In the midst of this.
In these days of global pandemic our first priority is to save and protect life and I am hoping that everything I am doing and the way that I am now living reflects this basic intention. But our mental well-being, too, will be so important as we seek to manage anxiety, keep ourselves steady and keep making good decisions in the midst of it all.
The phrase ‘in the midst of this’ is one we use sometimes in guided practice as a reminder that mindfulness is not just something we do when we can get away from it all but is something which is intended very much to be a resource in the midst of life – whatever we are facing. So here are some thoughts which may be helpful ‘in the midst’ of whatever you are facing in these difficult times.
But first just to acknowledge that people may be reading this in very different circumstances. For some suddenly life has become truly frantic and there is no choice in this – this is simply what is required of us in these times, or what we have chosen to do in response to need. For others, though, life has suddenly become very quiet and the usual things which keep us focused and reasonably balanced in ourselves have disappeared. And in each group there are those who will be thriving on these new circumstances and those for whom they are a real challenge.
In fact our circumstances are so varied that it is difficult to get a sense of what one or two things might be helpful to write about but I thought I’d start with my own experience in the midst of it all which is noticing the difficulty in managing mood swings.
It might be interesting to note just how much we manage our moods by what we do and the routine of our lives. In my piece on Managing Anxiety (https://timsteadmindfulness.wordpress.com/troubled-times/) I reflected on just how much what we do (because it involves where I place my attention) affects our mood and sense of well-being. In which case, perhaps it is not such a surprise that with these very different circumstances our moods (high, low, anxious, excited etc.) can be thrown off key a bit. I find I am steadiest when I have just enough, but not too much work to be getting on with (whether paid work or domestic tasks) and it is when there is nothing that I have to do (even though there is still plenty I could do) that I become a bit more vulnerable. This can come as a vague sense of dis-ease, anxious thoughts taking over, self-critical thoughts or just an undefined listlessness. And if these moods get the better of me they can be quite debilitating as they flood into the gaps of all the space which is now here (and which, of course, I had so longed for previously).
‘Mindfulness of moods’
The first rule of mindfulness is to keep ourselves safe and to do whatever works for us in terms of steering us away from a downward spiral. And very often this can be our old friend ‘wise distraction’! – just do something which shifts the attention to something more positive and encouraging – or at least away from anything which may be causing the anxiety or low mood.
But the second rule is always ‘awareness’ – if I feel steady enough is it possible to bring some degree of awareness to what is actually going on for me? This is not about trying to fix or sort or change my mood but rather about throwing some light on it by actually turning towards it.
So this is what I have been trying to do – sometimes, when I feel able – and I have found this helpful. And I have three ‘R’s which I follow which help me.
First: Recognise what is here. This involves me simply saying to myself ‘ah, here it is – my mood has noticeably shifted and I don’t like it’. But then making a conscious decision to sit down and pay it a bit of attention. All I am doing really is acknowledging what is here – I’m not trying to understand it or analyse it let alone fix it but just to recognise it for what it is. One of the things I have begun to notice as I do this is what time of day I seem to be most vulnerable – which is mid-afternoon for me. That’s quite helpful actually as I can then be a bit more ready for it. I can also remember that old maxim that ‘even this will pass’ – that moods are passing phenomena affected by so many things and so usually it is not really worth analysing. The important thing is simply to notice what is here and to know that it will pass.
My second ‘R’ is to Resource myself. And this just means to take a moment to bring a bit of care towards myself. This might involve spending a few moments reconnecting with my breathing or breathing with my body sensations. It might involve a three stage breathing space if you are familiar with that, or it might involve showing myself some compassion. But just something which acknowledges, against whatever backdrop of self-critical thoughts might be there, that there is a person suffering here and that they (me) could do with a bit of care.
And then my third ‘R’ is now to Respond – which is now to make some decision about what to do next. And usually I will make a better decision about what to do if I have been through the first two ‘R’s. The question I might offer myself at this point is: ‘what would support my own well-being in this moment?’. And even if my main concern is to support others, responding wisely to this question will always be the first part of how I can get to a place where I can do this. In my own case sometimes I have sat and meditated a bit longer, sometimes I have chosen to do some simple practical task, sometimes I have gone for a walk and a few times I have phoned a friend. You will make your own choice but probably the most important thing is that you have made a definite choice – not whether it is in some way a ‘right’ choice.
Anyway, I wish you all well as you seek to keep yourself both safe and well during these times.