At nearly 2 months into lockdown we’re all getting used to a new way of life, bt for some it may be creating strain that comes in the form of stress. Maybe we’re in danger of losting our job, or can’t see loved ones, maybe the kids are driving us crazy, so many things can be mentally tripping us up in this highly unusual experience of lockdown right now.
We may turn to distraction techniques like getting fit, reducing alcohol or any other things you uncover, and whilst these are positive benefits they’re a still a distraction, and even if you feel better, the stress may resurface when you’re all out of distracting energy.
I think it’s clear to agree we’re all in this together, and whilst we can’t control the outside, the uncontrollables, we can try and control the inside, our mind.
Stress is cited as being caused by two factors: The pressure a situation places on us – for example, overthinking a problem or situation or something beyond our control (pandemic anyone?). The second is of course how we react to this pressure, how we feel when we find it difficult to cope. This part is where we can focus our energy as it is controllable – if we actively notice it.
I want to share a technique here which I learnt just before lockdown. It’s based around mindfulness, but you don’t have to be a practicing meditator to do the exercise, you just need to set aside a small amount of time.
Quite often I hear people that simply do not stop all day, go to bed, wake up the next day and do it all over again. Carrying with them the stressors of the day which get compounded over time. Well this can also happen even if you’re not busy, say stuck at home during lockdown.
We just need a moment, to notice and be aware. The solace is in the awareness, becoming aware of our thoughts and feelings during stressful situations. This is by far the number one way to help ourselves reduce our stress.
Ok, so find 10 minutes and let’s have a look at the quick and easy mindful technique called the ‘5 to 1’ exercise.
First we need to be able to take air into our belly. These breathing techniques alone will help reduce anxiety. Breath in through the nose, a big breathe, then exhale through the mouth. The important part is that the air reaches the belly. If you put your hand on your belly it should go out. Most breath is short breath, from the chest. Put your hand on your chest, take in air and if the chest goes up rather than the belloy out, this is a chest breath.
Keep practicing to get air into your belly so it sticks out.
Your intake should be about 3 seconds, the exhale should be about 8.
I use just this breathing technique alone before a speech or presentation and it always helps reduce the nerves.
Right, once you’re happy with belly breathing (don’t worry if you’re not there completely), we can start. Let’s get comfy and get ready to stop and observe what’s happening in the moment.
Here we go –
Take a deep belly breath, then notice five things around you. Anything you see, a bookcase standing tall, a bird hopping in the garden, the trees waving back and forth, an old bucket on the floor, and note them down mentally or out loud.
Relax as you move from item to item, still breathing from the belly if possible. Observe and contemplate for a short second, the details of what you’re noticing of each one.
Then notice four things you can feel, your legs on the chair, the clothes on your body, moisture on your lip, the shoes on your feet and follow the same observational pattern, noting them down or out loud.
Then three things you can hear, a grandfather clock ticking, a heating system whirring, a bird cheeping.
Then two things you can smell, the musky or fresh air, the chair cloth, maybe last nights dinner.
Finally, one thing you can taste.
Now take one large and deep belly breathe.
Once this is complete your nervous system should be fully relaxed and calm, and you can begin to notice thoughts and feelings.
As these thoughts and feelings arise name them. Fort example if it’s how do I pay my bills, you might identify this as worry. Then mentally create a box and put the worry thought in that box.
If say it’s ‘why has the person next door got a better car than me’ you might want to create an ego box (no shame in that).
Naming feelings creates detachment of them from your ‘self’ and reduces their intensity. It gives you the opportunity to examine them from a distance and see them for what they are.
So as you name your feelings and emotions and place them in their box, say them out loud, write them down or just do whatever it takes to get them out.
I hope this easy technique helps towards reducing anxiety and stress during lockdown, you just have to remember it’s there and find some time. It’s easier than you think.
If you find you love it, you may want to investigate mindfulness or meditation. I’m a Vedic meditation practitioner myself (TM to some) and switch between that and mindfulness as situations dictate. I’ll be honest, I should do it more often rather than just when I need it as it is incredibly beneficial in its own right, and this is something I’m working towards.
Remember, these are uncertain times and controlling your thoughts is a powerful way to see yourself through the uncontrollable external factions and come out the other side mentally stronger and more focused. You can do it…if you find the time.