I’m writing this 4 months or so after we officially went into the lockdown in the UK – and we are now easing out of it.
At the beginning of lockdown I definitely had a big bout of panic. And yes there were also some tears involved.
A lot of my work is based on in-person events, a big chunk of which was wiped out in the course of a few days. My parents are in the ‘older’ category and have some ‘pre-existing conditions’ that put them in the risky bracket. Ditto my parents-in-law. My sister works in frontline NHS. And there were hours and hours of news stories of Covid-19 unfolding across the world.
That said, in the midst of this worry, part of me was quietly relieved to have some time at home with my husband and dog, with no need to travel or be out in the world. And I was grateful to still be able to work with my Calm Cocoa range as I make this from my home kitchen.
But like so many other homebound people couldn’t quite visualise what a potential 3 months of lockdown would look like.
There was a chance that out of this terrible situation there might be an opportunity to pause, reflect and generate some great creative output.
I thought it would be full of thinking space, getting back into my piano practise, writing glorious fiction and nurturing my little garden. As it turns out, only the last of these things ended up being true (and a little of the first too).
I hadn’t realised the impact of the mental drain that would result from the general anxieties around Covid, coupled with the deep inequalities in our society laid bare for the world to truly see. I also felt a deep, terrible sadness for the lost and damaged lives resulting from the virus. (And I know that even in this, I am one of the lucky ones as I wasn’t out working on the frontline under strained and constrained circumstances. )
I’ve had to turn to many of the self-care tools I’ve been working with over the last few years, including prioritising sleep and regular meditation.
But in truth this time has also sent me back to the very basics of my meditation practice.
In the early months of lockdown I was guiding a daily exercise over lunchtime, but finding my personal meditation in the mornings was becoming more and more difficult. My mind was ALL over the place and I found it really difficult to focus.
Some mornings I dropped my meditation entirely and instead went for long walks over gloriously quiet roads and into nearby woods. It all felt strange and surreal.
My normal routine is to meditate for 15-20 minutes in the morning, but I found that 10 minutes was more manageable for me at the beginning. I’ve also went back to ‘simple’ meditation exercises with a focus on my breath and body, and on self-compassion. (Though of course these are anything but simple in reality!)
Fortunately I’ve been meditating long enough now to know that even if when it feels like meditation isn’t making a difference it still is. And that it’s also okay not to have too rigid a programme that becomes another thing beat myself about with if I don’t stick with it 100 per cent.
Of course my mind was racing with everything going on and while meditation sometimes helped, this needed to be supplemented with some other activities (and a lot of baking!).
If you’ve also struggled to find time for meditation (or anything else that you normally do to look after your mental health and wellbeing) I have some suggestions on how to meditate in difficult times.
It can feel easy to stick with a programme when things are going smoothly, but there are also compassionate ways of incorporating meditation in life when things are a bit more stormy and uncertain.
1. Make it simple and easy. One of the things about meditation is that it’s a practice, and like anything you practise, the benefit comes from repetition and consistency. Be realistic about a regular time – and amount of time – that you can stick to on a mostly consistent basis.. If you can only find 5 minutes, then do 5 minutes. And make it the easiest time in the day, whatever that is for you (there’s no ‘perfect’ time to meditate).
2. Create mindful moments. If the formal practice feels too much for you at the moment, there are many informal ways you can bring a little meditation into your day. This might be eating 5 mouthfuls of a meal – or a piece of chocolate of course – in silence and with total focus on the sensory experience (this is actually kind of fun to do as a family). Or maybe going for a walk and really tuning into different senses as you walk. It might even be as simple as stopping and counting 5 breaths in and out, and observing how this feels.
3. Incorporate music. Sit and listen to peaceful music for 5 or 10 minutes, but with a real focus on what you’re listening to and observe what emotions or thoughts it brings up for you. Choose something that makes you feel calm; it doesn’t have to be ‘meditation’ music, just something you enjoy and can connect with.
4. Get a meditation buddy. This might be someone you live with or someone who is remote. You could either both agree a time that you’ll meditate, do this on your own and then check in with each other afterwards. You could even sit on Zoom and do this with your sound muted. Or you might both tune into one of the many free regular meditations being offered online at the moment. Sometimes it’s easier to stick with something when you’re not trying to do it on your own.
5. Take a meditation break. If you really are struggling to connect with meditation, it’s okay to take a little break if you need to. It’s not like you’ll suddenly go tumbling into an abyss. You can find other things that can fill the gap for a short while (sorry, I don’t mean Netflix) – and sometimes stopping can make you realise how much meditation helps so, when you are ready, you feel able to turn back towards it!
In times of stress, it’s natural to get caught up in concerns about the future or worries about the past. But taking time to pause and be a little more in the present, even if it’s just for a few minutes, is a really important way to take the stress down a notch or two. And this is exactly what meditation can do!
I’d love to hear other creative ways you’ve found to manage your mental health or turn down stress during lockdown.
Health Note: please always take care of yourself when you’re meditating, especially at the moment as many of us are doing this remotely rather than with the in-person guidance of a teacher. There are certain mental health and health conditions in which people can have an adverse reaction to meditation (including some forms of depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder and epilepsy). Always check with your supporting clinical team before taking part in meditation programmes and stop if a meditation feels unsafe.