Its mental health awareness month, and it’s also mental health awareness week. Statistics show that nearly 45% of adults mental health in the USA have been negatively impacted due to worries and stress over the virus. In Kenya alone, Intimate Partner Violence plus Gender Based Violence cases have risen during this period. Dysfunctional relationships escalate into all kinds of violence when people are forced to spend long periods of time together due to “social distancing” measures and curfews. Quarantine and Curfews mean partners who otherwise wouldn’t see each other till late at night, now spend hours together arguing and fighting over banalities they would otherwise not notice.
By mid May, preliminary statistics reveal that ~50 people have been killed in intimate-relationship-settings between since February 2020.
- ~33 women
- ~5 men
- ~9 children
Emotional and psychological problems are cited in most of these cases. Many have communicated feeling anxious about their health, and about the future after COVID19. The state of mental health worldwide, has drastically declined, due to isolation, loss of jobs and therefore income, pre-existing mental health illnesses and disorders plus inability to avoid triggers or abusive environments. Fear too is playing havoc with people’s well being.
60% of those who have lost their jobs are women and we know that statistically, depression is more prevalent in women. In a country like Kenya where primary childcare is a woman’s responsibility, when women are not doing well, children are not doing well either. The repercussions of COVID19 may well be traumatized children in coming years.
Most people cannot afford to see a Therapist, especially under above described circumstances. Most people don’t even know that they should see a therapist.
As such, one way that can help us stay calm and mentally strong during this pandemic is through being mindful.
Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. This works best when done gently, with a nurturing touch.
Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them. Without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
7 DAY MINDFULNESS ACTIVITIES
Pay attention to Thoughts that cross your mind the moment you wake up
Are you aware of the ANTs Automatic Negative Thoughts phenomena? That our average processes up to 70,000 thoughts per day and majority of these thoughts are negative? These thoughts seem to pop up out of the blue.
Beware of your thoughts for nothing can harm you as much as your own thoughts, Buddha said.
What kind of thoughts are most common for you when you wake up?Are they negative thoughts or positive thoughts?
Negative thoughts are also called thinking errors, or thought distortions and they’re extremely self-defeating. They are often predictive and unrealistic – meaning they haven’t happened and will probably never happen.
Because thoughts are so fleeting and happen unconsciously, you are never aware that you are having negative thoughts, unless you specifically start paying attention to your thought pattern.
Mindful Homework of Day 1
Have a bedside note book or diary where you write the negative thoughts as they occur in your head. Become aware of how this thoughts are affecting your physical body:
What do you feel…?
- Stomach pain,
- Nausea, or digestive trouble.
- Insomnia or other sleep issues (waking up frequently, for example)
- Weakness or fatigue
- Rapid breathing or shortness of breath.
- Pounding heart or increased heart rate.
- Trembling or shaking.
Focus on controlling the physical symptoms and not the thoughts, until you calm down. If you manage to even control just one symptom it’s a win. This helps you (i) control the frequency of negative thoughts (ii) prevent some of them from re-occurring (iii) stop the cycle
Mindful exercise Day 2
Controlling your negative thoughts
Write down all your thoughts, both negative and positive. The best way to control negative thoughts is by replacing your negative thoughts with positive thoughts, one thought at a time.
Mindful Homework Day 2
Categorize your thoughts into:
- Positive and
- Negative destructive thoughts
Replace any negative thought with a positive thought, or a thought that makes you happy. For example, if the negative thought is “We will have nothing to eat tomorrow”, try replacing it with “we have never starved to death, even in the worst of times! tomorrow will take care of itself as it always does.”
Concentrate on Thought Replacement anytime a negative thought crosses your mind. Keep doing this and focusing on what you want to achieve as opposed to what you imagine will happen. Keep interrupting negative thoughts until it becomes a habit.
Mindful exercise day 3
Our thoughts always determine our emotions
What you think directly affects how you feel and what we feel directly affects our behavior.
Therefore, if you have a negative thought it will maybe make you feel low, if you feel low you will act low. Acting low often manifests in wanting to be left alone, acting agitated, irritated, restless or uneasy.
You cannot feel sad without thinking sad! You cannot feel happy without thinking happy. Be the author of your emotions by making the conscious decision to feel happy, relaxed, or at peace.
Mindful homework day 3
Write down three activities you enjoy engaging in. Every time a negative thought crosses your mind, take one of these activities and fantasize about it. Create a scenario in your mind that involves you participating in this activity.
Notice how it makes you feel. If you are in a position to engage in this activity do it.
Mindful Exercise Day 4
Distract yourself from objects, persons or environments that make you Anxious
Anxiety is normally triggered by either an object, a person or an incident, which then propels a person into negative thinking about the said trigger.
Be aware of what triggers you. If you can’t completely walk away from it, learn to live with it. Accept that the only moment you have full control of is the moment you are in, not in your past, or in your future. Accept that you are in full control of your feelings through your thoughts and shift the focus to controlling the moment you are in.
Mindful homework day 4
Be realistic about why something is a trigger. For example, does it remind you of a past that you had no control over? a present you can’t control? or a future that scares you?
Don’t try to push away the trigger or the feeling. Instead, be present in the moment and the trigger. Reflect on whether the trigger is an actual threat or a perceived threat.
If it’s a perceived threat, ask yourself why, and challenge that answer with the reality. Realize that nothing outside of you is within your control and accept this with humility and grace.
Mindful Exercise day 5
Anxiety is a result of hormonal changes in our bodies and our brain. which are directly caused by negative thoughts as well as other biological conditions like diseases.
In the absence of diseases, we could say that neurotransmitters are directly affected by negative thoughts. This causes the brain to send wrong messages to the body.
Mindful homework day 5
- Learn about the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin
- How does dopamine and serotonin affect your behavior and your moods?
- Are there healthy ways of improving your serotonin and dopamine levels in your body?
- Try at least one of the healthy ways you have learned and experiment on which works better for you
- If you find one that you can do daily, then take at least 15 minutes every day to try and do it. Just trying is enough.
Mindful exercise day 6
Meta-emotion refers to the idea that whenever we elicit a certain emotion. We also deal with subsequent emotions regarding how we experienced the primary emotion. For example if you feel agitated or irritated by someone, and you love this person, you might also feel guilty about that person irritating you. This is because you love them and irritable emotions contradicts love emotions. This guilt might make you feel like you are unworthy of that person, and this can fuel your anxiety, or panic. Understanding how you feel about your feelings gives you an upper hand in how you feel overall.
How do you feel about your feelings?
Mental homework day 6
Learn about emotional coaching and emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is generally said to include at least three skills:
(i) emotional awareness, or the ability to identify and name one’s own emotions
(ii) the ability to harness those emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving
(iii) the ability to manage emotions, which includes both regulating one’s own emotions when necessary and helping others to do the same.
- How do your emotions and your emotional responses affect people around you? Talk to yourself and your spouse about this, and be honest.
- What is your perception about people closest to you? Put it in your own words to understand it.
- Can you change how you feel? You can do this by delaying a response when you are emotional.
- Normalize not taking things personally – for example if your child cries it doesn’t make you a bad mother. It makes the child a child. Children cry.
Write down how you’ve improved. Even just one improvement is a big step.
Mindful exercise Day 7
Delegating is defined as entrusting a task or responsibility to another person, typically one who is less senior than oneself. But why wouldn’t we delegate even to our equals? Spouses, friends, siblings etc?
Pick an activity or task that you can delegate, and choose the right person to delegate this to. While delegating, pick something personal that you’ve wanted to do in a long time and engage in it. There’s no time limit to how long you can delegate, it can be as short as 20 minutes, or as long as a day.
Start with activities you’ve had a hard time delegating but do not require emotional involvement, for example house work.
Mindful homework day 7
- Write Down your hobbies
- Write down beautiful words that describe you
- Choose one word for the day and make it your mantra through the day
Delegate housework or babysitting to someone. Someone who is not the father of the child/ren. If you decide to supervise the delegated activity, do it while engaging in a hobby you’ve not engaged in a long time. Let this activity be fun for you, not for anyone else.
For instance, you could get into that tub and have a glass of wine while playing soft music. Or anything you like, while doing this. Repeat your affirmation mantra through the day.
These are simple exercises that you could do on a day to day basis. You don’t need to do them in any particular order, as long as you do at least one a day. And if you can do more even better.
Remember, Generalized Anxiety Disorder is not easy to live with. It is not easy to live with any disorder for that matter! Remember, you are doing your best.
Remember to repeat this to yourself daily: “I AM MY BEST. I WILL DO MY BEST TODAY……”
This post is by Muthoni Muhu, a Counseling psychologist and mental health activist