Pressing pause on modern life has offered the world significant pause for thought. Thoughts on our near future and the shape society will take after lockdown. Thoughts on our near past and the freedom society enjoyed before lockdown. United in suspended animation, we’re all disunited in our different situations and travelling on sometimes divergent, sometimes interweaving trains of thought. Dark or bright, thinking holds us in its thrall. And, as we navigate this strange insecure period of change it can err on the anxious and depressed. While no superhero has yet emerged to rescue us from the crisis, we can unlock a latent superpower of our own, that of Mindfulness to lift us from the negative thought cycle and deliver us unto the present.
Noticing NOW. The power of presence. Paying attention to the moment. Definitions of mindfulness proliferate across the internet. Yet most agree upon it as a useful mental means of extracting oneself from negative thoughts by reaching a “state of being where our awareness is focused on the present-moment flow of experience without commentary, analysis or judgement”.
Savouring a luxurious sip of coffee, admiring a clear sky unblemished by vapour trails, inhaling the perfume of a velvety rose. Noticing nature. Noticing yourself. Listening without judgement. Embodying the moment. These can free you from a busy head cluttered with competing thoughts, the compulsive urge to masochistically google, the stress of an overflowing inbox and the reflexive reactions to an upsetting event. A depressed cycle of emotions can become a habit – a comfortable foe. Below are three techniques (taken from disparate sources) to focus your mind, reduce your stress and increase your resilience.
1. Noticing Now. (taken from Dr Dean Howes of Warwick University’s Mindfulness Programme) Harnessing our senses and become intensely aware of what you are sensing and feeling at the moment. Warwick.ac.uk suggests you focus on:
- 5 sights you can see (e.g. colours, shapes, objects, etc.)
- 4 sounds you can hear
- 3 textures you can feel
- 2 body parts you can feel (e.g. warmest-coolest, relaxed-tense)
- 1 positive you can bring to the moment right now
2. 3-4-5 Breathing Technique. To cultivate a sense of calm, an unflustered self in the face of adversity
Mindset Coach Caroline Britton says: “The simple way to anchor yourself in the present is the 3-4-5 breath, which is just breathing in for three seconds, holding it for four seconds, and breathing out for five seconds,” says Britton. “That enables a lovely flow, with your diaphragm expanding and the deep breaths coming in. It grounds you in the moment.
“If you can try to integrate the 3-4-5 breath into your daily life, you should. I'd say set a timer on your phone, three times a day, morning, lunchtime and evening, for two minutes each. That's a really good start for anybody."
3. Long Body-Scan Wind Down. To unlock a good night’s sleep courtesy professor Tamara Levitt from meditation app Calm
“Since I was a child, I’ve struggled with sleep, so my favourite bedtime practice is a long body scan,” says Tamara, Mindset Coach.
“Shifting attention from thoughts and concerns to bodily sensations is a great way to calm a busy mind.”
Begin at the top of your head.
Note any tingling, pricking or itching. There is so much sensation in the body that we don’t notice because we are distracted. Shift your attention down your body, observing each part in turn.
Unfurrow your brow, release your jaw, allow your neck and shoulders to relax.
As you move through each part of your body, tune into your sensations. Does it feel tense or relaxed, warm, or cold? Notice the touch of your clothes against your skin, the grounding of the chair, or mattress beneath you.
Move your attention all the way down to the tips of your toes, then scan back up in the opposite direction.
Repeat as many times as you like.