During difficult or uncertain times, it’s easy for our thoughts to spiral. We often think of the worst-case scenario, and each fearful thought breeds another. You’ve probably noticed this at some point in your life. Sometimes these thoughts are so powerful, they cause us to become overwhelmed and shut down.
Mindfulness helps us slow down, pause, and observe our thoughts and emotions in the moment. This helps us cope with challenges because we’re interrupting those fearful thought patterns and preventing ourselves from ruminating over the situation.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing in a given moment. It’s about observing the moment without judgment and not being overly reactive to or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.
We all have this ability to be present, and by strengthening it with daily practice, we’re more able to tap into its powers when we need it – like during times of uncertainty or emotional turmoil.
Each time you bring your awareness (or pay attention) to your environment or what you’re doing by using your five senses, you’re being mindful. You’re also practicing mindfulness when you bring your awareness to your inner world – what you’re thinking or feeling at a given moment.
It’s a simple practice, yet it’s not always easy. By committing to yourself and to a daily mindfulness practice, you’ll build on your natural ability to be mindful. And in turn, you’ll build resilience to help you overcome life’s obstacles.
Here are 3 mindfulness practices to help you cope with uncertain times:
Journaling is one of the best ways to connect to your intuition and emotions. Journaling improves your mind-body connection, because the act of writing transmutes your thoughts and feelings onto the page, connecting your inner realm to your reality. This connection is what mindfulness is about.
And, by physically writing down your thoughts and feelings, you can examine them from a new perspective. They’re no longer swimming around your brain; they’re words on paper that you can read and reflect on.
Journaling is an important tool to protect and improve your mental health and build resilience. A great way to do this is through free writing.
Free writing can help you make sense of what youre feeling, especially when you arent sure how to describe it. It can lead to a sense of calm once youve worked through your feelings, because it allows you to address what you need to. Free writing helps you find solutions to the things youre struggling with and gain perspective on how you react to different situations.
To start free writing, you can simply do a brain dump of every negative or stressful thought in your head. Write down anything that comes to mind, or anything you’d like to process.
Or, if you prefer to use a prompt, you can start with an event or experience that upset you. Describe the event or experience in detail, then identify your reaction to the event. Write about the thoughts and feelings you experienced, then identify a lesson you can learn to react differently next time.
Journaling in itself is a mindfulness practice, and this method of journaling helps build resilience through shifting your perspective and allowing you to process your feelings and reactions.
Sometimes, when you find yourself in the middle of a panic attack or intense anxiety spiral, mindfulness is the last thing on your mind.
You won’t always have your journal with you, and it’s hard to focus on your breathing during those intense moments of fear.
So what can you do to come back to the present moment?
The first thing you can do is to get up from your current position. You can stand up where you are, or you can move to a different room, or take a short walk outside. The simple act of changing your environment or position can immediately shift your thoughts.
Next, you can try this simple 5-4-3-2-1 practice, wherever you are:
Notice 5 things you can see: this could be the sky, a pen on your desk, the color of the walls around you, anything in your environment.
Notice 4 things you can touch or feel: it could be your soft clothes, a comfy chair, the prickly grass under your feet.
Notice 3 things you can hear: it might be your stomach rumbling, but it could also be the fan blowing, a dog barking, or kids playing outside.
Notice 2 things you can smell: if you’re outside, it could be the freshly mowed grass or a flowering tree. If you’re inside, you might smell someone’s perfume, or the soap in the bathroom.
Notice 1 thing you can taste: this could be what the inside of your mouth tastes like – maybe you just took a sip of water, chewed some gum, or you can still taste what you ate for lunch.
This simple practice can help you build resilience, because it takes your focus away from the anxious or fearful emotions you were experiencing. It helps you quickly recover from a difficult situation.
3. Body Scan Exercise
We sometimes feel sensations in our body before our brain recognizes the emotions associated with those sensations.
For that reason, it’s important to notice how different parts of your body are feeling throughout the day.
Do you carry tension in your head? Your neck or shoulders? Your lower back? When you feel anxious, do you feel it in your chest or your stomach?
When you pay attention to the sensations in your body, you’ll notice stress and anxiety before it manifests as an emotion.
To practice paying attention to your body, try this body scan exercise:
Sit comfortably in a chair, or lie on the floor with your head supported. Close your eyes, or let your gaze fall gently.
Take a few deep breaths and start to release any tension you feel. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
Bring your attention to your feet. Start to wiggle your toes or feel the sensation of your feet in your socks or shoes. Notice how your feet are feeling, if there is any tension or pain. Don’t judge anything you feel, just notice it.
Next, move your attention to your ankles, calves, knees, and thighs. Notice any sensations, tension, or pain in your legs. Notice how your legs feel in your clothing. Notice without judgment.
When you’re ready, bring your attention to your pelvis and lower back. Notice any sensations here. Slowly move your attention to your mid-back, then upper back. Notice any contact with the floor or furniture.
Bring your attention to your stomach. You might notice digestive movement or the gentle rising and falling of your abdomen as you breathe. Now, slowly move your attention to your chest, and notice your heartbeat.
Gently shift your attention to your hands. Wiggle your fingers, feel the connection to the floor, your body, or the chair. Move your attention through your wrists, forearms, and upper arms. Notice any sensation here. Your right arm might feel different from your left arm – no need to judge this.
When you’re ready, move your attention to your shoulders, neck and throat. This is an area where you may feel some tension. Let go of any rigidity or tightness you’re feeling here. As you exhale, you may notice the tension releasing.
On your next breath, bring your attention to your head, scalp, and face. Notice any sensation here. Notice the air moving in and out of your nose as you breathe. Notice any eye movement.
Now, bring your attention to your body as a whole. Scan your body from the top of your head to the tip of your toes. Continue breathing and notice the gentle rhythm of your breath moving down your body.
As you come to the end of this practice, start to take a few deeper breaths. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Begin to wiggle your fingers and toes, bringing your awareness back to your environment. When you’re ready, open your eyes, and bring your attention back to the present moment.
Mindfulness helps us cope with times of uncertainty, when were afraid of the unknown. Being more mindful and resilient is about shifting our perceptions, changing our responses and reactions, and learning something new about ourselves.
Take action now: Think about a time when you had to overcome something difficult in your life. Grab your journal and write about your experience: How did you react to the situation? What emotions did you feel? Was it easy or difficult for you to bounce back? How did you cope? How could mindfulness strengthen your resilience?
Then, set an intention for yourself. Commit to practicing these exercises each day, and experimenting with what works best for you. It’s about taking small steps every day that build over time, and today is your first step.