A local mindfulness expert gives her top tips on how you can maintain your mental health during these unusual times.
No doubt, we have found ourselves in a strange and admittedly stressful situation, where most of us who are not key workers are spending almost all of our time at home. No matter who you are, you may be feeling worried and anxious.
We talked to Karen Liebenguth, an accredited mindfulness expert who lives locally and runs sessions in Victoria Park, using the scientifically proven positive effects of nature on our wellbeing. She explains the science behind why we may be feeling the way we do.
‘Times like these force us to see that nothing is certain. Our hard-wired fight-flight-freeze survival response gets triggered and if we remain in this heightened alert state for a prolonged time, it can affect our physical and mental wellbeing.’
So how do we control our fight-flight response, and keep our spirits up? After all, just as we may exercise to keep our body healthy, we should also take care of our minds.
Liebenguth gives us mindfulness tips that will help you get through this time.
Connect with nature
Spending time in nature is good for our physical and mental wellbeing.It reduces stress levels and helps to calm the mind. Rather than feeling lost in fearful and anxious thoughts about the future, nature grounds us. It also stimulates new ways of thinking and creativity. Set an intention to get out at least once a day.
The garden is a trusted friend. Spring invites us back into our gardens to prepare the soil for new growth. Gardening can anchor us in the here and now and help us to take a broader perspective on things. Even growing plants in window boxes or on the balcony can bring great joy.
Visiting Tower Hamlets’ green spaces
With Victoria Park now closed, see it as an opportunity to explore the many other green spaces in your neighbourhood that are still open and for us to enjoy on foot or on bike: Well Street Common (just off Victoria Park Road), Mile End Park, Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, the beautiful Olympic Park and Lee Valley Park, as well as the Tow Path along Regent’s Canal.
However, we know that many of you live in flats, or somewhere without a garden.
If you don’t have a garden or are unable to venture outside, here’s how you can still connect to nature from home.
- Step to the window several times a day
- Take 3 conscious deep breaths
- Look at the sky, really look at the formation of the clouds or the different shades of blue or grey, depending on the weather. Why not take some inspiration from local photographer Phil Verney?
- Spend a quiet moment, take 3 more conscious breaths, notice how you are feeling now.
The Four Elements Exercise
Find a quiet, comfortable and if possible, undisturbed, spot in your home and do the exercise below for ten minutes. You can also practice together with your partner, spouse, children or housemates.
Plant the soles of your feet firmly on the floor and rest your hands gently in your lap. Poise your upper body with your face soft and relaxed.
- Earth: Notice the solidity of the earth beneath your feet, sense how the earth is holding your whole body. Notice the bones in your body as firm as the element earth.
- Water: Bring to mind a nearby river, stream, sea or the rain, or the water coming out of your kitchen and shower tap. Tune into the softness and fluidity of water. Notice how it is fluid that keeps your body alive. Can you get a sense of the blood flowing through your veins?
- Fire: Imagine and feel the warmth and energy of the sun on your skin, the heat of a wood fire or radiator in your home. Now imagine and feel your body temperature, the temperature of your skin, the warmth of your heart radiating well-wishing and kindness.
- Air: Imagine the freshness of spring air on your face, is it cool or soft? Both?
Then notice your breath, soft air floating in and out of your body; really sense the subtle movements of the breath in your body (belly and chest).
At the end of this practice, take a moment and sit quietly and absorb the effect it has on you. Notice how you are feeling.
Mindfulness exercises you can do everyday
Turning your daily activities into moments where you pause, take a breath, and truly pay attention to the detail of what you are doing – no matter how mundane – is part of being mindful. Mindfulness is a practice that is even prescribed by the NHS to reduce stress and anxiety.
You can do these exercises from inside the house. If you spend the day mainly sitting, get up regularly and refresh your body by doing these stretches below.
Lift your hands above your head and point your fingertips to the ceiling, give your whole body a good stretch; do some shoulder rolls forwards, then backwards.
Then do some neck rolls, paying attention to the sensations in your neck and do some hip rotations.
Then finally shake your whole body at the end of the sequence – legs, arms, upper torso.
Notice the good to foster wellbeing and resilience
Throughout the day, notice positive and enjoyable sensations around you.
It could be the warmth of the sun, the spring blossom, a tasty meal, a smile from a neighbour, a cuddle with your dog or cat, a piece of delicious chocolate.
Perhaps it comes in the form of a helping hand, a laugh shared, a call or hello from a dear friend or loved one.
Turn washing your hands into a mindful moment; invite your awareness to the sensation of the water and the soap on your hands, the temperature of the water on your skin.
Having a mindful cup of tea or coffee
Find a comfortable spot in your home to sit and enjoy your drink for 10-15 minutes without using any of your electronic devices.
It’s a precious time to restore, relax the mind and to take a broader perspective on things.
Pause several times a day to set your intentions. And from this place, wish yourself and others well.
Hold them in your mind: colleagues, friends, loved ones, people in your neighbourhood, in your borough, throughout the world… Remember that yes, physically we distance ourselves from others right now but we are all here and in it together; connected.
One of the keys to reducing stress, panic and anxiety and increasing resilience is self-kindness.
When we become more aware of our habitual reactions, we often don’t like what we notice and tend to judge ourselves harshly. This adds more unnecessary suffering.
Bringing kindness, curiosity, acceptance and friendliness to ourselves. Saying, “This is how I react and feel, this is human, others react and feel this way”, helps us to avoid getting caught up in negative emotions.
Self-kindness helps us to become more emotionally robust and resilient.
Reduce information input
Pay attention to how often you watch or listen to the news. Decide to watch or read the news two or three times a day but no more. Our mind often suffers from over-stimulation due to information overload. It dulls and clouds the mind, puts it into high alert mode and fosters negative emotion.
This time of radical change can be an immense opportunity to return to simple things: stillness, beauty, patience, compassion for self and others, mindfulness or awareness of what’s around us, right now, right here.
Karen Liebenguth lives locally and is a certified life coach who runs a practice on Lyal Road.
She is an accredited mindfulness teacher and mindfulness expert with over 12 years experience. On top of her usual services she is currently offering 30-minute online meditation and mindfulness sessions with a selection of limited free, and donation-based places. For more information on Karen’s work, visit her website: www.greenspacecoaching.com.
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