As South Africans continue their lives with many restrictions under Level 4 lockdown, we consider the toll the Covid-19 enforced national shutdown is taking on mental health.
Media personality Elana Afrika-Bredenkamp had an enlightening discussion on Jacaranda FM with Cape Town-based clinical psychologist Janine Boulle about how different personalities cope in this situation and about how relationships – such as those with our spouses and children – are also affected.
The conversation was part of the “Baby Brunch Parenting Podcast”.
A part of the conversation revolved around why some people are handling the situation so much better than others, even within a family structure. Boulle gave her thoughts on the importance of recognising that people have different needs from one another and this played a role in the coronavirus lockdown. Some people struggle when their needs cannot be met and feel out of control as they battle to cope. This can also lead to conflict in a restricted, lockdown situation.
Discussions around how to cope led to the topic of mindfulness, a useful tool for everyone both during and after lockdown. Below are Boulle’s four steps for practising mindful thinking for our daily emotions:
1. Notice and name the feeling that is emerging for yourself
Emotions are neurological impulses that are sometimes experienced or felt first in the body as a sensation before we recognise them as emotions and are able to give them a name. At times, we observe and name a single emotion, and at other times we have a group or cluster of emotions that emerge together.
The simple question of ‘What is coming up for me right now?’ can guide this step.
2. Accept and allow
Mindfulness emphasises non-judgement. At this stage, we do not view the emotion as good or bad. A feeling is simply an emotion that emerges. At times we can view behaviours as good or bad, or perhaps helpful or unhelpful. When we become aware of a feeling, we allow it to be. A helpful question is: ‘Can this feeling simply be?’
As we observe and accept, we create a clearing or space in our inner world to allow the feeling to both emerge and diminish in a natural way.
3. Curiosity and closer investigation
We observe and allow, and then we examine the experience more closely. Helpful questions at this stage are, ‘What other feeling am I feeling?’; ‘What do I believe to be true about this feeling?’; and ‘What is the root or primary feeling behind this feeling?’
Unpacking and understanding the feeling is helpful. At times, the beliefs and thoughts we have about a feeling create more pain than the feeling itself.
For example, if we experience a feeling of jealousy, we can possibly believe that feeling jealous is bad, and then we can feel both jealousy and shame. This can begin a self-critical thought process that leaves us feeling worse than the original feeling of jealousy.
Being mindful of emotion is most effective when we are able to identify the primary feeling. The primary feeling is the heart or root of the matter. Perhaps the primary feeling behind jealousy is sadness around the experience of neglect. Moving to the next step, we are then able to be with the self that feels sad, and do so in a caring, loving way.
4. Self-compassion and nurturance
As we care about someone we love who is feeling a difficult feeling, so we aim to care for ourselves. Generally, we will acknowledge the loved one’s feeling. That is, ‘I can see you are feeling sad’; ‘It is normal to feel sad’; ‘I understand and feel for you’; ‘It will be okay’; and ‘I will be here for you’ .
Rhys Johnstone is a Mindfulness researcher and trainer based in Johannesburg who focuses on Mindfulness in the Workplace, and has been teaching Mindfulness and yoga online since the Covid-19 outbreak began. You can join his classes at www.intuitiveocean.com.
Rhys suggests the “Three Minute Breathing Space”, developed by Mark Williams, John Teasdale and Zindel Segal, as a quick way to “re-set” when you are experiencing anxiety during lockdown. This simple but effective practice has three steps, and the idea is that you spend about a minute on each step.
The first step invites attending broadly to one’s experience, noting it, but without the need to change what is being observed. It’s almost like “checking the weather” inside.
The second step narrows the field of attention to a single point: focus on the breath in the body.
The third step widens attention again to include the body as a whole and any sensations that are present.
In many cases, Rhys says, following these three simple steps creates a calm space from which you can move out into your day and whatever challenges face you.
Janine Boulle specialises in both Individual and relationship Therapy. She completed a Post Graduate Course in Mindfulness-Based Interventions through the Institute for Mindfulness. She offers a 6-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Course, as well as facilitating groups for those who value ongoing support in their practice of Mindfulness after the initial course.