The following article was originally published in U.S. News and World Report on April 29, 2020.
THE NEWS ABOUT COVID-19 is relentless. Couple that with isolation, financial worries, new family or home-schooling responsibilities, college-aged children making an unexpected return home and, in the worst-case scenario, the illness itself, and you have a recipe for tremendous levels of stress.
But first, what exactly is mindfulness?
Being mindful involves the nonjudgmental awareness of the sensations, thoughts and emotions of the present moment. It allows you to choose a more appropriate response to what is happening around you rather than acting automatically or without thinking.
Consider incorporating one or more of the following mindfulness techniques into your daily routine:
Most people think of yoga, tai chi or qigong when they think of mindful movement – and these are all fantastic options. But walking, running, cycling and rowing can also be mindful if you remove distractions, both internal and external, and focus on the repetition of the movement, your breathing pattern and the way your body feels as it moves through space.
There are many types of meditation practices, but if you're new to meditation or just want a way to relax during these stressful times, keep it simple.
Find or create a distraction-free zone and sit or lie down – whatever is most comfortable – for 10 or 15 minutes of quiet time or prayer. Try to disregard thoughts as they arise and instead focus on your breathing. Another type of meditation involves contracting and relaxing your muscles, starting at your toes and moving through each muscle group until you reach the muscles of your face and head. Finally, there are countless phone apps and YouTube videos with guided meditation, which can be a great place to start.
Breathing exercises are sometimes performed in combination with meditation, but they can also be performed on their own. As few as 10 mindful breaths can relax the mind and body and allow you to refocus.
There are a number of techniques you can explore, including diaphragmatic breathing and pursed-lip breathing, but here is a simple way to start: Put one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. Breathe slowly and be aware of how the air moves in and out of your body, inflating and deflating with each breath.
Preparing a healthy meal is a great way to have quality family time while doing something that is good for you. And once you sit down to eat, take the time to savor the meal while thinking about the taste, texture, smell and look of your food – as well as the health and nutrition it provides.
Artistic expression – no matter your chosen medium – can be very freeing and supportive of your mental health. So, pick up a pen, paintbrush, guitar or your dancing shoes and lose yourself in the artistic expression.
Being mindful is a form of self-care, no matter what form it takes. Whether you do it through art, physical activity, meditation, prayer, reading, playing music or journaling, be very intentional about making time to focus on yourself.