your happiness levels and lower anxiety?
Gratitude and mindfulness are inter-connected – the more mindful we are of what is happening in our lives, the more we find to be grateful for. Even in uncertain times such as these, we can choose to focus on what is going well and all that we do have.
One way to practice is to create a gratitude jar within your home. This is where you would use a container, such as a mason jar and place it in a common area, with a pen and strips of paper next to it. Tell your family about the importance of gratitude and that when anyone feels, finds or sees something for which they are grateful, they can write it on the slip and put it in the jar. Perhaps consider reading through what everyone contributed every few days. This is an especially wonderful practice to do with your family during this extra time at home.
Another fun way to practice and actually visualize gratitude is to create a gratitude collage. This simply involves taking pictures every day (or as often as you’d like) of things for which you feel grateful. You can do this as a family (nature walks are great!) or on your own, when you think of it. As you do this, notice how you feel. At the end of the week, scroll through the images to recall all that you noticed and captured. You can even create an album in your phone or on something such as Shutterfly, as a way of regularly practicing gratitude.
Engage Your Senses
When we fully engage our senses, the part of the brain responsible for anxiety, stress and worry is given a break. What a relief! During difficult times such as these, we can find ourselves either ruminating over something that didn’t go as planned or worried about what will happen next. This can be exhausting! When you notice these overwhelming thoughts and feelings arise, practice engaging one of your senses fully. For example, spend a minute listening to all the sounds around you, letting the sounds just come to you without judgment or labels. Light a scented candle and take several deep, cleansing breaths, really noticing how the smell enters and exits your nose. Hold your warm coffee mug, feeling smooth, warm ceramic in your hands. Spend a meal eating mindfully. This involves slowing down, noticing the colors and shapes of food on your plate, taking time to really taste the food and paying attention to the textures in your mouth as you chew. Engaging your senses in this way will not only support you in being more present and grateful for the small things in life, it will also help reduce stress and worry!
You can’t pour from an empty cup. Taking care of yourself is not a luxury, but a necessity for gaining balance in your life and the life of your family, especially in times such as these. There are many ways to practice self-care. It’s all about finding what speaks to and works best for you. For example, take a walk around the block, alone or with your family and notice the sounds you hear and all that you see. Mindfully drink a cup of your favorite coffee or tea, noticing the aroma, flavor and temperature. Stream a yoga class. Hop on your exercise bike or treadmill (you know, the one that rarely gets used ;)). Take a nap. Take a bath. Read a book or magazine. Spend a few minutes journaling…whatever it is that brings you a sense of joy, fulfillment and calm. Be sure to schedule this important time for self-care into each day.
Above all, know that in this time of “social distancing,” you are not alone, we are all in this together! This is a beautiful time to reach out – call, text, or FaceTime with friends and loved ones. Cuddle up with a journal and record your thoughts and emotions about what is going on in the world. Check on a neighbor. This time of “slowing down” is a blessing – offering us meaningful ways to reconnect with ourselves, our family and our community.
Wishing you and your family much love, peace and comfort during this time and always.