Mindfulness tools for everyday life, especially during

The coronavirus has many people preoccupied with how to avoid getting sick and what the future holds. People are stressed. They’re stuck in a worry loop of anxious thoughts. They could use some mindfulness in their daily lives.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, a known expert in mindfulness-based stress reduction, defines mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Mindfulness can help people stop their mind’s constant chatter about COVID-19. It can help people center their thoughts and be in the moment.

What are some ways people can use mindfulness in their daily lives to cope with the pandemic?

Mindful breathing

• Four-square breathing. Slowly breathe in for four seconds, and then hold the breath for four seconds. Then slowly breathe out for four seconds and hold the breath for four seconds. Repeat this in and out pattern at least four times or more.

• Balloon breathing. Place hand(s) on the stomach and imagine a balloon in the stomach. With each inhalation, imagine the balloon being blown up, expanding in the stomach. With each exhalation, imagine the balloon emptying. Repeat this pattern several times.

• Ten deep breaths. Take 10 slow, deep breaths. Focus on breathing out as slowly as possible until the lungs are completely empty, then allow them to refill by themselves. Notice the sensations of the lungs emptying and refilling. Notice the shoulders gently rising and falling.

Grounding in your body

• Drop anchor. With feet firmly on the floor, push them down as hard as possible. Notice the feel of the floor supporting you. Notice the tension in the legs as you push the feet down. Notice the entire body — and the feeling of gravity flowing down through the head, spine and legs into the floor. Now look around and notice what people can hear and see.

• Sit in stillness. Sit in a comfortable position without moving. Notice if there are any urges to move, such as brushing hair out of the face. Imagine the urges are waves and someone is standing on a surfboard, riding those waves. Notice as the urges increase and decrease without acting on them.

• Mindful walking. Walk with purpose. Notice posture. How does it feel while walking? What muscles would someone notice? The goal is to be mindful of each step, letting each one land with softness and with a person’s full attention.

Mindfulness of daily activities

• Mindful listening. Spend time paying close attention to sounds. Pay attention to not only the loudest sound, but also the quiet noises in the background. Focus on the sound rather than your thoughts about the sounds. There’s no need to attempt to name them or figure out what they mean. It may help to close your eyes.

• Mindful eating. Place your fork or spoon down after each bite. Chew and swallow your food completely before taking another bite. Taste your food like it is the first time you have eaten. In as much detail as possible, attend to taste, smell, colors and texture. Take your time to eat, rather than gobble it down quickly.

• Mindful driving. When you drive, notice the sensations of the car, your physical contact with the car (e.g., where your hands touch the steering wheel, foot on gas/brake). Turn off the radio and listen to the sounds of the car.

Keep in mind, during these activities people may notice anxious thoughts still pop up, and that is okay. The work with mindfulness is noticing these things without focusing on them and letting them pass, then re-focusing on the activity at hand.

— This column was provided by Edward-Elmhurst Health.