Nobody can argue we’re living in very strange times. The word ‘unprecedented’ has been done to death, but that’s exactly what it is. We’re now 8 months in with our UK pandemic experience and I’m seeing a rather concerning divide opening up in society; those who have versus those who don’t, those who believe in COVID, versus those who think it’s a conspiracy theory, those who want a second lockdown, versus those who are more concerned about our economy. The media has a lot to answer for with its scaremongering, and yet try as we might to avoid it, we are all reliant on checking our news feeds on at least a daily basis to see which way our liberties are currently heading.
I think even the most thick-skinned amongst us is probably feeling at least a little unsettled with it all by now. So, what can we do to make our personal passage through the COVID canal a little less turbulent?
It’s all about being present. This simple technique is going to make your daily life so much easier to bear. Put simply, there are three states you can exist in; the past, the present or the future. The past is a collection of memories, which, if we dwell on the negative ones too much will make us liable to being depressed. The future? Well that’s nothing more than a collection of dreams or, as is more likely at the moment, nightmares, which fed by the media, our overactive imaginations have blown up into blockbuster, terrifying proportions. These future tense nightmares are where our fear and anxiety sit. And if we spend too much time in that zone that’s exactly what we will become – riddled with and paralysed by fear.
So that just leaves us the present. It’s all we have. It is now, it is here and it is real. The single thing we can control. But what does being present actually mean? It is a very simple concept, but one we struggle with. I would imagine that as you’re reading this post, your mind has drifted all over the place; thinking about what you’re having for dinner, what’s going on this weekend, that last email you had from the boss, the bill that you know you need to try and find the money for by the end of the month. You may have half absorbed these words, but you weren’t 100% focused, were you?
The best place to start practicing being present is with simple daily tasks, such as brushing your teeth, making a cup of coffee, doing the washing up, walking the dog, taking a shower. While you’re in the process of these daily rituals, actually feel the experience, make yourself aware of the sensations within your body, the noises around you. If you’re outside, take the time to focus on how the breeze feels on your skin, close your eyes and listen, really listen to what is happening around you (but be careful not to walk into that lamp post!). The aim is to block out anything else that drifts into your mind. Those thoughts will seem almost impossible to stop initially, and as they pop in, acknowledge them and then let them drift away as you take your attention back to the task in hand.
The more you carry out these simple exercises, the easier it will be for you to stay present. The brain is an amazing tool and has the ability to learn new habits (and un-learn bad habits) through something called neuroplasticity. By practicing being present your brain will create new neural connections, allowing these habits to become almost second nature. And the truly wonderful thing is the more time you’re working out in your brain gym, the less time you’re worrying about what’s going on elsewhere in the world!
These tips are designed to help with anxiety and mild to moderate feelings of stress. If you are feeling overwhelmed, struggling to cope or suffering from severe emotional stress, please contact The Samaritans who will be able to offer you immediate support www.samaritans.org