There’s little doubt that the past few months have felt at times like we’ve been held in a protective layer of bubble wrap. Cocooned tightly against the outside world, we’re now slowly being unwrapped and brought back into our new normality. Even those who worked heroically through this period on the frontline, must undergo an awakening into a different pace of life as restrictions are lifted.
For many, it’s been a period of intense stress and overwhelm. Fast moving and destructive, the effects of COVID have been far reaching, in financial and health terms. Entire companies have re-engaged with new ways of working and on a personal front, people have been prevented from seeing those they love and care about. The changes have been tremendous – and that’s not just the transition from corporate wardrobes to tracksuit pants!
It’s little wonder so many people are absolutely overwhelmed and exhausted. Our bodies have been placed in a stress cycle, almost constantly in ‘fight or flight’ mode. Our nervous systems have been overloaded with powerful rushes of hormones to respond to the perceived danger. This leaves us feeling stressed, overwhelmed and often with a whole host of unpleasant physical symptoms to boot. While a little stress can help us keep motivated, prolonged and intense stress can have the opposite effect, leaving us unable to relax and struggling to ‘switch off’, even when resting at home. Have you found it challenging to get to sleep or are you waking up during the night worrying about something? Are you finding yourself increasingly irritated, or perhaps feel frustrated with those around you? If so, it’s extremely likely your body is overwhelmed, and you’d benefit from exploring mindfulness and focusing on your relaxation response.
Mindfulness is a gentle practice scientifically proven to help softly relax and destress those who practice it. A gentle way to pop your isolation bubble, if you will. Practiced by many greats past and present – Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates to name a few, mindfulness helps to stop your fight or flight response. Instead, it lowers cortisol levels and shifts your response to the pre frontal cortex, the ‘CEO’ centre of your brain, known for rational thinking and strengthening your ability to make decisions. Of course, mindfulness needs to be practiced to re-program your brain to be more consciously aware of the present moment and to be able to proactively maintain control of your behaviour, actions and thoughts. Mindfulness can be practiced anywhere – at your desk, on the bus, even while you make a cup of coffee and the bonus is that its positive effects can be felt almost instantly.
Even an absolute beginner can take immediate action to engage with mindfulness in their day to day life.
1. Breathe. Become more acutely aware of your breathing – slow it down. Inhale for 3 seconds, hold for 2 and exhale for 3 seconds. Feel your chest rise and fall with each breath and focus solely on what you’re doing. Repeat several times to calm down a racing mind.
2. Download Insight Timer or another meditation app and complete a short 3-minute guided mediation to reconnect with yourself and force your body out of the ‘fight or flight’ mode.
3. Truly listen. When holding a conversation with someone, focus not just on what they’re saying but how they’re saying it. What does their body language tell you? Are there undercurrents in what they are saying? Focus only on them – they’ll feel special under your calm, considered focus and you’ll gain so much more from the conversation.
4. As we emerge from our bubble, it’s even more important to focus on relaxation. Everyone needs an outlet – from running to sewing, make sure you make time for a little of what you love. Many people find nature very grounding – notice the colours of the trees, the beauty of the sun on the water or the coolness of the air, and feel your body relax.
Be gentle on yourself and colleagues around you – it’s perfectly okay for us all to emerge from our respective hibernations at different times and at different paces. Be the one who, when the bubble pops, is armed and ready to face the challenges of tomorrow’s world head on.