Have you ever had a snow globe... one of those glass orbs that you shake and then watch the glittery snow falling on a cute winter scene? Remember how the ‘snow’ takes ages to completely settle? Well, believe it or not, snow globes are a great way to understand what is happening in our mind when we try to be mindful or meditate.
Let me explain!
Imagine that the globe represents our mind and the “snow” represents our thoughts. Our mind will never be really free of thoughts (because it’s the mind’s job to think, so it will keep generating thoughts no matter what we are doing) but our thoughts can slow and settle, just like the snow in the snow globe.
As we go about our various tasks each day, the more we do, the more we ‘shake’ and activate our mind. If you think about this for a minute you might recognise that when you have been busy, even when you stop your mind is still very much on the go. This is one of the reasons why it’s harder to practice mindfulness or feel completely relaxed while you are doing something else. Literally, the physical activity continues to activate the mind and thinking.
What you can do to “settle your snow” is to stop. Sit (or lie!) down. Just be physically still for a few minutes. It’s a really interesting experiment to notice how many minutes it takes for you to notice that your “snow” is settling – or in other words, to become aware that your mind is slowing down, and the pace and volume of your thoughts are reducing. It will happen most quickly if you stay perfectly still, close your eyes and breathe gently and quietly. But it still might take 5 or 10 minutes - or more.
People who have tried meditating often say they find it hard – and this is one of the reasons! Just like you often need to warm up at the beginning of an exercise session and find your body starts to settle more comfortably into the run or swim after 5 or 10 minutes, so it is with meditation. Before we can experience the calmness and peacefulness of mindfulness meditation, we just need to give our snow time to settle.
Liz Weatherly, Mindfulness and Mindset Teacher.
Uncertainty always exists to some extent. But right now, there seems to be a lot less certainty and a lot more uncertainty. And it’s about big things like “Am I going to keep my job?” “Am I going to be able to keep my house?” “Are my overseas family going to be ok?” Even things like “Is it worth planning a holiday?” “Is it safe to send the kids to school?”.
When we are experiencing uncertainty, we typically respond with one of the fear family of emotions (ie anxiety, worry, trepidation, terror and panic). These emotions switch on our alert mode which generates varying levels of uneasiness. This is completely natural and normal. We are biologically programmed to want life to be safe and predictable, and any situation that feels physically, financially or emotionally unsafe will likely have a number of effects on us: physical tension, racing thoughts, anticipating worst case scenarios... It’s like we are on red alert, and it’s not a comfortable experience.
Essentially fear’s job is to give us a message “There is a problem. You need to take action” but it's hard to know what exactly to do when we are missing key information like how long this situation will last and what the government’s or our employers or customer’s decisions will be.
This is where mindfulness can help. No, it doesn’t give us a crystal ball, but it does help us to get into a state where we can more easily take stock of the facts that ARE available to us. In particular it helps us to recognise the fear that may be impeding our strategic thinking, identify our best course of action and be efficient and positive.
When you notice fear (eg racing heart or thoughts, tension or irritability) take 10 slow breaths. This breathing actually communicates to the body that you are safe right now and that it doesn’t need to keep flooding your system with stress hormones (which prevent your mind from thinking logically and rationally). Aim to interrupt the spiral of fear - try taking a walk, talking to a good listener or playing with a pet.
Then notice what your mind is doing with all this uncertainty. Ask yourself:
If you begin getting caught up in worst case scenarios as you do this, take another deep breath and deliberately direct your mind back to the present and just focus on what is happening NOW (it may be both good and bad but it is at least known).
Once you are calmer, it’s empowering (and often calming) to identify exactly what you’re thinking, and then to deliberately utilise your reasoning capacity to show yourself the whole picture (not just the scary bits).
Mindfulness is not a magic wand that will remove all difficulties. What it will do is help you to find calmness and clarity and support you to act in a self-supporting way - even when life is hairy.
If you want to talk to someone about Mindfulness, please contact Liz on 021 988 468 or firstname.lastname@example.org
New Zealand may have been spared the extended periods of Covid restrictions that some countries are having, but it is very apparent that the pandemic has taken a toll on Kiwis too. Even though we’ve had few cases in our own community, what the pandemic has done everywhere is bring a LOT of uncertainty about some pretty fundamental things like our own health, our livelihood, our financial future and the sort of world we’ll be living in from now on. And of course, we have had a lot of uncertainty about day-to-day things like “Shall I book a holiday?” and “Are the kids getting enough schooling?”.
Now that we are 12 months down the pandemic track, if you are feeling tired, frustrated, sad or anxious and generally “over it”, it is not just you. “Pandemic Fatigue” is a new term that is starting to be used to describe the very real feelings of stress and exhaustion stemming from the day-to-day effects of living through this event. People are reporting changed sleeping or eating patterns, feeling on edge, having a shorter fuse and being stressed by tasks (and emotions) that they used to manage well.
So how can the Mindfulness skill of self – observation help identify and manage Pandemic Fatigue?
Observe your thoughts
We are not our thoughts, but our thoughts can massively influence us if we allow them to. Frenzied thoughts and worrying are a sign of stress and generally result in knee – jerk reactions rather than helpful responses. Look at your thoughts without judgement and if they are anxious, ask yourself: Is this true? How likely is this to happen? Is this worry because I feel powerless to change anything? What can I do right now that will help me feel better? What plan can I make to deal with this if it happens? Aim to be an accurate thinker instead of an anxious thinker.
Observe your body
Our body is a mirror of our mind (and our mind is a mirror of our body!). Whenever you sit down or stand up or walk, notice how your body feels. If it is tense, take a deep breath and relax. The more tension there is in your body, the more tension there will be in your mind. A relaxed body thinks more clearly, responds more healthily and bounces back more easily from stressful situations.
Observe your feelings
Notice your emotions and allow yourself to feel what you feel, instead of trying to reject it. Unpleasant feelings are a part of you as much as the pleasant ones are, and they’re all meant to be felt – even anger and despair – because that’s how you receive the vital information they bring. Aim to accept all your feelings - even if they don’t seem logical - and be curious about why you are feeling them.
Observe your social patterns
Notice if you have been reaching out to friends or family or if you have started isolating yourself. There’s a difference between deliberate healthy quiet time where you just sit in silence without distractions for 10 minutes and hiding away because you don’t want other people to see that you are feeling crappy. One proven approach that will help you feel better is to connect regularly in a meaningful way with other people eg through a community project or group activity (even if it’s online).
Observe the expectations you have of yourself
Don’t force yourself to be happy or stay on top of everything all the time (and notice if you unwittingly expect yourself to be ‘super – person’). If you have been Covid-stressed for some time, continuing to push yourself to do more will only make the fatigue worse. Allow yourself to be less than perfect and make mistakes. Allow yourself to not have all the answers and not be at maximum output There is great value in being considerate and compassionate towards yourself because it helps the body and mind to return to a better state, from where you can then make a healthy re assessment of priorities.
Observe where you spend your day
The stress-relieving effects of being outside and sleeping enough have been proven over and over. Notice if you are spending all your time inside – including inside a car - and make it a priority to have contact with nature every day and eight hours in bed every night.
And remember these truths: Nothing lasts forever; this thing that is so hard right now will pass. And however you are feeling, don’t judge yourself for craving relief.
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