2020. Need I say more?
A year of intense inner reflection, frustration, loss of control, cancelled plans, and it is not even over yet. Even with only nine weeks left, somehow 2020 feels far from over, particularly because of the stress of the upcoming American election.
The uncertainty of the election brings with it a sense of groundlessness when what we truly need is a sense of groundedness.
As we have all learned in the past few months, taking care of our mental health is vital to being able to function in this new normal. Practicing self-care, and taking the time to attend to your mental health through simple daily mindfulness practices can radically change your mood, outlook, and overall sense of mental and emotional balance.
Here is a guide to ten quick mindfulness exercises you can do on Election Day to help curb your nerves and find inner balance despite uncertainty in the outside world.
1. Ground yourself as soon as you wake up.
What exactly does grounding even mean? Grounding means connecting with your body and the space around you so you can feel a sense of stability, quite literally meaning you can feel the ground beneath you.
An easy way to ground yourself is through your sense of touch and your breath.
So as soon as you wake up, place one hand over your belly and the other on the nearest wall. By touching your belly you are connecting with your physical body, in the present moment. By touching the wall, you are connecting to your current physical environment. Take 10 deep and slow abdominal breaths with your hands in these places.
Try your best to bring your wandering mind back to the sensation of each one of those ten deep breaths if you notice you start to drift into thoughts.
2. Name three things you are grateful for in your life this morning.
Starting off the day by practicing gratitude, allows us to begin the day from a sense of having enough, rather than from a sense of lacking what we desire. So after you take your 10 deep breaths, name three things you are grateful for out loud. If you’d like you can even write the three things down on a piece of paper, this reinforces your brain’s connection.
You could list something simple as having a roof over your head, or a bed to sleep in, or your health, or even being grateful for a good friend, or the sun coming up. Get creative, and choose three things that you are truly grateful for. Come back to this list throughout the day.
This is a great practice to incorporate into your daily life, as practicing gratitude is proven to boost mood.
3. Practice mindful eating.
You may not have an appetite on Election Day, or you may be nervously eating away. I plan to be on both ends of this scale as the day progresses.
Mindful eating is a powerful way to connect with the present. You can start by taking a look at your food, and before taking that first bite, think of all the people who worked to make each ingredient end up on your plate.
If you are eating a piece of bread or pasta, think of the farmer who grew the wheat or crop, and the person who ground it into flour. You can take a moment to express gratitude for this person, as well as the person who made the pasta or baked the bread.
If you are eating the fruit or vegetables, again you can think of the farmer who cared for the crop, the fruit or vegetable picker who spent their day gathering the crops. Then there is the truck driver who brought these items to the store, and the store clerk who put them on the shelf. And finally you.
Mindful eating starts by expressing gratitude for all those involved in the process. This is a great exercise to practice with children, allowing them to reflect on where their food is coming from with a sense of mindfulness.
And from this place of gratitude, take a first bite (and be sure to chew slowly!). Savor the food, and try to put your fork down in between each bite; this helps to curb nervous or quick eating which can overload the digestive system.
Mindful eating is a powerful way to practice presence and to slow down and reconnect with the present moment and our inherent connection with others.
(Oh and it may be a good idea to avoid stimulants like caffeine and alcohol today, as both can increase levels of anxiety, and decrease quality of sleep…not that many of us plan to be sleeping well the night of November 3rd).
4. Name 5 items you can see around you in the physical space you are in. Keep doing this throughout the day to stay in the present moment.
Naming the items you can see in the room around you is a therapy technique to help bring you back into the present moment. This is often helpful for those suffering from trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Try setting an alarm every three or four hours and allowing the sound to prompt this exercise. For example right now I see:
- My computer screen.
- A coat rack.
- A vase with flowers.
- A glass.
- A neighbor’s flower pot with blooming orange flowers.
You can try it now. Look around wherever you are and name five things you can see in this present moment.
5. Meditate for 15-20 minutes.
Meditating on stressful days can feel the hardest, and often meditating feels unproductive on these days when our mind is scattered and our anxiety levels are high. That is exactly why we should meditate. Meditating is not about only meditating when it feels easy, but rather it is meditating consistently and coming back to the breath on days when meditation feels like the last thing we want to do.
So try meditating even if you don’t feel like it. I promise you won’t regret it. You can check out a gratitude meditation here, or a compassion based loving kindness meditation here. Both gratitude and loving kindness meditations are great ways to reorient ourselves towards a sense of positive thoughts when the world feels like it’s closing in on us.
6. Practice some kind of cardio, exercise helps to settle our nerves.
Do you regularly go for a run or a bike ride? Has it been awhile since the last time you exercised?
Instead of a slow walk or a relaxing yoga class, try to get your body moving and your heart racing today by going for a jog, swim, or bike ride. Exercising for even 15 minutes can help your body release endorphins which can combat any stress or anxiety that may come up today. (Sign up for Blood & Milk’s Election Day Exhale event series here!)
7. Connect with nature. Go outside and stand in the grass or against a tree.
Let’s face it, the best way to ground is to go outside and touch the physical earth, or the true ground.
Even if you don’t feel like leaving your bed (understandably so), make an effort to go outside, and if it’s sunny be sure to catch some of those rays of sunshine for a natural vitamin D boost.
Fresh air, green grass, and a tree can do wonders. A medical journal article published in 2017 found that cancer patients with exposure to nature experienced better quality of life and mood than those who were not able to interact with the natural world.
8. Whenever your mind wanders or you start to worry, come to your present inhale and exhale.
Mindfulness, at its essence, is a practice of noticing. Only once you have noticed that you have drifted away from the present, can you come back to the present moment.
November 3rd will be a perfect day to continue to notice when you are drifting into the past or worrying your way into the future. When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed and caught up in a story, start by simply noticing, and then gently close down your eyes, and take a deep breath in and exhale slowly. Use this breath, or a few of them, as a mini-reset whenever you need it throughout the day.
9. Avoid people who may bring up anxieties, or who tend to catastrophize situations.
As you may have noticed, this list is very geared towards little exercises you can do on your own to ground yourself. Whether we like to admit it or not, we tend to be easily influenced by other people’s emotions, worries, and fears (even the best of us). So be mindful of who you choose to interact with today in order to protect your own mental balance.
Try limiting your use of social media, and even calls and texts to others. You know yourself and your relationships best, so take time to think about whether speaking to a certain someone may help or hurt the mental balance you are hoping to maintain.
10. Set a one word intention for how you would like to practice self-care on the following day.
No matter what happens, November 4th will come around, and then November 5th, and eventually 2021. Remember to take everything day by day, and return to the present moment when you start feeling overwhelmed about the future. By practicing these mini-moments of mindfulness individually, we can create change and peace together as we begin to master and calm our own minds.
So take a deep breath, and set a one word intention for how you would like to practice self-care on November 4th. It can be something as simple as resting a bit more, or taking a bath.
My word will be: trust.
Some other one-word self-care intentions could be: balance, rest, slow, peace, relax, heart, compassion.
Remember to take care of your body and mind, at the end of the day these are the things we can control and count on to carry us through each and every day. Let’s take a collective deep breath, we are in this together.