Life is always unpredictable but I think we can safely say it’s never been so wildly unpredictable as it has these last 18 months.
COVID-19 has changed the world as we know it, and so having a positive and productive outlook on life has never felt so important.
Despite the challenges we have faced, there are definitely a few great ways to tackle the pressures of life in 2021. They can be as small as simply taking a moment to breathe, doing some exercise, or writing a journal in the evenings – all of which fall under the practice of mindfulness; a state of being that allows us to be fully present and engaged in the moment, aware of our thoughts and feelings without distraction or judgement.
Being mindful makes it easier to savour the pleasures in life as they occur, helps us become fully engaged in activities, and creates a greater capacity to deal with adverse events. By focusing on the here and now, many people who practice mindfulness find that they are less likely to get caught up in worries about the future or regrets over the past, are less preoccupied with concerns about success and self-esteem, and are better able to form deep connections with others. There is also a strong link between regular mindful practice and improved physical and mental health.
To make your mindful practice that little bit easier and more accessible, we’ve collated a few of our favourite mindful activities for you. We’d recommend trying out each one on their own and then finding a way to embed your favourite practice into your daily routine. The key with mindfulness is consistency, so make sure you make time for your preferred mindful activity every day.
The most basic mindful exercise is breathing. It may seem incredibly simple, but taking a moment to breathe deeply and properly pertains to a whole host of psychological and physiological benefits.
Experts believe a regular practice of mindful breathing can make dealing with stressful situations a whole lot easier. When we’re stressed or anxious, our breathing becomes fast and shallow – practicing mindful breathing during these times allows us to regulate our emotions and make better decisions.
I listen to Dani Van Dervelde’s guided meditations and use the Daily Calm app for my daily practice, both of which I highly recommend, but there are so many out there, find one that suits you.
Positive psychologists like Martin Seligman and mindfulness teachers like Tara Brach believe that practising gratitude is an effective way to connect with meaningful memories, feel happier and be more satisfied with our lives.
Why not jot down three things you’re grateful for every night before you go to sleep, or first thing in the morning when you wake up? Or perhaps even simply three things you’re proud of achieving each day? Taking time to recognise personal achievements (no matter how small) is great for improving self esteem and self worth, as well as boosting motivation.Putting pen to paper when it comes to gratitude or recognising achievements is a great way of making some of life’s most beautiful things a little more tangible. This concept is something that Sheryl Sandberg discusses in her book, ‘Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy’, which I would definitely recommend that you read if these ideas are resonating with you.
It’s certainly no secret that exercise is great for our physical health, but what’s often overlooked is the positive impact it has on mental health.
When we exercise, our levels of endorphins, stress hormones and serotonin all change, which not only gives us more energy, but a more positive outlook on life and vastly improved mood. You don’t need to run a marathon or spend hours in the gym – the positive effects of exercise can be felt by small activities such as walking the dog around the block, or even simply spending a few minutes in fresh air.
Journaling is a great way of focusing on your thoughts and feelings, and developing some proper structure around them. It can also help you notice your habits and patterns, set and achieve goals, and solve problems.
Sometimes putting pen to paper can make us aware of what we’re feeling and why we’re feeling this way. If you keep feeling upset at a particular time, a journal could help you address the issue internally and work it out. It can be a great way to recognise our actions and then try and change them. For children, the ‘HappySelf Journal’ is a wonderful way to gently introduce them to journaling. Used by thousands of children across the globe, it promotes happiness, develops positive habits and nurtures enquiring minds.
If you’re at all familiar with Eric Carle’s ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’, you’ll be familiar with how unwell the caterpillar feels after gorging himself on cake, lollipops and cheese, in contrast to his feelings after eating fresh fruit and vegetables. The same rule applies to us!
There’s a reason fruit, veggies and nuts are called ‘Good Mood Foods’.
Following a healthy pattern of eating is linked with better stress management, improved sleep quality, increased concentration, and better mental wellbeing in general. When we choose nutritious foods, we’re providing our body (and brain) with the building blocks needed to perform at our best. From vitamins and minerals to healthy fats and fibre, all nutrients play a role in optimal brain health and function.
Eric Carle not only wrote about The Very Hungry Caterpillar eating a healthy diet, he also wrote about lessons of hope and positivity, encouraging his audience to “simplify, slow down, and be kind”. He implores that we cannot forget to have art in our lives – music paintings, theatre, dance and sunsets are what nourish the mind, body and spirit.
Indeed, our world is growing all the more hectic and unpredictable with every passing day – but there truly are more ways than ever to stay on top of our mental health and wellbeing, with mindfulness being a wonderful starting point.
So, maybe it’s time to give some of the above practices a go! Which one will you trial first?
Elaine Robinson – Principal
*Mental health and well being is just one important facet of our school culture. Follow the link to learn more about our school’s culture of excellence.