Welcome to the fourth in our new series of short blogs to help you stay safe, sane and supported during the current crisis.
A key resilience skill that we talk about in our resilience training programmes is mindfulness. Mindfulness has been successfully used by people the world over to manage stress and anxiety, so we thought it would be good to discuss how this approach can help you to cope with difficult thoughts and emotions associated with the current Covid-19 pandemic.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a set of powerful meditation practices that can easily be learned and incorporated into your daily life to help you manage difficult emotions and build the courage to face challenges.
It is a practice that is drawn from Zen Buddhist and Tibetan meditation techniques aimed at calming the mind and transforming how you relate to your thoughts, feelings, and behaviour.
Mindfulness was brought to western psychology in the 1970s by a psychologist called Jon Kabat-Zinn who saw its potential for helping people suffering from chronic pain. Since then it has been used with many different groups of people and to support treatment for various forms of psychological stress and distress.
How do we do mindfulness?
Mindfulness practice involves purposely bringing our attention to our experiences in the present moment without judgement. In so doing we allow all past, present and future moments to arise and cease in our minds, and learn to see them as momentary impressions and mental phenomena which appear and then disappear.
Mindfulness is a practice that takes practise! It is a set of skills that we learn as we gradually train our minds to tune into the detail of our current experience. But when we can do it, using mindfulness to contact the present moment allows us to unhook from difficult thoughts and feelings, letting them come and go without engaging with them or ruminating.
A fun way to start learning about mindfulness is to do the chocolate meditation. This exercise uses chocolate to teach you how to really focus on the present moment, to become captivated by the smallest of sensations and to allow all the other thoughts and feelings that would normally distract us to pass. This exercise is taken from Mark Williams and Danny Penman’s book Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world, in which you will find a great introduction to mindfulness.
The Chocolate Meditation
Choose some chocolate – either a type that you’ve never tried before or one that you have not eaten recently. It might be dark and flavoursome, organic or fair-trade or whatever you prefer. The important thing is to choose a type you wouldn’t normally eat or that you consume only rarely. Here goes:
- Open the packet. Inhale the aroma. Let it sweep over you.
- Break off a piece and look at it. Really let your eyes drink in what it looks like, examining every nook and cranny.
- Pop it in your mouth. See if it’s possible to hold it on your tongue and let it melt, noticing any urge to suck at it. Chocolate has over three hundred different flavours. See if you can sense some of them.
- If you find your mind wandering while you do this, simply notice where it went, then gently escort it back to the present moment.
- After the chocolate has completely melted, swallow it very slowly and deliberately. Notice how it feels in your throat. And any sensations left behind in your mouth.
- Take a moment to reflect on this experience.
What do you notice about how you feel physically and emotionally? Different from how you felt previously? Did the chocolate taste better than if you’d just eaten it at a normal pace?
There are many ways to practice mindfulness and finding the best way that suits you is important. For some people, doing a traditional meditation, sitting quietly focusing on the body and the breath, is the best, most calming way. For others, being still and quiet is difficult and a more active form is needed. This can be done through a mindful walk or run. We can even eat or clean our teeth mindfully.
Once we have got the hang of it we can use mindfulness in our everyday lives to help us manage the difficult or challenging situations that we encounter.
Often when we find ourselves caught in patterns of negative or catastrophic thinking it can help to use a mindfulness exercise to step back and unhook from our thoughts, to allow them to come and go without judging them or engaging with them. Try this mindfulness exercise visualising thoughts as leaves on a stream.
Sometimes we may want to use mindfulness to help us overcome procrastination, step back from rumination or just take a quick recovery break. Check out Jo and Felicity’s recordings of a three-minute breathing space meditation or mindfulness stretch to help you do this.
If you notice negative thoughts about yourself or worries about loved ones, try using a mindfulness exercise that helps to build compassion for ourselves and others. This practice is known as the loving kindness meditation.
If you are struggling with health issues, physical or emotional pain, try this mindfulness exercise aimed at helping you to step back from your struggles and learn to accept them. By using this mindfulness exercise you can start to experience a bit of peace, let go of the fight which might be making the pain worse and rest calmly in the present moment.
Finally, when we are preoccupied with worries, as many of us are at this difficult time, it can be hard to sleep. Try this mindfulness exercise to help you return to a better sleep pattern.
Whichever of these practices that you try and are most relevant to you, remember mindfulness is something that takes time and practise to learn. It can help to schedule a regular time during your week when you won’t be disturbed to learn this skill. Following a course either online or in a book will help you to further nurture your learning.
If you’d like to learn about other ways of managing difficult thoughts or emotions, check out our blogs about managing anxiety in a crisis or the power of optimism. And keep in touch by joining our resilient community by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org