There are gems to be found among the chaos and stress. Photo / Getty Images

How To Practice Mindfulness & Find Calm Amid The Coronavirus Storm

Clinical psychologist and executive coach Chantal Hofstee shares advice for navigating stress and anxiety

All of a sudden, we find ourselves in intense and stressful times. Many of us feel anxious and uncertain. Not just because of the Coronavirus but also because of the unprecedented measures that are being taken all around the world. Things that we have never seen before such as borders closing and millions of people in lockdown. The world as we have known it has changed. Our lives have fundamentally changed.

Why change leads to stress
Our brains work best on stability and predictability. That’s why we always have the same things on our shopping list, cook the same recipes every week and take the same route to work. Predictability means our lower brain processes can run on autopilot which conserves energy and makes higher brain processes such as empathy, creativity and long term thinking possible.

READ: 12 Productive Things You Can Do To Feel Better About Being At Home

Generally, our brain can cope well with some change but it is not well equipped to handle as many major changes that we are now facing all at once. There are instant changes to our health risks, job security, finances, travel plans, how and where we work, childcare and education, sports and leisure activities the list goes on and on.

Our brains are responding to this massive amount of impactful change with stress and anxiety. That makes perfect sense.

The constant messaging from (social) media is further ramping up the fear and stress. This can make it hard to sleep, relax, think clearly, be present with and kind to our loved ones. It will understandably impact our mental health, making it even harder to cope with the situation we find ourselves in.

There are gems to be found among the chaos and stress. Photo / Getty Images

How to calm your anxiety
Our worries aren’t unfounded but the worrying itself achieves nothing. Luckily, there are ways we can help our brains reduce stress and anxiety. Using mindfulness exercises, we can activate a state I call green brain. It allows our survival brain, emotional brain and thinking brain to work in harmony. It also helps us to avoid the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response and cope with change. We can stay connected to each other and problem-solve to the best of our ability.

The world needs mindfulness now more than ever
Mindfulness is not about ignoring what is happening in the world. You are engaging with the facts of the situation without letting it hijack your thoughts and emotions. With mindfulness exercises, you are learning to:

1. Be present
Learning how to be more present and aware is the best antidote to worrying about what might happen in the future or worrying about what is happening elsewhere. Paying attention to the present moment, where you are, what you are doing, what is happening right in front of you, immediately calms the mind and reduces stress and anxiety.

2. Think in a kind and non-judgemental way
Mindfulness practice teaches you to respond to change in a kind and non-judgemental way. You will be able to engage with facts, rather than your fears of what might happen. You will focus on being aware of and accepting the emotions these events trigger so they can be processed. This way, you can keep unhelpful stress at bay and stay kind, compassionate and rational.

Don’t miss the gems
Yes, it will be hard to be cooped up, experience financial insecurity and loved ones potentially getting sick. But regardless of how challenging it might be, it's not all bad. There are gems to be found among the chaos and the stress. It gives us time to slow down, play games, be creative, be together.

Neighbours are becoming more connected, new ideas and innovation will be born in these times and just like nature, we will have a chance to replenish and restore. We need our green brain to see and embrace these gems because they are easy to miss.

Going into lockdown, I plan to write, paint, play the piano, exercise, do cool learning projects with my children, take online courses, make tiramisu and eat it slowly and mindfully. I will also increase and expand my daily mindfulness practice.

• For more information visit the Government's official Covid-19 advisory website Covid19.govt.nz

Find calm amid the Coronavirus storm by learning mindfulness online. Join clinical psychologist Chantal Hofstee on the four-week, online mindfulness course she has developed and updated to fit our current situation. Do the course alone or make it a family affair (it is suitable for children) and learn about the brain, mindfulness, emotions and how to protect your mental health in times of stress. Visit Renewyourmind.co.nz and Renewleadership.co.nz

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