Mindfulness enables us to “come back to ourselves”

The Liberty spoke to a life coach and therapist about mental health during lockdown, depression and mindfulness.  

“When stress is ongoing it can easily turn into anxiety. Anxiety will often drive depression,” said Steven Lane, a life coach and psychotherapist.  

More than 60% of people feel isolated and overly anxious or depressed according to new figures on mental health from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) which were published on Thursday 25th February 2021.   

Photo Credit: CSO statistical publication 25th  February 2021.

This CSO survey showed that nearly 74.4% of people aged 18-34 reported that their mental health has significantly suffered throughout the pandemic. 32.4% of the people over the age of 70 said they also felt the same.  

Nearly 20.5% of people aged 18 to 34 said they were feeling “downhearted or depressed” all or most of the time in the weeks leading up to their survey interview. 

According to Lane, “socialising can be a key part of a healthy brain and reduction of depression and anxiety. When we make physical contact with others, our brains release oxytocin which helps us bond and improves our mood.”  

However, due to lockdown restrictions this is not possible. In order to avoid getting depressed or anxious one has to “accept it as a key part of mental health. When we resist a situation that we have limited power to change, anger, depression, stress are inevitable outcomes.” We need to adopt a mindset that says, “this situation is temporarily a reality. I need to accept and work with it. This too will pass! We also need to put lots of structures in place to support ourselves,” Lane said. 

Lane suggests daily outdoor exercise, healthy eating and a timetable for work and relaxation along with online social connections and meditation techniques, to help you during these trying times.

“Mindfulness,” Lane said, “is generally a great skill to learn that can increase happiness and support mental health. It is derived from ancient spiritual practices but was adapted to help deal with stress, depression and generally to enjoy life more”.   

“We can notice when we are getting stressed and learn to let go of it.”   

life coach and psychotherapist, STEVEN LANE.

“We can essentially define it as bringing present moment awareness in an open and non-judgmental way to our immediate experience which includes thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, our environment, and interactions. It can be applied as a meditation technique. We can notice when we are getting stressed and learn to let go of it. We can learn to enjoy the small things in our lives which in turn will stimulate positive brain chemicals.”    

Mindfulness, like any useful skill, needs to be learned and practised. There are many books available which facilitate self-learning; likewise, there are also countless apps and online courses available that can help with mindfulness meditation. One of the original mindfulness courses which is still very popular is known as MBSR – Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (as developed by Dr Jon Kabat Zinn) – often taught over several months.

Lane adds, “it should also be understood that mindfulness does not necessarily refer to meditation. Simply noticing your immediate experience is an act of mindfulness. Taking a moment to notice your breathing and perhaps to smile inwardly are acts of mindfulness. So, it can be very simple.” 

Mindfulness enables us to “come back to ourselves”, notice what is going on and letting go of unhelpful thinking and feelings we are holding onto. It can be useful, just for a few minutes to sit and close our eyes and simply notice, how do we feel in our bodies, watch our breathing, and notice if it is deep or shallow.  

“Watch our thoughts and let them simply come and go like watching leaves floating down a river, notice feelings and acknowledge them and then where appropriate allow them to dissolve. Doing this for 5 – 20 minutes will generally lead to a sense of spaciousness and freedom.

“We can also use mindfulness in connection with gratitude – the field of Positive Psychology has proven gratitude to be one of the most useful practices for our mental and physical wellbeing. So, during the day, we can be mindful of all the things we can be grateful for, taking time to register them and feel the sense of gratitude in our hearts”, Lane said.  

“I use ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) which is a mindfulness-based and evidence-based therapy. One technique it uses is thought de-fusion. This means to become aware of thoughts, and to recognize that thoughts are not necessarily true – much of the time they are just part of our overall mind program and internal talk which we have been conditioned to have. You learn to recognize non useful thoughts and to separate yourself from them,” Lane said. 

“It may take many years to deal with the fallout of mental health problems created during Covid-19 and given that many people did not receive necessary healthcare during lockdown, that too will impact people’s mental health long term”, Lane said.   

“In some ways, lockdown has been an opportunity for a ‘re-set’. We need to ask ourselves what good we can take from it and incorporate those changes into our lives. This might include giving ourselves a better work-life balance, spending more quality time with our partners or children, and especially learning to appreciate the small things in life.”  

The launch of Smart D8 is a new initiative in Dublin 8 supporting mental health and community well-being. The healthcare providers for this program are St James Hospital, Health Service Executive (HSE), Health Innovation Hub Ireland (HIHI) and St Patrick’s Mental Hospital.   

Smart D8’s aim is to pilot and develop smart solutions to health and well-being challenges within the area of Dublin 8.  It will officially launch on Wednesday, 10th March 2021.     

Visit Lane’s website here. 

Steven Lane Photo Credit: Avril Lane Watson

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