The kids.. relationships… work… health…finances… the world.. the pandemic.
If you feel more stressed, anxious or depressed right now, you are not alone. This pandemic and lockdown for some has had a huge impact on mental health.
There are so many reasons one could feel anxiety right now, and over the last few months I have been hearing about high stress levels from a lot of people. I think about how I used to wake up with anxiety and a racing mind, and I ask myself what has changed, what has helped the most? (aside from questioning all the “shoulds” that society throws at us, based on assumptions and opinions, but that’s a whole other blog). I could say nature, movement, not watching the news, connection, but without a doubt, what has helped the most is developing my mindfulness muscle.
First of all, this does not have to be complex. In fact, this should be simple. Simple but not necessarily easy.
When we feel afraid, our brains literally become disconnected. We start to be run by our old survival brain with anxious thoughts, “what-ifs” about the future or events of the past. We get hijacked by panic and lose contact with the higher part of our brain responsible for empathy, perspective, and the ability to make good decisions.
We react and our bodies feel tense, nauseous, panicky, and this stress response wreaks havoc on our nervous system.
Mindfulness changes this pattern. It gives us the ability to pause, to notice and witness what is happening. It’s like a parent stepping back and saying “Ok, how would I best respond to a frightened child who fears the monster under the bed?”.
Integrating our brains so all the parts are working together takes practice. Over weeks and months you can change your brain.
The power of the pause. Research has shown that when we pause, we can interrupt this pattern and start to develop new pathways. This might be the most important thing to learn in your life. It will help your health, your decision-making, even your chronic pain.
How to pause: Stop and breathe deeply into your belly 10 times. Better yet, do this for 20 minutes every day.
Name the emotions that are rising in your body. Notice I said body, not mind.
Notice what is around you right now and name 5 things you see. The sky, this room… notice new things you perhaps haven’t seen before.
Feel your body. This gets us out of our mind and into what is here right now. Ground into your feet. Feel your hands, your heart beat. Do a body scan.
Relax muscle tension where you can. Where is this stress being held? This can be a profound practice for your health.
Above all, notice that you are here and you are safe. This witnessing of our experience somehow calms our bodies and minds. With practice you will be able to bring this capacity to witness into your work, your relationships, your parenting and any other areas where it helps to pause and respond, rather than react.
As we witness and accept what is happening in this moment, inside us, we can start to develop a compassionate witness to ourselves. A compassionate witness is like a set of eyes that notices, sees and acknowledges with compassion that you are fearful, that you are suffering in this moment, and as I say in my mindfulness classes “holds it all in a big, loving container of mindfulness”.
Don’t try to push fear away. What we avoid creates resistance, which creates more fear.
We get so stuck in patterns of reaction that it’s like looking down a narrow tunnel. There are a zillion ways to respond but we usually pick the same one. Mindfulness widens the scope to start to operate from a place of love, rather than fear.
After all, isn’t that what we want in the end? Love sees, love holds and heals. Love does not judge or push away.
And it all starts in the brain, in this moment. You can do this. Yes, you!
You can move out of fear and into your life.
Lots of love,
ps. My course Empath Sanctuary will be opening it’s doors again soon. Stay tuned.
pps. This might help too…