In the era of Covid-19 when things are uncertain and feel out of control, it’s natural that our stress levels are on the rise. Mindfulness is the ability to pay compassionate, nonjudgmental attention to what you’re thinking and feeling and to what’s happening in the present moment. Harvard scientists have found that the human mind wanders 47% of the time and that when you stray, you pay. When your mind wanders, you’re more stressed out and unhappy than when you stay in the here and now. The researchers found that people were happier no matter what they were doing—even working overtime, vacuuming the house or sitting in traffic—if they were focused on the activity instead of thinking about something else. A recent SWNS research study, conducted by Onepoll on behalf of Vida Health found that for many Americans, mindfulness practices are having a positive impact on their mental health: 59% are more interested in mindfulness now than they were before the pandemic, and 60% feel more aware of and in touch with their emotions than ever before.
Mindfulness trains your mind to do what it doesn’t do instinctively: to come back to the present, enjoy the moment and appreciate your life instead of focusing on worries of the future or regrets of the past (“What if I get laid off?” or “I wish I had gotten that promotion” or “Will I get the coronavirus?”). With practice, mindfulness gets you to a state where your mind is relaxed and alert at the same time. A growing body of scientific evidence attests to the link between mindfulness and stress reduction, well-being and greater job productivity and career success.
Take Advantage Of This Restrictive Time
Many celebrities—including actress and dancer Julianne Hough, Japanese organizing consultant, Marie Kondo and singer/songwriter India.Arie—believe this is a good time to take advantage of social distancing, self-quarantining and other restrictive measures to learn to meditate or deepen your meditation and spiritual practices. Scientists have shown that mindfulness meditation is an antidote to worry, fear and anxiety, which can compromise our immune systems and prevent us from being our best selves. This nonjudgmental, compassionate acceptance of whatever is happening in the present moment strengthens our natural defenses, calms the nervous system and provides clear-mindedness so you can perform at your best. Through mindfulness Microchillers you can become more in charge of your anxious mind. The starting point is learning to cultivate present-moment awareness. There’s always time for five minutes of micro self-care to refresh your mind. The practice of these simple exercises at your desk, in your car, on your sofa or in bed can enhance your health, well-being and job productivity.
All you need is five minutes and yourself, a comfortable chair or cushion and a place where you won’t be distracted. Sit upright with your spine straight in a chair or on the cushion, and you’re ready to roll. I recommend you meditate for only five minutes to start, gradually increasing your sit time to 15 or 20 minutes once or twice a day. Here are a few different types of mindfulness to get you started.
The Butterfly Hug
Think of a small worry, problem or concern that has been bothering you, not a big kahuna. After you’ve chosen something small, cross your arms over your chest and flap your hands against your shoulders. Turn your head to the right and find something to focus on. It doesn’t matter what it is. It could be a wall, painting, carpet or some aspect of nature. As you focus on the object pay attention to it in detail for about 20 seconds. Notice the shape, size, colors and see it as vividly in your mind’s eye as you can. Then turn to your left and focus your attention on something else for another 20 seconds. Take in as much of the detail of the object as you can. Keep flapping your butterfly wings as you continue the exercise. Now, turn back to your right again and focus on another object and pay attention to all of the details: shape, colors, size and so forth. Then turn again to your left again and repeat your focus on another object for about 20 seconds.
After you’ve finished the exercise, recall the worry or concern. At first, you might have difficulty remembering the original concern, or it might take you some time to remember it. And once you do recall, chances are the original concern will have lost much of its power. Why? The exercise of present-moment awareness puts the brakes on your fight-or-flight or stress response and activates your parasympathetic nervous system (or your rest-and-digest response). Once mindfulness turns off the red alert, you have more access to calm, clarity, and confidence.
Focus On Your Breath
One of the simplest and easiest forms of meditation is to use your breath as a focal point. The actual practice is realizing your attention has strayed and bringing your mind back to your breath, linking your mind and body together in the present moment. When you do this on a regular basis, meditation practice keeps you more in the here and now as you move through your daily work routines.
Sit in a comfortable place with eyes closed. Breathing in through your nose and out through the mouth, focus on each inhalation and exhalation. Follow your breath through to a full cycle from the beginning when the lungs are full back down to when they’re empty. Then start over again. As you stay with this cycle, mindfully watching your breath, thoughts arise in the form of judgment: wondering if you’re doing it right, thinking about tasks you have to do later, debating if it’s worth your time. Don’t try to get rid of the thoughts. Allow them to arise and accept whatever arises with open-heartedness, bringing your attention gently back and focusing on the breath. Each time your attention strays from the breath (and it will), bring your awareness back to it. There’s nowhere else to be, nothing else to do but notice your breath. If your mind gets caught in a chain of thoughts, gently step out of the thought stream and come back to the sensations of your breath. After five minutes or more, open your eyes and notice how much more connected you are to the present moment.
Our negativity bias inclines us to pay attention to negative things and to ignore the positives. Sensing into pleasant and neutral sensations embodies positivity and tells you where you are in space and time. Take a drink of something. Pay attention as it hits your tongue and track it as it moves down the back of your throat into your stomach. Notice how far down you can sense the drink. Can you name the sensations? Hot, cold, tingly slippery? How thick or thin is it?
Rub your palms together for thirty seconds then hold them away from each other and notice the sensation. Name the sensations: warm, tingly, spacious light. Now hum for a while. Again, pay attention to the body sensations such as tingling, relaxed or lightness.
After these sensing exercises, bring you awareness inside your body and just notice. Paying attention to sensations is what forms new connections and rewires pathways in your brain. And the power is being intentional about noticing. That’s what makes it stick. What do you notice about your breathing, heart rate or muscle tension?
Are You Getting The Hang Of It?
There is no one-size-fits-all formula to get the hang of meditation because there’s very little you have to do other than watch your thoughts with curiosity as you focus on your breathing. If your mind is still after meditating, if you feel relaxed and rested and if you have a calmer approach to stress, chances are you’re meditating correctly. In the long term, you know meditation is working when you’re less reactive to job stressors, you worry less and you’re more grounded in the here and now instead of mentally stuck in the past or future. You’re more adaptable and stress resilient, and your batteries feel recharged.
During these uncertain times when you get overwhelmed, anxious or frustrated or things don’t turn out the way you hoped, get in the habit of bringing your awareness to the present moment. After regular practice, these Microchillers inhibit your automatic negative reactions and give you the space to feel calm, clarity, confidence, compassion, and connection to yourself and others.