Words: Heather Howard-Thompson
Heather Howard-Thompson is a Cognitive Behaviorioural Pyschotherapist and Director of Yorkshire Psychotherapy Limited, living in sunny Yorkshire.
What a year this has been! We’re all trying to juggle the normal life struggles with the added pressures of working from home, financial pressures, isolation, home schooling and continuing uncertainty. These all add up to overthinking, anxiety, stress, overwhelm and ultimately can make us pretty miserable. While there’s some light at the end of the tunnel, it can help to learn techniques to manage how you’re feeling until life can start to get back to some sense of normality. That’s where mindfulness can help. You might have heard of it; it’s been a bit of a buzzword for the last few years.
So, what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a sustained and particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally (Kabot-Zinn, 2012). It is a trainable skill of being more present and aware of our thoughts and feelings so that we are better able to manage them. Mindfulness is often taught to children and adults as part of treatment for common mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. Mindfulness can dramatically reduce pain and the emotional reaction to it. Clinical trials show that mindfulness improves mood and quality of life in chronic pain conditions.
Research in Neuroscience has discovered that the brain can change its structure and activity. It is called Neuroplasticity. Kabot-Zinn* found that people who regularly practiced mindfulness showed more left-sided brain activity than right in important areas concerning emotional regulation. This suggests an increased ability to deal with situations in a more positive and balanced way. You might be thinking, sounds great, but I haven’t got time for it. The great thing about mindfulness is that you can integrate into your day-to-day activities!
5 Top tips for Informal Mindfulness Practices
1. Mindfulness in your normal routine
Pick an activity that constitutes part of your daily routine, such as brushing your teeth, shaving, making the bed, or taking a shower. When you do it, totally focus attention on what you’re doing: how your body feels, what you can taste, touch, smell, what you can see, hear, and so on, use your senses. Notice what’s happening with an attitude of curiosity.
For example, when you’re in the shower, notice the sounds of the water, notice the temperature of the water, and the feel of it in your hair, and on your body. Notice the smell of the soap and shampoo, and the feel of them against your skin. Notice the sight of the water on the walls or shower curtain, the water dripping down your body and the steam rising upward. Notice the movements of your arms as you wash. When thoughts arise, acknowledge them, and let them come and go like clouds passing in the sky. As soon as you realise that your mind has wandered, gently acknowledge it, note what the thought was that distracted you, and bring your attention back to the shower.
2. Mindfulness of domestic chores
Pick an activity such as ironing clothes, washing up, dusting—something mundane that you have to do (what I call boring jobs!) – and do it mindfully. For example, when ironing clothes, notice the colour and shape of the clothes, the sound of the steam, the creak of the ironing board, the faint sound of the iron moving over the material. Notice the grip of your hand on the iron, and the movement of your arm and your shoulder.
If boredom or frustration arises, simply acknowledge it, and bring your attention back to the task at hand. When thoughts arise, acknowledge them, let them be, and bring your attention back to what you’re doing.
3. Mindfulness of pleasant activities
Pick an activity you enjoy such as cuddling with a loved one, stroking the cat, playing with the dog, walking in the park, listening to music, gardening, taking a bath, and so on.
Do this activity mindfully: engage in it fully, using all five of your senses, and savour every moment. If and when your attention wanders, as soon as you realise it, note what distracted you, and re-engage in whatever you’re doing.
4. Mindful walking
When you’re out on a walk, take time to pay attention to the feeling of your feet on the floor, the sensation of your arms as they swing back and forwards. Notice the temperature, what you can see, hear, how your body feels. Again, if your mind wanders (which it will!) try and bring it back to noticing while you walk, without judging yourself.
5. Mindful eating (my favourite!)
We often eat mindlessly, without paying much attention. Try eating a meal mindfully. Eat slowly, savouring every mouthful. Notice the smells, the sensation of your mouth watering at the thought of food, your stomach rumbling. Chew each mouthful slowly and purposefully and you’ll see how much more flavourful your food tastes!
I hope you find the exercises helpful, remember to keep practicing, they get easier the more you try.
You can follow me on Facebook where I have quite a few mindfulness exercise videos and on Instagram @yorkshirepsychotherapy. On our website we have some helpful blog posts about managing through the current pandemic and more information about the services we offer.
We have a great team of experienced mental health professionals who offer a range of evidence-based therapies for mental health issues. All our therapies can be accessed via online platforms (Zoom, Facetime, Skype, Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp) and you don’t have to live in Yorkshire to access us!
*Kabut-Zinn J (2013) Full Catastrophe Living: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation. Piatkus
2 thoughts on “Mindful tips for managing work and life during the pandemic”
These are great tips that I’m going to try …..thank you for making it sound so easy Heather!
Thanks so much, glad you liked it 🙂