A mindful approach to COVID-19. My top tips for dealing with the Global Pandemic as featured on the BBC Nuala McKeever show

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Nuala Mckeever

If your feel fearful, anxious or panicky at this time of a global pandemic – just know this means you are totally normal and human. It’s your limbic system reacting to a real or perceived threat (the brain doesn’t know the difference), adrenaline and cortisol the stress hormones are releasing around your body so you can’t think clearly or concentrate… I’ve more tips on this below, first the story of how I came to offer these tips.

The effects of COVID-19 had affected my business all my public classes cancelled. I had to refund customers, I lost income. All my corporate jobs were all cancelled. My holiday was cancelled… (still wondering if easyJet will refund me a flight), my social life affected… I was feeling very worried and concerned about my parents, my friends and clients… Just like you I was feeling angry, annoyed and inconvenienced by the whole thing when I was called by the producer of the BBC Radio Ulster Nuala McKeever Show, (actually it’s the Lynette Fay Show but Nuala is filling on for Lynette who’s on maternity leave until June), Cathy Quinn about 5 days before they wanted me to appear on the Nuala’s radio programme on St Patrick’s day – 17 March 2020.

You can listen to the full interview here I’m on about 35 minutes in but the whole hour is a great listen (unfortunately it’s only available on iPlayer for a month so get in quick). Listening to Nuala’s daily show on Radio Ulster is definitely a tonic in these ‘too much bad news’ days. She really is full of the craic and upbeat tunes. So that’s an extra tip for you – 🙂

In that moment when Cathy asked me if I would come on and speak about how to stay calm in a crisis I realised that I had to step-up, that actually people would be looking to me for help, support and advice. So I reframed it, I let go of my petty, personal annoyance and saw the bigger picture, we are all in this together and we can all do our best to support each other. How to practice mindfulness, stay calm and be kind to ourselves is something I teach and practice every day.

I sat down and thought what exactly I should say. Normally when I’m on the Radio or TV (I’ve been on a few times see this page) I just talk in the moment responding to questions. This time I felt the weight of responsibility to help people at this time. I really hope these tips are helpful.

These tips are not in the order of the chat I had with Nuala but I think I got most of them into our conversation.

1. Change your perspective

You can’t control what’s happening outside, but you can control your response… Instead of saying ‘this is a nightmare’ say ‘it’s a challenge’.

Look for ‘What’s not wrong?’ There are many things we still have to be grateful for, they may even be hidden benefits or sliver linings to this unprecedented time. Can you notice any good things today?

One listener definately got this point:

2. Focus on the present – practice mindfulness meditation. Mindful breathing is knowing your are breathing in when you are breathing in and knowing you are breathing out when you are breathing out. It sounds simple but the results are profound. When we are aware of our breath we become fully present – not thinking of the past or the future… I am now running FREE meditations every morning and evening via the online video platform Zoom. One local GP who has been attending some of the meditations this week said:

“I slept so much better last night after our meditation, thank you. Zoom worked brilliantly Bridgeen. Sound was spot on. This is an amazing way to truly connect with others at a time when social distancing needs to mean closer connections. If medical backing would help in any way let me know. I’m sad to say this but breathing meditations will help those with more severe symptoms to cope. Take such good care of yourself, Lv Janet

Mindfulness practice has been shown to boost the Immune Systemsome more studies on this here.

3. Look after yourself – Try to do one thing each day which brings you joy, whether it is going for a long walk, reading a book, gardening, cooking, playing games with the family or just watching a funny film on TV.

4. Talk about it… A problem shared is a problem halved. When you are faced with this crisis, talking about it with a friend or family member can help gain perspective. If you live on your own or are seperated from friends and family use the online resources like faceTime and the old fashioned telephone to help you connect. Allow children to talk about how they feel. Confide in those close to you if you feel your worries are getting the better of you. As well as yoga and meditation classes going online, lots of NI counsellors have now switched online services so you can get sessions if you need. But really what we need is to be there for each other.

I also offer 1-1 sessions and can now offer these by Zoom if you are interested please get in touch.

Or don’t talk about it. In situations like this international panic, excessive talking, news programmes and catastrophising are common. Step away from conversations /programmes/social media that are increasing your fear. Do other things, do what’s right for you. Not everyone wants to talk and that’s ok too.

5. Make time to relax

True relaxation is a strange feeling for many of us. We need to take time out to dedicate to relaxing our mind and body, and now all of a sudden, we have the perfect time.

Sleeping well will also help! If you can! I have a blogs on the importance of sleep here.

Relaxing activities such as a slow-paced online yoga class are so helpful. Yoga with Adriane is great on YouTube and local yoga teachers like Keshav from Namaste (where I teach my in person classes) are offering online classes too. I intend to make some free mindful movement videos at some point if this lockdown lasts AND I have lots of free meditations on the app or website Insight Timer – I also intend to add some more on there soon.

Guided meditation stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system – the body’s ‘rest and digest’ mode. This helps to reduce the feelings of stress and its impact.

The more you are able to actively relax, the more you will be able to maintain a state of calm in your daily life. When we are calm, we can see and think more clearly. Over time if we keep practising calm it will measurably boost the immune system (see links above).

6. Have fun! a good laugh also boosts the immune system. sharing funny memes on ‘what’s app’ with friends and family groups (I’ve been doing this ALOT)- there’s some great ones out there already, works for me. Watch funny movies – tell each other funny stories – reminisce about the good times.

7 – I’ve saved the best to last: be kind to yourself and others. In helping others, we help ourselves. We are always the first recipients of our own kindness. In my stepping up to be on the Radio or be in the Belfast Telegraph or make my nightly videos (it takes courage to do this) I have helped others but it’s actually helped me too. To know we’ve helped someone gives us a great boost. Everyone can do what they can to offer something.

I see people are making masks at home, I see people offering to get older people’s groceries, I see people phoning their friends, I see Gary Barlow offering ‘crooner sessions’ on YouTube, (this is my fav today) I see Joe Wicks offering free PE to 100s of thousands of homeschooled kids… There are many creative ways to help and support. If you haven’t already check out my ‘Corona Jackanory’ videos on my YouTube Channel – I’ve been making one every day to provide a helpful and inspiring distraction to people- 10 so far…

Even if your kindness is ‘just’ staying at home and not buying all the toilet rolls you are doing something to help others. Well done you! Appreciate yourself 🙂 . We are all in this together. Never before has our interconnectedness been so real, so felt. As Brene Brown said ‘We’ll all be well together, or we’ll all get sick together.’ Let’s stay safe and stay well.

Bridgeen xx

P.S. I was also on U105 Radio this past week talking to Frank Mitchell about the benefits of mindfulness. One of my dear mindfulness student’s Marie phoned Frank to tell him what I was doing to support people – she is very enthusiastic! Marie phoned me to tell me she was going to do this (all her idea!) so I tuned in to listen. He was getting it and shouted ‘who is this hippie Bridgeen?’ He was saying things like you need a kaftan and incense to meditate. So – of course! I phone the show and put him straight – I said ‘Frank your stuck back in the 1960’s, mindfulness is actually the science of working with the nervous system these days and you don’t need to wear anything special or even light a candle in order to practice 🙂 ‘ Then I made him do a meditation. He loved it! He especially LOVED my voice! It was such fun 🙂 I think I converted him. And I will have to put it down as one of my ‘unexpected benefits’ of the Corona crisis – ‘talking to Frank Mitchell’ 🙂

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