You’re confined to your house, have one contact hour a week (where your lecturer spends thirty minutes trying to work out how breakout rooms work), and you can’t help but ask yourself “when is this all going to blow over?” as you devour another batch of your housemate’s cookies. We’ve all been there, but how can we try to simmer down our anxiety riddled brains? As a third year student endeavouring to finish a degree, work a part time job, and not have a mental breakdown during a global pandemic, I have found that practicing mindfulness and taking time to meditate helps to ground me in the present moment and keep me from getting too overwhelmed. We’re all so busy, especially as term starts to pick up, and sometimes we feel guilty for what appears to be sitting down and doing nothing. But maintaining your own mental state is as productive as exercising your body or making a meal and is necessary in preventing burn out and generally supporting your mental health.
As defined on the Headspace website, mindfulness “is the quality of being present and fully engaged with whatever we’re doing at the moment — free from distraction or judgment, and aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them.” By taking a few moments to sit down in a chair, or on the floor, closing our eyes, and paying attention to the rhythmic flow of our breath we can lower our heart rate, relax our muscles, and calm our minds. Let me be clear, mindfulness isn’t a one stop solution to stress and anxiety, in fact the aim of the practice isn’t even to get rid of these feelings, rather, mindfulness seeks to bring awareness to thoughts and feelings so that when they appear you can address them and more easily navigate through them. Do you ever run around doing ten thousand things all day until finally, as you lie back in bed you realize how tight your shoulders are, or how tense your jaw is? Stress and anxiety can manifest in physical discomfort, and by meditating for just a few minutes we can become more aware of the physical symptoms of stress and slowly sink into a more relaxed state.
So, how do we practice mindfulness in our day to day routine? Try to turn anything into a mindful activity: decide that this week you will eat your dinner without watching Netflix in the background to observe and enjoy the process of cooking and eating, or turn your headphones off on your walk to Tesco and pay attention to the things you see on your journey— all of these little moments of awareness help us observe our thoughts and teach us to not let them control us. Also, by becoming more aware of the world around us we can find so many more things to be grateful for, whether that be a stranger smiling at you or a housemate making you a cup of tea, in this crazy world every little joyful interaction can make a difference.
Headspace is a really useful app for practicing meditation and learning more about mindfulness, the free version of the app includes a ten-day beginners guided meditation course that introduces you to the basics. I find that following a guided meditation when I’m feeling stressed or anxious can really change my mindset. If you’re looking for a community of fellow mindfulness aficionados, or just want to learn a thing or two about meditation and everything that comes along with it, I highly recommend checking out Exeter University Meditation Society! They run two sessions a week (on Zoom) with guided meditations and insightful discussion, and I find that having an event to timetable into your week helps you stay committed to practicing mindfulness.
It’s completely normal to be feeling a bit dazed by the state of the world at the moment, so taking the time to check in with yourself is vital; everyone can spare a few minutes to connect with themselves and the present moment.
– Hollie Piff
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