The Mindful Way
Anita Richards, LMSW
Life has remarkably changed in recent weeks. Perhaps we find ourselves experiencing difficulty adapting and adjusting to these changes. Things we once took for granted are now restricted or nonexistent. Our freedoms are increasingly limited and we suddenly come face-to-face with our vulnerability, illuminated by an aggressive, highly contagious virus that has no cure. Life presents as fearful, lonely and uncertain. Worried thoughts begin to circulate and evolve into stories that take on a life of their own.
So, what can we do to take care of ourselves during these new, unusual, and stress-filled times? We know the familiar rhetoric - exercise, sleep, rest and diet. This great advice sounds easy enough, but a worried mind can interfere with the ability to accomplish these essentials. This brings me to mindfulness, a life changing practice that has the potential to free you from anxious thoughts and provide an opportunity to cultivate a deeper self-awareness and clarity.
To be mindful means to live in present moment awareness rather than the past or the future. The past may be full of regrets and futile wishes for different outcomes. The unknown future is a perfect petri dish to cultivate lots of worried thoughts. The present moment is the only true moment we have to act, make a difference, and be our best selves. I offer some immediate, simple techniques to provide anxiety relief and allow you to come back to the present moment.
1. Remember to breathe. Take a deep breath in. Feel your feet on the ground. This brings you back to the present moment.
2. Take the opportunity to sit for a few minutes and drop into the body. Focus your attention on the breath as you inhale and exhale. Each time you find yourself distracted, gently guide yourself back to the breath and begin again.
3. Become aware of the kind of thoughts that demand your attention. You may notice that your thoughts are often very judgmental and self-critical. Try to separate from those thoughts by thinking the opposite or validating whatever emotion is arising for you. Be kind to yourself.
4. Step outside and connect with nature for a few moments. Take a breath.
5. Focus your attention upon new opportunities that are opening up to you right now, such as more time to give to your immediate family, pets, etc.
6. Practice the acronym RAIN.
a. Recognize what is present for you.
b. Accept what is present for you, just as it is.
c. Investigate the feeling without judging it.
d. Non-Identification with a feeling or emotion. Emotions and thoughts do not define who you are.
7. Use your ability to visualize ways of disconnecting from anxious thoughts. Perhaps see your anxious thoughts drift away from you just as a leaf floats down a stream.
8. Become aware of areas of the body that are tense. As you exhale, direct the breath into that area and allow the tissue to soften and relax.
9. Be kind to yourself and to all things. If you notice you are hurting or having a difficult time, emotionally or physically, turn toward yourself as you would a dear friend or loved one. Perhaps gently recite phrases such as, May I be safe, May I be free from pain.
10. Be kind to others. May others be safe. May others be free from pain.
11. Jon Kabat-Zinn, an internationally known mindfulness and meditation teacher, describes life as a series of waves. Stay on top, no matter how big the wave and don’t get pulled down in the undertow. This is the rhythm of life. Keep surfing!
Remember that we are all together and connected in this moment. We are reminded that our health and well-being depend upon our care of each other. By staying inside, you are demonstrating an act of caring, not only for yourself, but for others.