As a business owner and mother of two and recently just discharged from an unexpected hospital stay (not the best timing!), I can very much empathise with the challenges of our newfound reality. I’m a doctor trained in psychiatry who, for seven years, has been teaching people online how to meditate through my month-long Mindful in May program. Balancing kids and employees and cooking and budgets, tantrums, deadlines and now my own recovery has been overwhelming to say the least!
But never in my career have I felt more of a sense of importance and urgency around teaching the tools of mindfulness meditation to help people cope through this. These tools have been an absolute lifesaver for me. Of course, they don’t get rid of the difficulties but they sure as hell give you a lifeboat when you feel you’re sinking.
I wanted to share four actionable tools I am using to keep focused during this universally challenging time:
1. Focus on today
As tempting as it might be to think ahead to tomorrow, next week, next year… give yourself permission to focus only on today. With so much uncertainty, we must remind ourselves each morning to focus on what we can control.
What can you realistically achieve today in your current situation? What can you do today to help your organisation thrive? Practice “everyday mindfulness.” This means focusing on one moment at a time, one sensation at a time, which gives your mind a reprieve from overwhelm and helps focus. For example, while eating lunch, focus deeply on the taste and smell of your food.
2. Use your breath to calm down and find focus
Your breath is intimately connected to your nervous system, which makes it a perfect circuit breaker when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Use it when stressed to calm yourself down. Slow your breath and extend your exhalation. This will quieten your entire nervous system, keeping you calm rather than reactive. Ultimately this will help you make better decisions about what you need to achieve and the best way to approach it.
3. Name it to tame it
Neuroscientific research demonstrates that when we’re stressed, talking or writing about how we’re feeling helps us to calm down. As we become more mindful of difficult emotions, we reinforce neural pathways that help us remember to pause when we’re in the heat of an emotion, and use the most evolved part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, to calm ourselves down. So when you’re feeling stressed or lacking focus, take a break to journal it down or organise a short Zoom meeting with a peer. A quick 10-minute chat could help your productivity dramatically.
4. Put your foot on the brake of your nervous system
Although it feels counterintuitive to stop and meditate when you’re stressed and unfocused, research shows that meditating for just ten minutes a day for one month can help settle the nervous system. So why not block out 10 minutes each day for one month while in self-isolation and dedicate it to forming a daily meditation practice?
I have recorded two short meditations specifically to help people find calm and focus from external stress caused by the current pandemic which could be a great place to start your mindfulness journey – please find calm with these.
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