We’re all doing our best to try and maintain some semblance of normality at the moment. Some of us are embracing the opportunity for reflection, rest, learning, etc. and some of us are railing against the confinement, shaking the bars of our metaphorical cage and really struggling with the reality of the situation.
Actually, I believe that’s too simple a narrative because I think most people are actually more like me, swinging wildly and unpredictably between both extremes. Some days you feel punch-drunk, battered, and bruised. Others you find yourself rolling with the punches; ducking and diving; even throwing a few jabs back, in defiance of the fear and the confinement.
The last couple of days haven’t been great for me. I’ve been in a bad mood. I haven’t slept well. I’ve been having stressful dreams. I’ve been grumpy and short with my family. But I’m all good again today.
I know I’m not unique in this and, although we want to portray a positive face to the world, it’s important to acknowledge that so many of us are going through the same roller coaster of emotions. There’s nothing in our past that can have fully prepared us for the current situation.
So today I wanted to share the methods that I personally have found useful when my mind starts to sabotage my happiness. When you see it written down it’s very simple but any one of these things helps me to reset and to be more patient, compassionate and emotionally available to the people I live with, who I love most in the whole world, my family.
That can be yoga practice. It can be running, cycling, swimming, walking, stretching, lifting weights, dancing with the kids. It doesn’t matter what kind of movement it is as long as it gets you focussed on your body and less on your mind. It’s your mind that is the problem here.
As we all know it is usually our reaction to certain situations which cause us problems, rather than the situation itself. As Hamlet says “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
When we get away from our thoughts and into our physical sensations we usually begin, very quickly, to forget the negative thoughts we were experiencing.
Two minutes of movement can be enough to be of benefit. Even one minute. Set a timer for one minute and jump up and down on the spot as high as you can. I guarantee that your mental state will be different afterwards.
Have a cold shower
This is a more recent addition to my arsenal of mind-altering practices. You can build up your tolerance to cold very slowly. Just make the water a tiny bit colder for a tiny bit longer every few days. Or you can just jump into the sea if you have that option available to you. That’s even better because it’s also outdoors so you can connect with that inner need we have to be in nature.
This is the easiest and most readily available of all these practices. Just become aware of your breath coming in and going out.
This is another version of bringing awareness away from your mind and towards your body.
There are lots of ways to do this but I use a ratio of 2:3 for the inhale and exhale as recommended by Eddie Stern. I highly recommend downloading Eddie Stern’s Breathing App to start you off with this. It’s the most simple app you can imagine (and it’s free). Once you get into the habit you won’t need the app anymore. It’s a doddle.
This morning I felt a familiar negative feeling arising so I sat outside with a cup of coffee and did about 3 or 4 minutes of breathing like this. I came back indoors in a much better mood.
Entering into somebody else’s world can help us to take an exit from our own negative thought spirals. You don’t need to read Eckhart Tolle, The Dalai Lama, or the Yoga Sutras (although they’re great). It can be Dan Brown if you like, or Fifty Shades of Grey. The point here is to alter your internal landscape from one of thinking to one of forgetting yourself, not to necessarily do meaningful internal ‘work’ on yourself. I find there can sometimes be some resistance to serious literary works when I’m in a negative frame of mind. So just read what you feel like (but it has to be a book, not facebook!).
I personally feel like reading works better than TV or movies for me. There’s something more wholesome about it, and it’s silent which, for some reason, seems to help me. TV is the white-bread instant dopamine hit and reading is the brown-rice slow-release-happiness for me.
This is a tricky one at the moment for many people but, if you live with your family or with your partner, a good old cuddle can do wonders for your mental state. Cuddle your kids, cuddle your husband, wife, partner. Just make sure it lasts long enough to work.
I’d love to hear more ways that people get away from their own thoughts and into a positive frame of mind. I need all the help I can get some days!
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