As we are approaching the year mark of the lock downs and implementation of social distancing measures related to the COVID-19 virus. Many of us may be triggered by the countless experiences that we have lived through during this past year. The effects of this pandemic are far reaching. Regardless of our situation, we have all experienced loss and pain in one form or another. Many of us continue to cycle through a myriad of emotions.
Intense emotions influence each person in different ways. For some, managing strong feelings comes easy and seem to be second nature. For many, the fight toward maintaining their mental health takes constant effort, with repeated disappointment, and the need for recalibration along the way. People around the world are seeking help from mental health professionals, while others continue to turn towards different means to cope.
During these turbulent times may I suggest the use of mindfulness.
Mindfulness can be defined as the practice of moving our attention to our present experience. This includes the act of focusing combined with an attitude of curiosity which invites us to explore our bodily sensations, thoughts, feelings, and the environment around us.
Practices of mindfulness have been utilized and taught by Indigenous peoples for generations. While people of each era faced unique situations for their context, these practices have withstood the test of time.
One of the nice things about mindfulness, is that engaging in it requires no extra materials or resources. All that is necessary is our attention and focus.
You may want to start by setting aside anything that can be distracting. Some people turn off their phones or switch them to silent. Whatever you choose to do, be intentional about removing distractions that pull you away from your present moment.
Once you are ready, get into a comfortable position. Maybe sitting in a chair, laying down on your bed, or even curled up on your couch under a blanket.
Now you are ready.
Close your eyes and begin to explore. Be curious. Notice your body's natural movement, the sounds, and sensations that your essence is creating. Take your time as you listen to your being. Focus on each part of your body starting from your head, then move down, and through, all the way to the tips of your toes.
Notice your natural energy.
You may have thoughts and ideas come into your mind. Don’t fight them or push them away. Acknowledge them, then gently bring your attention back to your body.
Focus on your natural breathing. Give heed to the way the air enters and moves through your body. Feel the temperature of the oxygen passing through your nostrils. Sense the warmth of the air traveling out of you. Reach with your ability to smell. Explore odors in the air. Be aware of how your body reacts to these scents.
During this process, you may have the urge to go faster or move quickly. Resist these influences by focusing on one thing at a time. Be present in this moment, in your body, as it lives, right now.
In this space you may begin to notice that which you have been ignoring all this time. The scratchiness of your shit, your hunger, even the impact of the emotions that you are attempting to numb. Whatever you experience, let it teach you. It may even help you to understand your body and the feelings you live with.
This space can be accessed in various ways. You may visit the present moment as you mindfully walk, eat, practice yoga, and spend time in nature. Regardless of which mindfulness activity you choose, it can help to improve your well-being and mental health.
Researchers have found mindfulness to improve health in many ways. It can treat anxiety, stress, depression, substance misuse, and other related issues. As for physical health, mindfulness can alleviate pain, boost working memory, improve focus, improve sleep, treat heart disease, and many other ailments.
Increasing your ability to engage in mindfulness contributes to life satisfaction. Focusing on the here and now enriches our experiences and encourages us to enjoy the sensations of life. And as a result we become less entangled in the concerns that negatively impact us. Mindfulness enables us to form deep and intimate connections with ourselves and others.
I recognize that mindfulness practices do not take away our problems or stop a virus from spreading. But what it can do is help us to cope and heal. It can expand our capacity of patience and our tolerance for discomfort. All of which, we may need a bit more of, as this pandemic continues.
If you have reached the end of this post and still don't know what mindfulness is, we at University Counseling Services are here to support you.
Bango Gancinia, M.A.