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6 Mindfulness Activities Specific to Coping with COVID-19 and the Holidays

The stress of COVID-19 and the holidays is real. Consider trying one of these quick mindfulness activities to calm your brain. MRI scans suggest that after practicing mindfulness, the grey matter in your amygdala – known for its role in processing emotions and fear – can become smaller. Smaller amygdala = lowered stress. It’s also linked with improved empathy, cognitive functioning and creativity.

What exactly is mindfulness? It’s simple really – paying attention to the present moment, letting go of other thoughts that enter your brain and accepting yourself and the present moment.

1. Mindfulness During Handwashing

Take a moment to pause and focus on the activity. Set your thoughts aside and pay close attention to every detail and sensation as you…reach for the soap. How does it feel? Is the soap smooth as it meets your hand? Pay attention to the temperature of the water, the sound of the water running. The feeling of your skin as you scrub your hands. As you turn off the faucet, take a deep breath. (Idea taken from Institute for Healthcare Improvement website)

2. Mindful Decorating

Whatever holiday you may be decorating for, there are aromas to smell and colorful, textured objects to feel. For those who put up a tree, set your thoughts aside and focus on your senses. If it’s a fresh tree, take in the smell of pine. With each ornament you unwrap, take note of the color and how it feels in your hand. Pause with an ornament to notice its beauty and enjoy it for a few seconds. If thoughts (of plans for tomorrow, worries, etc.) enter your head, just notice them and come back to focusing on your senses. If your mind wanders back to thinking, don’t judge yourself. Release the thought and move to pick up, see, feel and savor the next ornament.

3. Spending Time with Loved Ones – Inside Edition

Granted, this may be in a mask or not at all this year. If you notice that you’re getting overwhelmed or anxious, head to the bathroom for a break or step outside for a few minutes. Close your eyes. Put one hand on your heart and one on your belly. Take a slow, deep breath. Notice how the breath feels in your body. Perhaps you notice it coming into your nostrils, down your windpipe, filling your lungs and finally coming into your belly. Hold that breath for a few seconds. Then exhale slowly, feeling every sensation you can track. Repeat as needed. Open your eyes and smile. You may need to force yourself to smile, but the action of doing so actually activates neural messaging to your brain, boosting neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.

4. Spending Time with Loved Ones – Outside Edition

Granted, this may be in a mask or not at all this year. If you notice that you’re getting overwhelmed or anxious, head to the bathroom or step outside for a break. Close your eyes. Put one hand on your heart and one on your belly. Take a slow, deep breath. (Notice how the breath feels in your body. Perhaps you notice it coming into your nostrils, down your windpipe, filling your lungs and finally coming into your belly.) Hold that breath for a few seconds. Then exhale slowly, feeling every sensation you can track. Repeat as needed. Open your eyes and smile. You may need to force yourself to smile, but the action of doing so activates neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.

5. For Healthcare Professionals

As you walk to a patient’s room, turn your thoughts to the sensation of walking. Notice the details of the sensation, as a foot lifts, the weight shifts onto the ball of the foot and the heel lands. How do your feet feel? How does the rest of your body feel? Is there any part of your body that’s tense or hurting? Bring acceptance to whatever you are feeling. Take a slow, cleansing breath. Hold it for a moment. And release it. (Idea taken from Institute for Healthcare Improvement website)

As you sit down to the computer for a telehealth appointment, place both feet flat on the floor. Really feel the nature of your grounded body – your anchored feet, your legs heavy against the chair. Pause. Take a long inhale, a slow exhale. If you choose, you can set an intention for the appointment. “May I be calm and present with this next client.”

6. Mindful Cooking

We can be in a rush when we’re cooking, but it’s a perfect meditative activity. Start by taking a pause and a few deep, steady breaths. As you pick up ingredients, notice their details, their texture, color. As you mix ingredients take a moment to lose yourself in the activity, feeling the sensation of mixing in your hands or arms. If your mind wanders to other thoughts, notice that with acceptance, and bring yourself back to the present moment.

Guided meditation promotes mindfulness. There are a variety of subscription-based apps (like Calm and Headspace) and free YouTube videos. Try out this YouTube meditation specific to getting through the challenges of COVID-19.

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