Christmas always brings stresses and strains, but perhaps never more so than this year. According to the Office for National Statistics, around a whopping 70% of adults in the UK have noted that they have been worried, stressed or feeling low as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Hardly surprising when the unemployment rate is rising, businesses are struggling to remain afloat, and we have all been somewhat cut off from physical contact with wider family members and our friends, not to mention the lack of socialising and travel.
Every year I try to share some self-care tips during the colder months of the year, when days are shorter and we may feel less inclined to get ourselves out and about even when we are able to.
This year it felt extremely important to take that one step further and share my top tips for looking after our mental health through being mindful.
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”
Mindfulness is a focus on what we are doing, very simply and in the moment of doing it. It aims to remove strong reactions or feelings of overwhelm. It can be as simple as listening to the tap of the keyboard as your fingers race over the keys whilst you type. It can be really thinking about the taste of an apple, the texture of tree bark. Losing yourself in that precise moment, without wandering to the breakfast rush of the morning, or the school run, or the office party coming up. Staying in that moment and focusing only on what you are doing to allow your mind to have a much needed rest.
It is, however, easier said than done. I once sat in a room of adults with us all eating a single raisin. We were supposed to be considering the texture and taste of the raisin, and concentrating on that, but naturally minds wandered. The same can be said of some of the breathing exercises in yoga classes. Focusing on your breath is a way to be mindful, thinking about what you’re cooking for dinner that evening, not so much.
If your mind does wander, be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to notice that and bring your focus back to your mindful exercise. There is no judgement here!
I have come up with a short list of mindful exercises that I think we can all try to incorporate over the coming days to ease ourselves into this most peculiar of Christmas seasons. I do hope that they help:
- Stand in an open space and slowly count to 30.
- Take 5 deep breaths. Notice your breath as you inhale and exhale.
- Stand safely near flowing water and listen as it bubbles and gurgles.
- Eat on your own, and in silence. This may seem a little strange, but resist the urge for chat, internet scrolling on your phone, or listening to the radio whilst you eat. Instead think about your food. Consider the flavours, the textures. What you like about it and, perhaps, what could be improved.
- Focus on brushing your teeth, without letting your mind wander to your to-do list.
- Walk from one room to another, really being aware of how you move through your space. Notice your feet on the floor, the feel of a door handle, the sound it makes as you open or close it. Focus on the click of a light switch or the temperature of each space.
- Draw a doodle, without thinking, just let your pencil flow across the page. Watch as it creates a mark.
- Sit in a relaxed position on your chair or bed. Close your eyes and think about how your body feels. Notice any tension, perhaps in your shoulders for example, and let it go with each out breath without further attention. Move through your body noticing each area.
- When you are next making a drink, really think about what you are doing. Notice the feel of the mug or glass in your hand, the sound of the kettle boiling or water from the tap falling.
- Look at the flowers. There are some in bloom, even at this time of the year. Notice the shape of their petals, the edges, any parts that looked worn or weathered. Do they have signs of insect life on them? Take just two minutes to really consider how the flower is formed. Does it smell? Focus entirely on it, whilst letting your body relax.
- When you are next waiting in a queue, think about your breathing. Let your toes rise and fall between the top and the bottom of your shoes. Notice how your balance feels and try to really ground yourself through your feet.
- Finally, set your intention for the day. For example, “Today I will say positive things to myself; eat well; I will connect with a friend”. Check in from time to time during your day to remind yourself of this.
I do hope these mindful exercises help you.
Another thing that we do during December which always brightens our days as much as, hopefully, the recipients, is our Calendar of Goodwill. We feel that it is a great way to give back and share some happiness through the month. You might like to take a look at that as well.
If you practice mindfulness already, please do share the exercises you enjoy most in the comments below.