It can be hard to feel balanced right now. Anxiety rates in the United States have increased dramatically since the start of the pandemic. Everyone is transitioning to “new normal” routines, learning how to juggle work and home obligations, under one roof and at all times. Shelter-in-place has caused many to feel restless, and they can’t get out and do the things they normally would to relieve stress. (The silver lining here? Despite the uncertainty of these times, according to Fitbit data, sleeping patterns and resting heart rates are two things that have actually improved throughout shelter-in-place lockdowns.)
“The phrase ‘unprecedented times’ has come to define the uncertain times we’re living in, experiencing what many of us could not fathom would happen, so of course worries are high, which leads to anxiety in many,” says Krista-Lynn Landolfi, a master transformation coach (MCC) and mindfulness-based stress reduction instructor (MBSR).
One of the best ways to slow minds and quell anxiety is to practice mindfulness and meditation. “Studies have shown mindfulness helps regulate our emotions, process trauma, think more clearly and quickly, manage and reduce feelings of anxiety or depression, increase our empathy and compassion, and so much more,” says Landolfi. “Mindfulness means to be present, awake and aware, focused on the present moment, not in our heads thinking about the past or future.”
Of course, staying present and reducing negative thoughts would be a great goal for COVID-19 times, but it can feel extra-hard to practice mindfulness if you’re already antsy from staying in place for too long. Here, Landolfi shares how exactly to approach your meditation practice if you’ve struggled in the past.
First, what is the difference between meditation and mindfulness?
Ever wondered? Thought so. According to Landolfi, meditation is the “act” of bringing your entire focus to something like your breath or the sensations in your body, while mindfulness is “a way of being” or “lifestyle.” Mindfulness brings awareness to the present moment. Oftentimes, “mindfulness meditation” is the practice or act of mindfulness, which is why you often see these terms together. They are very similar, so you can utilize these tips whether you’re meditating or just need to check in with yourself throughout your day (unofficially).
If it’s not working, you don’t need to sit still to meditate.
You can get quiet, sit still, dim the lights, and close the door. But if you are intimidated by meditation, because the thought of sitting in a dark, quiet room for long stretches of time seems impossible, get that out of your head before you even try. “One need not remain still to practice mindfulness, or even meditation for that matter—moving meditation is a thing,” says Landolfi. She cites gardening or mindful walking as activity-based contexts for potential meditation or mindfulness.
Tip #1: Casually check in with yourself. This doesn’t have to feel momentous. You can simply start with, “Hey, you,” says Landolfi. Pretend you’re checking in with yourself like you would your best friend. “Ask the question, then be quiet and listen, noticing sensations in your body, if you’re tense or relaxed, noting the thoughts running through your mind and emotions you feel,” she says. “Greet yourself with the same curiosity and care you’d express towards a loved one, be attentive, listen without judging or thinking about things to say, just listen.”
Tip #2: Question your feelings; consider what is, not what was or what’s going to be. Landolfi says that while humans think a lot, we tend not to self-question much. Your goal here is to ask yourself, “What is?” Consider what you are feeling, sensing in your body, your surroundings, the food you are eating, or whatever is happening in that moment. “The key is we’re not thinking, which tends to bring us into the past or the future,” she says. “Ask yourself, ‘How do I feel, right now?’” Start with your physical body, and then move into your emotions.
Tip #3: Examine your surroundings. To root yourself in the present, “pause and slowly look around, taking in your surroundings, noting what you see,” says Landolfi. Maybe that’s trees on a secluded path behind your home, or the patterns on your wallpaper. Maybe it’s the color of your oak coffee table. Maybe it’s the sound of a ticking clock, or birds chirping, “a breeze tickling your face” or “the sun heating your skin,” says Landolfi. “Our mind cannot focus on two thoughts simultaneously, so when we shift our attention to noting our surroundings, we quiet our mind.” Focus on just one thing at a time.
Tip #4: Ask yourself what you need right now. During your practice, ask yourself what needs become evident. “I add ‘right now’ to every question, because it hones in on the present moment —our most urgent needs,” says Landolfi, whether that be a walk to stretch the legs or a calming cup of tea. “The key when asking questions is to listen, not trying to force an answer or figure it out—just listening, allowing the truth to rise to the surface and reveal itself,” she says.
Tip #5: Give yourself time; meditation takes practice and is not easy to master. If you consider yourself type-A or you’re a fidgety person in general, “99.99 percent guaranteed, your psyche will resist relaxing into the moment,” says Landolfi. That’s not the problem, though. “The problem is thinking that one five-minute session of meditation is going to miraculously transform you, then dismissing the benefits of meditation because you tried it once, or a few times, and it didn’t work.”
It takes time, practice, and daily mindfulness to change your habits. Give it time. Focus on questioning yourself, gently. “Being mindful is to be aware,” says Landolfi. “Questioning brings awareness. Listening cultivates peace.”
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.