Minding our Mental Health

When a widespread difficulty like the coronavirus pandemic, it becomes important to draw on our inner strength. We can use this time to pause, reflect, bring courage and care to ourselves and those around us. As humans we have survived for a thousand generations, helping one another and inspiring each other. We know how to do this and no better than the Irish people. Instead of getting caught in collective fear and anxiety, we can remember to take a breath, center ourselves, and take practical precautions, but calmly and in the spirit of kindness. Each of us can contribute to the well-being of ourselves, our families and our communities.

When stressful events come our way, evolution has hardwired us to go into the fight-flight-freeze response. This automatic process served us well in surviving when we were being chased by a sabre tooth tiger, but in modern life, unconscious reactivity often is counterproductive and even harmful to the things that matter most to us, our mental health!

In reality, stress – the actual experience of tension, of demand – though it may be uncomfortable, doesn’t have to be a problem.  A certain amount of stress is necessary to bring out our full intelligence, creativity and care. It’s the essential ground for us to wake up to our own full potential: to who we really are. When we cultivate our capacities for mindfulness and compassion, meeting the challenges of life actually helps us grow mentally & emotionally stronger, as well as physically healthier thanks to reduced inflammation responses. When we get triggered and reactive, how do we shift from “flight-flight-freeze”, into “rest and digest”?  This is the shift that reconnects us to ourselves and each other and helps bring a more meaningful attitude into our lives.

When I’m teaching kids mindfulness techniques, I always tell them “Our thoughts are like clouds, they’re only passing by” in other words, helping children understand that just because we have a worried or anxious thought, does not mean we have to attach to it. We can simply Accept (what am I feeling), Acknowledge (Oh, there is this anxious thought I’m feeling) and finally Release and Let go, (to send the feeling on it’s way) Easier said than done, Yes, and it needs practice just like a muscle! We all need to strengthen our mental muscle at times.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings and sensations. The idea is to allow thoughts, feelings and sensations to come and go, without judgement or the need to do anything with them. 

It involves a gentle acceptance of whatever comes into your awareness in the moment. It’s not so much about reaching an end goal, but about exploring your experience and expanding your awareness of your own inner world – the things that drives you, motivates you, get in your way, trip you up, keep you stuck. The more you practice mindfulness, the more you will come to understand how your thoughts, feelings or sensations influence each other, as well as your mood and the way you respond to the world.

How can I practice it:

1. Breathe

Get comfortable and start to breathe strong, deep, slow breaths. Make sure that your belly is moving up and down as you breathe. Be aware of what is happening in your body as the breath comes in, and then as it leaves you. Acknowledge your thoughts if they come. Let them be, and then let them go. If your mind moves away, just acknowledge that your mind has wandered, acknowledge where it went, and gently bring your focus back to your breath. Be present without needing to hurry things along, or move on to the next part of your day. This can be difficult, but remind yourself that whatever happens is okay. Just notice, let it be, and then let it go. 

2. Notice Body sensations

Move your attention gently through your body and notice any sensations that are there. There is a world of wisdom behind your sensations. Can you feel your aliveness? Maybe there’s a feeling of heaviness in you. Try to let go of any need to judge, understand or change those sensations. Just notice them. Let them be, and then let them go.

3. Emotions

Notice any emotions that come to you. Perhaps they grow from attending to a sensation or a thought. Perhaps they are just there. Let your attention land softly on them, without needing to change or understand them. Any awareness you need will come to you when it’s ready. For now, it’s about creating the space for your experiences to ‘be’.

4. Take mindful walk

To take a mindful walk, give your full attention to the experience of walking. Because walking is something we do a lot of, it becomes automatic. We do it without thinking. This is a good thing – we don’t want to have to think deliberately about every step we take – but occasionally bringing awareness back into the automatic, everyday things we do is a way to experience our ‘everyday‘ with a sense of newness and vitality. To walk mindfully, focus your attention on the actual experience of walking. Feel the ground beneath you as you walk. Listen and notice what this is like. Engage your senses as you do this. Notice the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feel of the world as you move through it. 

5. Senses

As you move your attention through your body, notice what you see, feel, hear, taste, smell. Name them, without judgement, and then let them go.

These are just a few ways to introduce mindfulness into your day. I have recently co-authored a book with 13 other therapists called “Awaken your wellbeing”. These stories are transformational stories of Courage, Hope & Healing. It is a self care book and the aim is to give strength and courage to people out there who may be struggling at times. I would like to give away a copy of the book for your leisurely reading and all proceeds of the book will be going to Galway Simon Community. My chapter is entitled “My other world” and I explain how I embarked on my personal journey into mindfulness.

Please see my website www.mariecronnelly.com for any information on classes, group classes, one to one sessions and subscribe to webpage for up to date information on wellbeing and health.

Marie Cronnelly
Marie Cronnelly

Dip. Psychology for Counselling, Accrediting to IMMA, IPHM, CCPH

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About me
Hello! My name is Marie Cronnelly

Marie is very tuned in to children’s energy and has been teaching privately at her purpose built studio in Athenry.

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