Mindfulness Blog: Part 1 - East Cheshire Hospice

Mindfulness Blog: Part 1

Mindfulness – A blog by East Cheshire Hospice’s Lindsay Dobson

We are living through something none of us have ever experienced before. Through a time when fear and grief as well as kindness and compassion has brought the world together. It’s impossible to avoid or ignore this, especially when you’re working with those who need your care, or you yourself are at home, due to the risk you face.

Whilst I cannot be there in person and can only imagine the challenges you face right now.  I thought I would offer some of the things that have helped me face challenges.  Mindfulness is one I know most of you are aware I use daily to help me through.

So if it will be of help, I will offer what I know as some short bitesize practices you can use at home or work, at any time that emotions or life starts to feel to overwhelming to deal with and there is nobody to turn to. Mindfulness cannot take away our fear or grief, but it can help us hold it gently and learn to walk with the weight of it. It can also help us get back in touch with our compassion, when we are so worn down by grief that it threatens to consume us.

It sounds like something amazing, and for some it can be. The research has shown, we can change our brains by how we think and what we do. Whenever we practice a relaxation or choose to sit with our feelings and thoughts, we change our brain. By the simple act of reading this, your brain will respond and change and be a slightly different brain than when you started. We know the more you do something, the stronger the connections in your brain will become. So the more you meditate or practice mindfulness the stronger you get at it and the more it will help.  So practice when you’re calm, so that when things are chaos, it’s there as a ‘go to’. What we practice becomes permanent, so practice peace and kindness with yourself and that is what you will become, not only for yourself but for others. But it’s hard – our brains are biologically wired to respond to fear and threat so that is what we will go to, as a matter of survival.  So we have to take the time out, to practice calm, to anchor it in our being so it’s there when the brain starts to tell us to panic!

I wanted to start by exploring the fact our body and our brain are intricately linked. How we act, how we stand and move and how we breath impacts how we feel and think and vice versa. In fact, science has shown us that one of the fastest and most efficient ways of calming down is through our breath. Sometimes we cannot force our mind to stop the thoughts that race through it, or calm down just because we tell it to. But, we can change our breath. When we are scared how do we breathe? Just take a moment, perhaps to check in right now with how you are breathing.

When we are anxious our body needs oxygen fast, we breathe fast and shallow into the top portion of our lungs, the in breath is longer than the out breath – useful to know if you need to energise yourself! Big deep in breaths energise the body and brain and get it ready for action! This can help when we are tired and worn down and need that boost of energy to get us through the next bit. But what if we need to calm down? Then we invite the breath to go deeper, into the belly, and we have a longer out breath.

You can try this now;

Start by just noticing your breath again, don’t try to change it, just notice it.

Count how many seconds you breath in for and how many you breath out for.

Gradually (but only if it feels comfortable, because any effort takes us back into action mode so we want this to stay relaxed and easy) add one second to the out breath only. Until you find a comfortable rhythm where the out breath is longer than the in breath.

How do you feel after doing that for a few breaths?

So that is one little tip that might help – when you notice you’re caught in a big emotions, become aware of how you’re breathing and just take a moment to adjust it – big inhales if you need energising because you can’t get off the floor and extend the exhale gently if you need to calm and centre.

Another support I have is remembering to just be in this moment, right now, however it is. We tend to worry about the things that happened in the past, and what will happen in the future. We miss out on now, and to be honest, that’s so easy to do in our current situation! I find myself worrying about how I could have done things differently before we were sent into lock down – “should I have gone to the hospital that day”? “Was my desk tidy”, “had I done all I needed to do?” “Oh gosh, we shouldn’t have taken that walk” blah blah blah or “what if my child gets this??” “How long will be here?” “Will we miss the whole summer?” – I’m sure you can see how those thoughts just wind me up to be more anxious? Yours will be just as bad, if not worse and about so many many things. I remind myself to be grateful for this moment right now! We are safe, we are well right now with this breath it’s all ok. I can’t change the past, and the future… well I can do what I need to try to keep us safe, but then it’s out of my hands. So to breath and just be in right now.

Of course we will have moments when right now is not even ok, when its all tumbling out of control, when the oxygen is not working and things are not improving and we don’t even have time to worry about past or future and then my breath is the only thing that helps me focus on right now and what needs to be done. I take a second to feel my feet on the floor, to breath in, and let the exhale slowly extend. I allow myself to feel however I am feeling and then do what needs to be done. If I have the luxury of doing that for as long as I need to I do! I take my time to feel the floor beneath me, how it holds me up, and to focus on my exhales and let them extend, but if I don’t, just doing that for one breath or two, can bring me back to a calmer place then I would otherwise be.

But for it to help most then, we need to practice it each day. So I invite you to find a time each day, it might be a certain time and day and you might practice it for five mins or just one. It might just be when you remember, or find yourself at a loose end. But if you can spend a moment or more each day, to notice your body, your feet on the ground, the touch of a hand, to notice your breath and let the exhale extend and to focus on whatever is in front of you right now in this moment. Because every time we practice doing that, we strengthen the brain’s ability to do it, not just in moments of calm but in moments of chaos too. So that soon it becomes a reflex that when things get tough your body and brain know how to calm and centre and become your ally.

Take gentle care of yourself.

Lindsay x

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