Updated: Sep 6, 2020
With early weeks consumed by learning new technology, reconnecting with old friends and clearing cupboards (or not), the reality of long-term change has hit. So how do we navigate this ongoing ‘home-office’ terrain and make it work for everyone?
Setting Some Boundaries
With distractions at an all-time high, it is useful to scaffold working hours by fixing a few boundaries. These may be as simple as requesting not to be disturbed between certain hours of the day, saying ‘no’ to incoming work or declining a Zoom call that is likely to zap your remaining energy.
Brené Brown, author and researcher of vulnerability, courage and worthiness at the University of Houston explains that the setting of boundaries is a practice we need to reinforce on a daily basis. Research shows that the ability to compartmentalise our day into periods of ‘work’ and ‘rest’ not only helps to boost our energy but also gives us a sense of much needed balance.
News updates and information on the ‘most productive’ way to spend lockdown are constantly pinging on our devices. Advice on how to kick-start a new hobby, visit the world’s best virtual museums while making a sourdough starter is starting to wear thin. Going on an information diet can help. While we need to know what’s going on in the fight against Covid-19, a daily update is probably enough. Resisting the urge to flit between news websites and collect the latest data might just prevent our anxiety levels from spiking through the roof. Fear and worry are, after all, highly contagious emotions. This is where the practice of mindfulness can help.
Taking A Mindful Moment
Mindfulness is about paying attention to moments of everyday life with curiosity and openness, on purpose. It involves dropping into our present moment experience and being aware of what we’re doing, while we’re doing it, with a non-judgmental attitude. It sounds easy, but increasingly it’s hard to find time to pause and take stock – especially in times of crisis.
Mindfulness invites us to experience the ‘here and now’, rather than hankering after how we would like our life to be, or how it was pre-pandemic. It encourages us to witness the essence of the moment, just as it is, so we don’t miss out on what’s going on, right now. Research shows that regular mindfulness meditation improves concentration, decision-making and working memory. It reduces stress, lowers the heart rate and blood pressure, strengthens the immune system, alleviates insomnia and reduces anxiety and depression.
How to Practice
You can practice mindfulness in different ways. The first is to learn how to meditate, for example, by using a point of focus, such as the passage of the breath. When your mind gets distracted and wanders off into thinking, worrying, or planning, simply notice where it has wandered to and gently guide it back to following the physical sensation of the in-breath and the out-breath. Do this every time the mind wanders – with kindness to yourself. With practice, you start to recognise that thoughts are not facts about you and will come and go of their own accord, if you allow them to do so.
Another way is to use ‘daily mindfulness practices’. These are instances during the day where you pause, breathe and bring moment-to-moment awareness to something as simple as the brewing of your tea or your arrival back home after the school run. By pausing and staying present with the
moment, you might notice the aroma of your drink or the rare moments of silence, taking in your experience fully. So often, the uniqueness of the moment is lost as our focus shifts to simply getting through the day.
So before you sit down to crack on with the business of the day, why not try a mindfulness practice and see what difference it makes?
The One-Minute Desk Practice
As you sit at your desk and before you begin your work or planned activity, take a moment to close your eyes or lower your gaze. Slowly breathe in and out, focusing on the passage of your breath. Feel your points of contact with the ground and rest your hands on the desk or on your lap. Follow the sensation of just one breath – and then another, for a minute or so. Notice the slight pause at the end of each in-breath and out-breath. Sense the temperature of your breath as it flows in and out of your nostrils and the rise and fall of your chest. When the mind wanders into thinking, worrying or planning, simply bring it back to the breath, as your point of anchor to the present moment. Now return to the task in hand and see if you can bring a sense of calm with you into the rest of your day.
Gillian Higgins is an international criminal barrister at The Chambers of 9 Bedford Row. She is also a mediator, a mindfulness meditation teacher and founder of Practical Meditation. Gillian’s first book “Mindfulness at Work and Home” was published in September 2019
Image credit @ninacosford