Being mindful in the face of uncertainty.

HeidiPerera

Written by Heidi Perera
(Senior Occupational Therapist).
18th February, 2020.

In the face of uncertainty, all we have is the present.

Mindfulness is something that most of us have probably heard about by now. It has become more mainstream over recent years, but it’s actually an ancient Buddhist tradition which dates back thousands of years (it doesn’t conflict with any religious beliefs or traditions you
may currently hold).

Put simply, mindfulness means “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” (Jon-Kabat Zinn, 1994, p.4).

Like anything, it is a skill that we can develop. And an extremely useful skill for getting us through the current situation in the world, if we can learn to harness it. At the moment, what our nervous system needs is (very) regular doses of calm, so that we have the strength
to deal with what is happening around us. Mindfulness is one way we can give this to our nervous system. This in turn helps to reduce the impact of current events on our mental health and pain levels.

In response to the current state of the world, we are all experiencing a variety of (not so pleasant) emotions. These can include: anxiety, fear, sadness, resentment, anger, hostility, frustration, sadness, powerlessness, lonely, confusion, and overwhelm. Many of these emotions stem from the lack of control that we have over our current situation.

One starting point of being mindful in the moment is considering:

  • What am I in control of here?
  • What can I still choose?
  • What do I have in my own toolkit to help me cope?

This might include things such as:

  • What and how much information we consume
  • Emotional acceptance
  • Our self-care
  • Our environment
  • How we spend our time
  • With who we spend our time

What and how much information we consume.
You can choose whether to watch that media program, or scroll further on social media.
Notice and be mindful – what impact is it having on your emotional state?
If it’s not helpful – don’t use it, or limit the amount of time you use it.
Also consider where you are getting your information from – make sure it is from reliable sources such as the Australian Government, Department of health or World Health Organisation.

Emotional Acceptance
One of the key components of being mindful is noticing, rather than reacting to, our emotions. This is particularly important with unpleasant or uncomfortable emotions. One way to do this is to imagine the emotion as a wave, coming and going.
We suffer more when fight reality. It’s tempting to say to ourselves things such as “it shouldn’t be like this” – but the reality is, it is. It’s not saying you like the situation. It’s just acknowledging that it is what it is.

Some quick steps to emotional acceptance:

1. OBSERVE – bring awareness to the feelings in your body
2. BREATHE – take a few deep breaths
3. EXPAND – make room for these feelings
4. ALLOW – them to be there. Don’t fight them.

Self-care
Choose self-care practices that are nourishing and nurturing for you. You can be mindful by noticing the warmth of your shower, or the taste of your food. Take a long bath, read a good book, enjoy your cup of tea…take a moment to yourself.

Environment
Create an environment that is soothing, using your five senses (taste, sight, touch, sound, smell) and encourages you to connect with what is around you. This could include things such as plants in your garden, the smell of a candle, or playing calming music.

How we spend our time
With most of our regular routines disrupted at the moment, we can take some steps to implement a new routine for ourselves. As humans we tend to like consistency and predictability – so taking control of your routine can help combat some of the feelings of uncertainty. Think creatively, write a list of ideas for your leisure time, get outdoors where you can, think of new projects…

Make sure you include a balance of self-care, productive (home management and work), leisure and social activities. And don’t forget the essentials such as regular sleep, eating, drinking water, exercise and relaxation – these are the building blocks for your day. Stay focused on these tasks as you do them – again, being mindful and in the present.

There are many free meditation-based apps out there these days (try Smiling Mind as a good starter) if you would like to try and incorporate a formal mindfulness practice too.

With who we spend our time
Stay connected with the people that support you (both personally and professionally). Choose supports that are helpful and nurturing for you, and help you to feel calm. When you are with them (whether that’s in person, on video or via phone) – take time to really listen, and make eye contact.

At Lifeworks Occupational Therapy, we are here to continue to help you through this time. We have telephone and online consultations (telehealth) available, and face to face consultations in certain circumstances where telehealth is not suitable.
Stay tuned also for some videos aimed at helping you through this time, incorporating some of the ideas above and more.

And finally – A simple mindfulness practice to start…
At certain points of the day (for example, on waking, at lunchtime, before bed) – do three slow, full abdominal breaths. Try to count to four on the inhale, and to four on the exhale, pausing briefly at the end of your inhale and exhale.

It might look something like this:

  • Inhale (2, 3, 4)…pause…exhale (2, 3, 4)… pause
  • Inhale (2, 3, 4)…pause…exhale (2, 3, 4)… pause
  • Inhale (2, 3, 4)…pause…exhale (2, 3, 4)… pause

Notice your breath, and where you can feel it in your body. Don’t try and change anything – just sit with what is there.

Reference:
1. Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever You Go, There You Are.

Being mindful in the face of uncertainty

COVID-19 Update

We hope you are safe and well, and coping with all the changes to our lives that have occurred due to COVID-19.  We would like to let you know that we are here to support you, and are continuing to provide occupational therapy services. We have temporarily ceased any clinic-based consultations in order to reduce any risk to our clients and our staff. All of our staff are now currently working from home.  Our preference is to provide OT services as much as possible via telehealth.  This means either telephone or online consultations.  This is the best way to still provide services and remove any risk of infection.  We understand however, that for some of our clients, this is neither suitable or possible. Where telehealth is not appropriate, and an occupational therapy service is essential, we are continuing to see clients in their homes or in the community. We do this with all the physical distancing and hygiene precautions in place.
We will contact you prior to your appointment to see if it is possible for us to provide your service via telehealth. If it is not possible and we are planning to come to your home, please let us know if you or anyone in your household are unwell with any symptoms of COVID-19, such as a fever, cough or sore throat.
We care very much about our clients and staff and we would like to reassure you that we are doing our best to keep surfaces and our hands clean and will maintain a safe physical distance during home visits.  This means we will not shake hands when we greet you, and will only use direct hands on contact when essential.

If you are well and we come to see you at home or in the community, please:

  • Maintain a 1.5 metre physical distance where possible.
  • Wash or sanitise your hands before and after appointments where possible.
  • If you need to cough or sneeze, please use a tissue and dispose of it or cover your mouth and nose with your elbow.
  • Refrain from having additional family members/carers with you if possible as the less people in contact with everyone the better.
We know that at this time some of our clients may be finding it particularly difficult with increased isolation, anxiety or a reduction in their usual supports and services.  We would like you to know that if this applies to you, please reach out to us to ask for help, and we will try our best to help you access the support you need.

We sincerely appreciate your understanding of the above. If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact us.  

Best Wishes
The Lifeworks Occupational Therapy Team