Mindfulness tools for everyday life

September 04, 2020 | by Christina (Tina) Siemsen, LCSW
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

The coronavirus has many of us preoccupied with how to avoid getting sick and what the future holds. We’re stressed. We’re stuck in a worry loop of anxious thoughts. We could use some mindfulness in our daily lives.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, a known expert in mindfulness-based stress reduction, defines mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.” Mindfulness can help us stop our mind’s constant chatter about COVID-19. It can help us center our thoughts and be in the moment.

What are some ways we can use mindfulness in our daily lives to cope with the pandemic?

Mindful breathing

  • 4-square breathing. Slowly breathe in for 4 seconds, and then hold your breath for 4 seconds. Then slowly breathe out for 4 seconds, and hold your breath for 4 seconds. Repeat this in and out pattern at least 4 times or more.
  • Balloon breathing. Place your hand(s) on your stomach. Imagine a balloon in your stomach. Each time you breathe in, imagine the balloon being blown up, expanding in your stomach. Notice your hand rise as your stomach fills. When you exhale, imagine the balloon emptying. Notice your hand fall as your stomach empties. Repeat this pattern several times.
  • 10 deep breaths. Take 10 slow, deep breaths. Focus on breathing out as slowly as possible until your lungs are completely empty, then allow them to refill by themselves. Notice the sensations of your lungs emptying and refilling. Notice your shoulders gently rising and falling.
  • Values-based breathing. Think of the person, animal or thing that is most important to you. Close your eyes and get a good picture in your mind of that person, animal or thing. As you inhale and exhale, spell out the name of the important person, animal or thing.
  • Color breathing. Sit comfortably and imagine yourself surrounded by a color of your choice. As you breathe in, imagine that color entering your body and spreading throughout your whole body. As you breathe out, visualize the color leaving your body.

Using your five senses

  • 54321. Describe to yourself five things you can see. Use as much detail as you can. Then describe to yourself four things you can hear, three things you can feel, two things you can smell and, finally, one thing you can taste.
  • Notice five things. Look around and notice five things you can see. Listen carefully and notice five things you can hear. Notice five things you can feel in contact with your body (e.g., your watch against your wrist, the air on your face). Finally, do all of the above simultaneously.

Grounding in your body

  • Drop anchor. With your feet firmly on the floor, push them down as hard as you can. Notice the feel of the floor beneath you, supporting you. Notice the tension in your legs as you push your feet down. Notice your entire body — and the feeling of gravity flowing down through your head, spine and legs into the floor. Now look around and notice what you can hear and see.
  • Body scan. Start with your toes and feet. Notice every sensation in your feet. Feel your feet on the floor, in your shoes/socks, and move your attention up to your legs. Again, notice any sensations or urges. Continue moving through your entire body, until you reach your neck and head, focusing on the sensations in each section.
  • Sit in stillness. Sit in a comfortable position without moving. Notice if you have any urges to move, such as brush your hair out of your face. Imagine the urges are waves and you are standing on a surf board, riding those waves. Notice as the urges increase and decrease without acting on them.
  • Look at your hands. Take a moment to pay close attention to one or both of your hands. Notice what they look like. What do they feel like? Are there any memories you get from taking a moment to truly look at your hands? Think of all the things your hands do for you on a daily basis. If your thoughts drift, it’s okay, gently bring your focus back to your hands.
  • Mindful walking. Walk with purpose. Notice your posture and how you hold your body. How does it feel when you walk? What muscles do you notice? The goal is to be mindful of each step, letting each one land with softness and with your full attention.

Mindfulness of daily activities

  1. Mindful listening. Spend time paying close attention to sounds. Pay attention to not only the loudest sound, but also the quiet noises in the background. Focus on the sound rather than your thoughts about the sounds. There’s no need to attempt to name them or figure out what they mean. It may help to close your eyes.
  2. Music mindfulness. Hear the music and really connect with the words. Switch off distractions. See if you can follow one aspect of the song consistently throughout (e.g., drums, violin, soprano).
  3. Mindful eating. Place your fork or spoon down after each bite. Chew and swallow your food completely before taking another bite. Taste your food like it is the first time you have eaten. In as much detail as possible, attend to taste, smell, colors and texture. Take your time to eat, rather than gobble it down quickly.
  4. Mindful handwashing. When you wash your hands, focus on what you are doing and the sensations you experience: body movements, taste, touch, smell, sight, sound. When thoughts arise, notice what distracted you and bring your attention back to the activity. Try this for other daily activities.
  5. Mindful driving. When you drive, notice the sensations of the car, your physical contact with the car (e.g., where your hands touch the steering wheel, foot on gas/brake). Turn off the radio and listen to the sounds of the car.
  6. Notice connections. Notice how things are connected where they come together (e.g., a leaf to the stem, a branch to a tree, a drawer handle to the drawer). See how many kinds of connections you can discover.
  7. Draw something. Draw in as much detail as you possibly can. Let go of any tendency to judge if the drawing is turning out well. Focus instead on really looking, making no assumption that you know what it looks like, and draw what you see. Include as much detail as possible.

Keep in mind, during these activities you may notice anxious thoughts still pop into your head, and that is okay. The work with mindfulness is noticing these things without focusing on them and letting them pass, then re-focusing on the activity at hand.

If you or a member of your family would benefit from working with a therapist, please contact Linden Oaks Behavioral Health at 630-305-5027 for a free behavioral health assessment.

For updates on our planning and response efforts as we work to stop the spread of COVID-19, please check EEHealth.org/coronavirus.

Get more information about coronavirus from Healthy Driven Chicago.

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