I’ve been working from home for nine days now, self-isolating due to COVID-19 and already I’m finding my mental health taking a bit of a hit. While it could be hormones, a big part of it is the significant reduction in social interaction and daily novelty. The days begin to blur together a bit when you don’t go anywhere or see anyone and it’s a bit of a shock!
So what have I done about it? I’ve had a few conversations with colleagues and one video link up. It definitely helps but you may or may not connect well with your colleagues on a personal level, so what then?
The thing that’s come to my mind is mindfulness and I have to admit that I haven’t been very diligent in practicing this since I finished my weekly challenge at the end of last year but now is a perfect time to reinstate it. Maybe you’d like to join me? It’s not difficult to practice mindfulness and yet it can have a significant positive impact and has lots of research to back it up.
Last year I used the Mindfulness on the Go cards to focus on a different mindfulness practice each week. It’s really interesting to attentively notice yourself and the world around you. The key thing mindfulness does is ground your mind in the present moment. When you’re focused solely on the wind or the colour blue, it’s much more difficult to obsess about the past or imagine the future. It’s only when you practice mindfulness that you realise an occupied mind is a calm mind. The practice calls on you to be in the now. The past is over. The future is unknowable. The only time we have is right now so we’d better be here for it!
Of the 52 practices, here are my top 5 mindfulness exercises for moving through corona isolation with some semblance of calm:
Appreciate your hands
Watch your hands as if they belonged to a stranger. Watch them when they’re busy and when they’re still – what do they do for you?
When eating just eat
Put down the device, newspaper or book, let the cutlery rest while you eat a mouthful. Notice how it feels in your mouth, how it smells, its colours, shapes and textures – take the time to enjoy this nourishment.
Just three breaths
Give your mind a break a few times a day and just breathe. Don’t do anything else, just breathe. Notice the cool air coming in your nostrils and the warm air leaving. Notice your belly moving and your mind emptying – enjoy a quiet mind for a few moments.
Listen like a sponge
When others are speaking to you (in person or via a conference or phone link up), listen to them intently. Don’t formulate responses in your head, just listen. This will take practice. If someone is doing the practices with you, notice what it feels like to be heard.
Feeling down? Need a break from screen time? Do a silly walk. Walk backwards, hop on one foot, gallop, skip, wave your arms, walk like an Egyptian – notice your mood lift*.
And, a bonus practice, which is really in its own realm:
Before you go to bed, write in a notebook 3-5 things that you’re grateful for – it might be work, family or friends, exercise, eating out – maybe there are things you’re appreciating more at present because you can’t enjoy them right now – notice them and notice the things that you can still enjoy that you might be taking for granted.
I’m going to do one of these each day from Monday to Saturday in the coming week and then on Sunday I’ll pick my favourite (or perhaps the one I find most challenging), and repeat it. I hope you’ll join me. If you do, let me know what your experience is.
In isolation we may well discover our creativity, or make plans for a new future, have a well-earned rest, develop greater connection with our household members, or even find ourselves. Mindfulness can help us settle into the present and give us timeout from our busy minds.
These practices are taken from Mindfulness on the Go Cards and the associated book How to Train a Wild Elephant: and other adventures in mindfulness by Jan Chozen Bays, and other works from the field of positive psychology.
*The silly walk mindfulness practice was inspired by Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks, which I can really relate to! I’m a big fan! I’ve also incorporated in the galloping of comedian Miranda Hart (try it, you won’t regret it!), and of course the 80s music hit Walk like an Egyptian – what a great dance move!
© Palitja Moore, text and image, Purnululu, Western Australia, once-in-a-lifetime helicopter flight, 2020