This past week, I found myself feeling a little angst-y. I was supposed to be on a weekend retreat with more than 50 other women. The state of Iowa kept updating its recommendations on gathering sizes and social distancing. The people-pleaser in me didn’t want to cancel because I was playing the piano on the retreat. While my husband and I are healthy and my kids are healthy young adults, my dad and mother-in-law are both in their 80s, and I know that makes them much more susceptible to COVID-19. Fortunately for both my angst and the participants, the retreat was canceled.
With this particular crisis, I was able to name my feelings, “angst”, immediately and then work on self-care for when I feel this way. I think back to September 11th and getting “stuck” in the 24/7 news cycle where I was replaying what happened over and over every time I watched an update. When I wasn’t replaying it, I was worried about the future - what it meant for our country, for my young children. But I never really named what I was feeling or sought self-care.
I attribute this change to practicing mindfulness which I learned about more than 5 years ago.
Mindfulness is paying attention, in the present moment, non-judgementally. Even more important than the definition of mindfulness is the benefits. It helps lower blood pressure, reduces stress, enhances mental health, improves sleep. I noticed these benefits and also that regular practice increased my empathy and helped me focus on what was important in my life. It also helped me navigate all of the speed bumps in life more smoothly - the bumps were still there, just a little smoother. And now, in this current environment of uncertainty, mindfulness is not taking away COIVD-19, it is just helping me tame the angst-beast!
After practicing and studying mindfulness these last few years, I have found some ways to build it into my day.
1: Focus on your breath when you first wakeup
Use the opportunity to listen to your breath. Follow it as it goes into your lungs and as you breathe out. Feel your chest or abdomen expanding. If you start thinking of other things, do as my mindfulness teachers recommend. Gently tell yourself “thinking” and follow your breath again. Do this for between one and five minutes. You may find that even one minute is difficult to do when you first start out. It’s okay. I promise it will get easier! The best part of this practice is that it doesn’t take any special tools. You just breathe.
I am kind of a tech-geek and I have created a morning wakeup routine for my Amazon echo to help. Here’s a screenshot of the routine.
And remember, this is extra. You have the power to follow your breath without this!
2: Add a 5-minute appointment to your calendar
You can set aside time and do the breathing exercise that you did when you woke up or you can use an app like Headspace or Insight Timer. There are also good Youtube videos on meditation.
3: Use transition moments to pause and breathe
When you are in the car driving, turn off the music or the podcasts and take a few moments to follow your breath. After you send an email, pause and follow your breath for 2 or 3 cycles. When you leave a room, pause at the door and follow your breath.
4: Savor your coffee (or chocolate or tea)
Build awareness into savoring your coffee. Feel the warmth or coolness in your hands. Breathe in the aroma. Savor the first sip as you drink it and how it feels and tastes in your mouth.
I hope these tips and thoughts on mindfulness help you weather our current social distancing and the impact that it may have on your life. Be well and safe, my friends!