When discovering the wisdom of the ‘5 Ways’, I found it easy to nod and agree to most:
#Connect absolutely, as an extrovert in nature I know that a day on my laptop can put me on a low ebb
#Be active agree, just a brisk walk to school seems to make me more productive
#Keep Learning here, here! My evening class is important ‘me time’, I really value it
#Give Yup, I am energised by the work I do voluntarily, helping people gives me a sense of purpose and value
But… #Take Notice This one didn’t immediately resonate. On first read I pictured somebody in yoga pants in the lotus position, eyes closed and humming. Then I thought of the silent retreat my colleague was waxing-lyrical about last year (doesn’t sound fun – I like to talk!) And then I was taken back to a ‘nature’ workshop I once endured took part in, where I had to stop and sniff a tree. No… #Take Notice, did not suit my personality, and I couldn’t relate to it.
During Lockdown this changed.
Most of my life I have been a ‘do-er’, someone who likes to keep busy, and keep multiple plates spinning, leaping from one task to another (except housework)! I like being productive, I get a buzz from projects – especially creative ones. If I feel overwhelmed, I simply stay up until the early hours and work through the inbox. To sleep, I need a ‘clear head’, and I get that by ploughing-on. Not stopping.
Sometimes this busy-ness gets the better of me, and I find myself behaving rather poorly to the people I love: snapping at the children, serving them toast for tea whilst I tap out another email on the laptop, overacting when something doesn’t go to plan. And when tipped over the edge, I find myself in the corner of the kitchen stuffing into my mouth any form of processed carbs that I can find. My friend Brené Brown (she isn’t actually my friend; I have just read lots of her books/ listen to her podcasts) calls this ‘numbing’; an activity that we use to numb our feelings. It is different for everyone; wine, mindlessly scrolling social media, eating sugar, binge-watching Netflix, online shopping… not bad things to do per se, but unhelpful if they are burying uncomfortable emotions and done in excess.
During Lockdown I wasn’t able to access the things I usually do to stay ‘well’. I couldn’t connect with friends over a cuppa (and zoom wasn’t really cutting it), I couldn’t get out for exercise alone (we only had one slot, and I needed to do that with the children), and home-schooling pretty much dictated my day. After 2 solid weeks of ‘numbing’ with any form of food I could lay my hands on, I was forced (by the scales) to try something new. I decided to have a go at this thing called “taking notice” – or as some call it, mindfulness.
To take notice, or to be mindful, is simply “focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” (Lexico.com)
Some days during lockdown I would feel lonely or overwhelmed, and instead of reaching for the crackers, or scrolling through Facebook to see if there was anyone ‘out there’, I decided to put away my phone, make myself a cup of tea, and go and sit in the garden. I allowed myself to acknowledge “I feel lonely today”. I took deep breaths and watched and listened to what was going on around me, I wandered around the garden to see what new life was springing up (often weeds, I hasten to add!). I gave myself permission to feel lonely, but not allow my thoughts to dwell on past experiences or worry about the future. I would allow my mind to focus completely on that moment, sipping tea, and appreciate it.
It sounds too simple, but these ‘pauses’, helped me process my emotions in a much healthier way, and find the strength to carry them for the rest of the day. I was able to ‘escape my own head’ for a moment, find joy in the incidental and notice and appreciate things I would never normally see.
Since Lockdown eased, and life got busy again, I now recognise the signs: if I am making myself the 5th slice of thickly-buttered toast, or opening my laptop before I have even removed my coat, I stop and #takenotice. I identify the emotion I am feeling: time-pressured? disappointed? hurt? frustrated? I identify the trigger or context. And I acknowledge it. And then… I breathe. As I said in my introduction, I have never been one for meditation, but I have been completely shocked by the power of breathing in these moments.
Just last week I was feeling a little stretched and had no time to answer emails. I found myself emailing people on my phone, whilst walking to collect the boys from school, all the time getting more worked-up. I had the most enormous urge to buy chocolate and eat it, right there. I wanted to numb. But instead, I put my phone in my pocket and decided to #TakeNotice. I realised my heart was pounding, so I took a few deep breaths and exhaled slowly. Then I noticed the smell in the air: people were lighting fires, it felt comforting. I heard the ravens cawing up on the telephone cable, I smiled at everyone who passed. I felt gratitude for this village, the proximity of the school, the lack of traffic, the wildlife, the people… By the time I reached school I felt calmer and more rational.
It sounds too easy. Simply stopping, breathing, and noticing what is happening around you. Forgetting the past, paying no attention to ‘what’s next’, and simply ‘being’ in that moment. Being mindful of what is going on externally and internally. It isn’t always easy, but it is powerful, and now definitely one of my #5waystowellbeing
Claire is one of the Outreach team… you can read about her here…