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Being mindful in the face of uncertainty

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.

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.

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.

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

Heidi is a qualified Occupational Therapist with over 20 years of experience in both community and inpatient mental health settings. She specializes in case management, psychoeducation, counselling, functional assessment, psychosocial rehabilitation, and individual and group therapies. Heidi is trained in various therapeutic techniques, including DBT, ACT, and CBT. She is also a registered OT with the Occupational Therapy Board of Australia and an endorsed BAMH practitioner. In her free time, Heidi enjoys yoga, walking, and spending time with her family.

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