In a time of uncertainty, it’s hard to stay motivated and focus on the tasks in hand. Working from home often raises some challenges and a change in routine for all the family can be unsettling. Rachel Rose, Yoga and Meditation Instructor at SHA Wellness Clinic shares her tips on keeping the focus and staying motivated.
Taking control of our thoughts is not an easy task! And in these uncertain times, even less so. Times like this magnify stress, sharpen anxieties and deepen depressions, all whilst physical ailments are left untreated. A functioning mind is a calm mind, not a busy one. So how to calm and focus the mind and make the best use of our days in confinement?
The untrained mind is often described as a monkey in a cage. Like a caged animal, the mind deprived of its everyday distractions jumps around, rattles its bars and overthinks itself into a frenzy. To keep the mind functioning when we are spending a lot of time at home, we must calm our thoughts and cultivate positive emotions.
By controlling our thoughts, we reduce our emotional stress. Calmly, we then undertake those much-wanted self-improvement tasks like learning a new language or instrument and make use of the precious gift that we have been given: time. Until then, trying, but failing, at self-improvement goals may only bring more frustration. So, let’s start at the beginning:
Thoughts trigger emotion.
Mindfulness meditation is a form of cognitive self-regulation that requires no religious or spiritual affiliation and can be done by anyone, even kids.
Mindfulness aims to train the mind to focus on one single thing at a time, pushing all other thoughts to the side. We can use apps, but it is useful to develop mindfulness without the support of technology.
Boredom. Lethargy. Frustration. Worry. Loneliness. All of these feelings and more, may arise during self-isolation. These feelings are natural and most of us will experience them at one time or another, but they may be more intense and more frequent when we are torn out from our routine and facing an uncertain future. Some say they feel like they’re on a roller coaster, moods careening up and down as the hours tick by. So, the first step to feeling calmer is the do a simple Mindfulness Meditation every day.
One of my favourite techniques involves making the breath steady and even by counting each breath. I teach this technique with small finger movements. The combination of moving the fingers (fine motor coordination), regulating the breath (conscious breathing) and counting (cognition) means that we really achieve our goal of linking body, breath and mind.
It’s easy to do: Just sit comfortably and start to breathe counting 1-2-3-4 on the inhale and 1-2-3-4 on the exhale. This makes an even breath. Then, place your hands on your knees and turn your palms up. As you inhale, touch the thumb to the index finger on 1, the thumb to the middle finger on 2, the thumb to the ring finger on 3 and the thumb and the pinkie on 4. Exhaling, do the same but backwards: 1/pinkie, 2 /ring, 3/middle, 4/index. Keep going like this, ignoring any natural pauses that may occur at the end of the inhale or the exhale. Try to do at least 12 minutes of this meditation, every day. This practice works for both the young and old!
Develop positive emotions
Gratitude and compassion are two of the noblest emotions. One way to keep the mind functioning during lockdown is to try to use your thoughts to a positive end. To feel any emotion, we need to think thoughts that awaken them. It’s hard to feel angry if there is nothing to feel angry about! So, let’s think thoughts that invite feelings of gratitude and compassion into our lives.
Gratitude means feeling thankful. There is so much to be grateful for, but we often overlook it. We must train the mind to give thanks every day. We simply think about our strong body and feel grateful for our health. Or, we think about our home and feel grateful for the safety and shelter it provides. Or, we remember that we are lucky to have hot, running water to wash our hands so many times a day, and feel thankful for this. This practice will help us feel warm, safe and cosy inside, and it is so easy.
Another gratitude exercise I recommend is best done first thing in the morning. The minute you wake up, think for a second about how grateful you are to be alive, and aware of your existence. This is a wonderful way to start the day and if you make a habit of it, you will soon find that every day becomes a little more special. This gratitude exercise is so simple that even children can do it. So, if you are blessed to have a family, encourage them to do the same practice, every morning.
Compassion is the feeling we get when we perceive suffering. It may be hard to find compassion when you are feeling frustrated, fearful or out-of-control, but it is exactly the antidote you need. Here is a simple practice you can follow:
Begin by feeling compassion for yourself. Allow your mind to quietly watch you and your emotional turmoil, then forgive yourself for not being perfectly balanced at all times, and comfort yourself by being kind to that scared, discouraged person. You deserve your own kindness! Next, turn your compassion outwards: if you are confined with your family, you know that they are also surely feeling disheartened and worried. Cultivate kind thoughts about them. See them in their best light, forgive them their irritable answers and internet obsession. Finally, think benevolent thoughts about people all over the world facing the same situation. Think about animals confined in cages for years, about the ill, trapped in disabled bodies and about those families directly affected by the current pandemic. Feel compassion for them. Listen carefully to your thoughts about what desires to help me be present, then put some time aside every day to do one compassionate act. By practising compassion daily, we tune into ourselves and each other. This helps us feel more at peace with the strange times we are all living in.
Make good use of your time
Once you have calmed your mind, undertake to make each day count. Don’t overdo it. It’s best to make a schedule that includes downtime and entertainment, but which motivates you to get out of bed, get dressed and stay mostly away from the mind-numbing effects of binge-watching series or bingeing on food or alcohol. Remember, we want the mind to be clear, not dull.
Once you have a clear mind and a realistic schedule, see where you can find time to fit in something that challenges your mind and body. Whether you choose Sudoko or crosswords, chess or cross-stitch, piano or percussion, Pilates or yoga, there are so many activities on offer all around the world! It is up to you to plunge in and cultivate your skillset.
Finally, reach out to friends and family for socialising, even if only online. Those who are isolated alone are most at risk of developing depression since solitude feeds depression, Really invest time in your relationships, maybe even make amends with old friends. If you’re not alone, but know someone who is, touch base.
How we can we keep our mind functioning when we are spending a lot of time at home depends on cultivating mindfulness, gratitude and compassion. Only in that mental space can we then learn and grow and make the best use of our time. Remember: a functioning mind is a quiet mind, not a busy and distracted mind. Understand that and you’re already halfway there!