Rob Calcutt is a breathworker and sound therapist at www.urbanhealer.co.uk.
Stop the press! Spring has almost sprung and Boris has made some (tentative) announcements.
Things will start moving alarmingly fast, pretty soon. The shift in energy will be a welcome release for many of us. It may also feel disorientating, as our boundaries flex and we begin to navigate social situations. For this reason, a degree of mindfulness over the next few weeks is crucial to provide a smooth transition into, what promises to be, a high-octane summer!
So let’s review lockdown 3. We’ve all been on that February roller coaster, experiencing moments of stillness, punctuated by the need to SCREAM (but will anyone hear?). How has it been for you?
Use this processing time wisely as things are about to accelerate.
Wherever your starting point is, make it a positive one. You may have hit rock bottom, but when you’re down on the wheel of life, there’s really only one direction of travel (clue: up). Plus, you’ve overcome all that adversity, so give yourself credit where it’s due and join me in taking a breath!
No, I mean actually do it. Right now.
Bringing awareness to our breathing is a simple thing we can all do, to bring ourselves into the present moment:
Take a long inhale, filling the lungs for four seconds.
Hold for four seconds.
Then allow a natural exhale for eight seconds to provide a gentle release.
Repeat three times and enjoy!
Now that you’ve arrived (hi!) - here are five simple tips to allow you to take control of your mental health in lockdown. Plus there’s a FREE download from yours truly at the end of this article to help you relax! You’re welcome. ;)
Big thanks to the workshop participant from Barnet Carers (you know who you are!), who reminded me to keep a gratitude diary. This is a natural way to rewire your brain and embrace a half-full approach to daily life. It’s the perfect counterbalance to that negativity bias, that has crept up on us all during lockdown!
First things first, buy a fancy notebook. Then spend a short five minutes before sleep, jotting down up to five things, for which you feel grateful. The written record is important - don’t just do this exercise in your head. Studies show you’ll sleep better and wake up refreshed as a result!
The things you list can be relatively small in importance, “Giggling at the Graham Norton show.”, or relatively large, “My sister just announced she’s pregnant!”. The goal of the exercise is to remember a good event, experience, person, or thing in your life - then enjoy the good emotions that come with it. So make sure you name the feeling in your journal too.
Need some extra motivation? This book isn’t a bad place to start.
2. Zero to Zen in five minutes!
Harness the natural optimism of the bright mornings. Light a candle and create a quiet space, with somewhere comfortable to sit. Perhaps in front of a low table displaying a sentimental picture, or some meaningful objects from childhood. Then put five minutes aside, before breakfast, to dedicate your day.
A simple and achievable daily practice is far more effective and easy to maintain than an ambitious, weekly one. Five minutes is all it takes. Don’t be tempted to extend to ten or fifteen. Anything more and it’ll feel like a chore. ;)
A professor at the university of Chicago famously said that we’re best at completing tasks when we do things for ourselves - just for the sake of enjoyment. So arrive daily, with a blank canvas and the sole intention to show up with no distractions. I’d urge you not to plan this time. Instead, just start the clock and step into the moment. Whatever comes to mind, fully commit yourself and remember you can’t get it wrong.
Perhaps you’ll listen to your favourite piece of music or read a piece of inspirational text from your favourite book? Perhaps you’ll meditate? Or write a positive intention for the day? Or play an instrument? Or draw a spontaneous picture with a free-flowing pencil. There are no “shoulds” here. Have fun rejecting anything that doesn’t fit the mood.
3. Put down your phone
We’re a nation of phone junkies for a reason. Smartphones, like gambling machines, are expertly designed to hack our brains into releasing dopamine. Dopamine is the brain chemical specifically responsible for forming habits and addictions. Sinister right?
The average person spends around four hours a day staring into their smartphone. Google (one of the world’s biggest software developers) admits, “mobile devices loaded with social media, email and news apps create a constant sense of obligation, generating unintended personal stress.”
Here are three simple techniques to claim back your time:
Turn off ALL notifications in your phone settings so that you’re completely in control of when you look at emails, texts and news alerts. Remember you don’t owe anyone your time!
Include others and set mutual goals to switch off your phones during mealtimes and afternoon strolls. Instead, have a look at nature!
Buy an alarm clock instead of using your phone to wake up. Then ban the phone from the bedroom to avoid starting and ending the day scrolling news reports and attention grabbing feeds. Then enjoy a better night’s sleep!
Interested in taking this further still? Try the Freedom app-blocker, which will help you regulate your usage during particular times of day.
4. Tune in, turn on, drop out...WALK
Got a morning off? Take yourself out on a playdate for half a day, keeping things spontaneous. Start by choosing an outfit to suit the NOW. Rifle through the back of your wardrobe to find a colour that reflects the mood.
Then burn some incense in a doorway, walk through mindfully, set an alarm and just walk.
Make sure you bring some water and tell your mates you’ll be uncontactable. Leave all everyday distractions, such as news sources and other readable materials at home and begin to awaken your senses. Tune into your instincts and saunter wherever your heart tells you to. Nothing to gain from the experience and no point to any of it!
This is incredibly freeing and a great technique to learn. Drifting around in the moment without a plan is a lost art - and it’s a wonderful thing to try - if only for a morning. Feel all your anxieties lift and discover a new part of town. :)
5. Talk to yourself
Your internal monologue shapes mental wellbeing, says psychologist Ethan Kross. He suggests distanced self-talk as one of the fastest and most straightforward ways of gaining emotional perspective.
“Get it together Rob, don’t be hard on yourself. Tomorrow is another day and you can plan a walk along the River Lea.” This might sound slightly odd - but Kross describes it as a psychological hack, embedded in the fabric of human language.
Talking to yourself like this – as if you were another person altogether – isn’t only calming. Kross suggests that it can help improve your communication skills in, for example, a challenging conversation with an institution, or someone you care for. It may also help you reframe something you always thought to be impossible.
Try it! You might discover a new thread that will allow you to reach for new heights when lockdown lifts. :)
But what about my free download Rob?