Mindfulness during corona-virus: 10 tips and activities to try during lock-down

July 13, 2020

Since the pandemic started spreading around the world, many of us have found ourselves living life under lockdown. With more time spent at home - and alone - there has never been a better time to start practicing mindfulness. 

In the second installment of our series on 100 Health Hacks for 2020, we channeled our inner Zen to explain how you can set your mind on a path to calmness and happiness. This handy guide should put you on the right path to enjoy a stress-free lockdown and some serenity during these strange times.

 

Mindfulness tips

1. Embrace inbox infinity

Studies show the average person sends and receives over 100 emails a day, checks their inbox 77 times, and spends 3.2 hours of their working day on emails.

Which is a whole lot of time wasted. Jocelyn K Glei, author of Unsubscribe: How To Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distraction and Get Real Work Done, claims email is a time-wasting epidemic in the workplace: “Scientists have even established a clear link between spending time on email and stress,” she says. “In other words, the more you check your emails the more stressed you’ll feel.”

What’s the answer? Step forward, ‘inbox infinity’, which is the exact opposite of striving for ‘inbox zero’. While the latter is the never-ending quest for a clean inbox, the former is simply accepting the number of emails in your inbox will always be infinite.

Some devotees of 'inbox infinity' set up a permanent out-of-office advising people they only check them intermittently, if at all, while others simply ignore or delete messages guilt-free.

If you’re not brave enough for that (or you don’t think your boss would accept “but I’m embracing inbox infinity” as an excuse for ignoring his emails) try these tips from Jocelyn instead: only check your emails at set times rather than every five minutes; never hit ‘reply to all’ unless necessary; hide your inbox so you can’t see emails pop up while you’re working; and know it’s OK to ignore some emails.

 

2. Channel your inner tiger with the 3-4-5 breathing technique

 

Look of calm: Tiger Woods relaxes after winning the Masters in 2019

 

When eventual winner Tiger Woods played the final hole of last year's Masters, he looked a bit, well... out of it.

A steely glare came over his face and you could literally see his diaphragm responding as he concentrated on his breathing. That, says mindset coach Caroline Britton, is how he managed to take home the tournament.

“No matter what situation we are in, if we can learn to dissociate ourselves from the thoughts and the tricks that our minds can play on us, that's where success lies. Tiger Woods was using a combination of very clever breathing techniques alongside clear visualisations of him winning. A complete focus on what he was going to do.

“The simple way to anchor yourself in the present is the 3-4-5 breath, which is just breathing in for three seconds, holding it for four seconds, and breathing out for five seconds,” says Britton. “That enables a lovely flow, with your diaphragm expanding and the deep breaths coming in. It grounds you in the moment.

“If you can try to integrate the 3-4-5 breath into your daily life, you should. I'd say set a timer on your phone, three times a day, morning, lunchtime and evening, for two minutes each. That's a really good start for anybody.”

 

3. Meditate on your commute (without others noticing)

Studies have shown that the longer the commute, the more cortisol is released into the body, which leads to greater levels of perceived stress and reduced concentration. Hence why 'commute meditation' is growing in popularity.

Jillian Lavender, the founder of the London Mediation Center who offers a simple technique for mindful travelling. She calls it “coming to your senses” and emphasizes that you don’t even need to close your eyes (so you won't attract the glare of other commuters).

If you are still travelling to work during lockdown, here's how to relieve any coronavirus anxiety and calm your headspace for the day ahead.

  • Simply sit or stand somewhere and take a moment to get comfortable. Begin with the sense of sound. Take 20 seconds and note the noises around you – loud and subtle, near and far.
  • Move to the sense of sight. Take 20 seconds and note what you can see around you in that moment – colours, texture, light and shadow.
  • Next, take 20 seconds to note what aromas are in the air – food, perfume, humidity.
  • Now take 20 seconds to note the various tastes in your mouth – toothpaste, coffee, chewing gum.
  • Finally, move on to the sense of touch. Take another 20 seconds and note what you feel – the textures of your clothes, the temperature of the air, the weight of your limbs.

"By taking a few moments (probably less than two minutes) we wake up each of the senses, take ourselves away from the ‘mental chatter’ in our head and return to what’s actually happening in the present moment," explains Lavender. "It is from this place of alertness that we can regain our spark and readiness for action." And arrive at our destination less frazzled than usual. 

4. Keep a spending log

If there’s one thing that drives us all to distraction it’s money. Whether you have too much or too little, planning our financial matters can send even the most rational person into despair. 

But the Japanese have created the perfect way to stop money matters from causing you too much strain. Kakeibo is the Japanese art of saving – and being more mindful of – money, and it involves running a five-step process money journal. 

On the first page of your journal, start by writing down your money goals and how much you’d like to save. You’ll be reviewing this each week and month to check your progress, so make sure whatever your goal is, it's achievable. 

Next up, calculate how much money is available to you each week and month after bills. 

Then keep a weekly spending log. Write down everything from that daily flat white to the payday shopping spree. By forcing yourself to write it down and confront your spending, you may find yourself less willing to shop ‘til you drop in the first place. In other words, you'll become more mindful of your money. 

At the end of every week and month, come back to your journal and review your purchases. 

Finally, having reviewed your spending, compare it to your overall money goal. What could you be doing to improve and help make it towards the goal? Once you’ve figured out a plan, write that down too. 

5. Unlock your inner creativity and ease your anxiety

In her book The Artist’s Way, artist and teacher Julia Cameron describes how she teaches creative unblocking. She begins by requiring her students to do a task called 'the morning pages'.

Put an A5 notebook and pen by your bed. As soon as you wake each morning, fill three pages of your notebook with whatever comes to your mind – what you dreamt, what you hope to accomplish that day, any worries or other thoughts – in whatever order it comes. Cameron’s aim is to help students empty their mind of the content she believes stands between the artist and their creative ideas.

While Cameron isn't particularly concerned with the content, psychological well-being is. This is raw material, the issues and concerns that really matter to you and that may – without you knowing it – be sabotaging your ability to focus on the demands of your day. What’s that obligation you’ve been avoiding? Who’s the person you should contact and offer an apology? Now that you’re aware of these thoughts, you can if you wish do something about them.

 

6. Indulge nostalgia

Have you ever been caught off-guard by a reminder of the past? A waft of perfume, or the car at the traffic lights blaring the soundtrack to your teen summers? Something that gives you a warm fuzzy feeling associated with happy memories.

But while nostalgia can often be brought about by coincidence, we can also deliberately choose to experience it by reminiscing – indulging in a favourite film (despite knowing the script off by heart), or looking at old photographs. 

And indulging this rose-tinted emotion can have genuine benefits for us all.

“Research has shown that nostalgia can help all of us to feel more socially connected with one another,” says Anna Gammond, a mental health specialist nurse advisor at Bupa. Some studies have even suggested that it might alleviate feelings of loneliness, contributing instead to a sense of belonging. 

“After engaging in nostalgic reflection, people feel more socially valued, loved, socially confident, and optimistic about being able to form and maintain close relationships,” says Clay Routledge, professor of psychology at North Dakota State University. 

It also reinforces self-continuity (a sense that your past is interwoven with your present), and a sense of personal identity. 

 

7. A morning breathing technique that brings you to your senses

How about spending three minutes each morning in a way that sets a positive tone for the rest of your day? 

As soon as you wake, rather than forcing yourself to launch straight into the usual demands of your daily life, stop. Sit up in bed in a comfortable position, arms resting on your lap and knees slightly bent. Bring to mind one activity you’re looking forward to during the day. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a big event – the completion of some major project at work perhaps – or just a moment of delight – reading your child their favorite story tonight at bedtime, treating yourself to a particularly nice sandwich at lunch time, or knowing you’ll enjoy a few moments more daylight today compared to yesterday.

While you focus on that positive moment that’s waiting for you, take 20 slow, comfortable breaths. Each time, breathe in through your nose, pause, then breathe out through your mouth, as slowly as you can while still comfortable. 

Use all your senses as you focus on that positive moment, what you’ll see, smell, touch and hear. At the end of 20 breaths, allow the image to fade. Then get up and begin your usual routine.

What you’ve done in only about three minutes is dampen any cortisol or adrenaline surges and balance your oxygen levels, while at the same time bringing positivity to the forefront of your mind. In effect, you’ve tuned your mind and body to be maximally sensitive to what goes well today, rather than what does not.

 

8. Boost your brainpower with vocab

Researchers at the Universities of Pennsylvania, California Riverside and Montana have been working to identify activities that make us happier, smarter and more satisfied with life. They all agree that learning something new, something that’s personally meaningful and is practiced regularly, contributes to wellbeing. And if that activity allows us to communicate more clearly and increase IQ as well, so much the better.

Learning a new word every day is an ideal way to do this – and we have plenty of choice. There are over 47,000 words currently in use in English. Most of us have a vague idea what about half of them means, yet most days we only use around 5,000-10,000. It’s high time to wake up that dormant vocabulary and then add to it, don’t you think?

It’s really easy to do this. You can open a dictionary at random and choose an unfamiliar word, or you could start jotting down words you encounter that you don’t understand and choose from that list. 

You’ll be astonished at how much more clearly you’ll start to understand the world around and within you when you have just the right words to encapsulate what’s happening.

9. Be a better breather

The average person breathes in and out over 23,000 times per day, and the majority of those breaths are short, shallow ones that just about reach the chest. "Or what I call 'stress breaths'," says Rebecca Dennis, author of And Breathe: The Complete Guide to Conscious Breathing for Health and Happiness. 

"We’re born with the ability to breathe properly. If you look at babies they take big, beautiful breaths that fill their bellies with air causing it to expand, and then flatten when they breathe out. Children breathe this way too. But by adulthood, many of us are too busy to breathe properly and take short, shallow breaths."  Rebecca says the effects of these half-breaths can include raised heart rate, tension in the shoulders and jaw, digestive problems, anxiety, stress and sleep issues.

"When you feel frenetic, take a moment to pay attention to your breathing and think about what your breath is expanding – is it your belly, or just your chest?" says Dennis. "If it’s the latter, take a deep breath in through your nose until you feel your belly expand. Then breathe out slowly. Do this a few times."

Or try Alternative Nostril Breathing, which encourages deep, slow breathing and relaxes the nervous system. Use your right thumb to close your right nostril, inhale through your left nostril and then close the left nostril with your fingers. Open the right nostril and exhale through it.  Then, inhale through the right nostril and then close this nostril and open the left nostril and exhale through the left side. 

10. Get gardening

Light gardening can mimic the effects of exercise, including lowering blood pressure and improving mood and self esteem, finds a study published in the International Journal of Environment Health Research.

It follows another study from Essex and Westminster universities that found just half an hour a week on an allotment results in less stress and fatigue, as well as boosting self-esteem and overall good health. The researchers also found the regular gardeners were less likely to be overweight, less prone to depression and anxiety, and had more energy.

And ditch the gardening gloves: another study, from the University of Bristol, has found that bacteria found in soil can boost levels of serotonin, the body’s ‘happy hormones’. Soil contains a bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae, which gets absorbed through our fingers and palms and triggers the release of serotonin, which is a natural mood lifter.

Other studies show that exposure to dirt can lead to a more diverse, and therefore healthier, gut bacteria which can benefit overall health, including emotional wellbeing. “By throwing out antibacterial hand washes, which wipe out beneficial bacteria, and increasing your exposure to dirt by working in your garden and buying organic vegetables with soil still clinging to their roots, we can improve our health,” says Dr Josh Axe, a nutritionist and author of Eat Dirt.

About the Author Leo Babauta

Leo Babauta’s philosophy, the Zen Habits blog keeps things simple and clear. You’ll notice a difference from other blogs right away. The site has a no-frills design, using black text against a solid white background with no ads or images. Posts address a variety of topics, like how to reduce procrastination and tips to develop new thinking patterns and skills.


Subscribe