Tending to the Mind During Difficult Times
Autumn has arrived in the Northern Hemisphere, and in Vermont, we welcome the vibrant foliage, crisp air, and abundance of the harvest during this cozy season. It’s a gorgeous time, and the smells are intoxicating. Summers are short here, and we North Country dwellers maximize our outdoor time for as long as possible. Fall is special for us, though it’s ephemeral nature can usher in a sense of apprehension as we think about the long winter ahead.
2020 has made the outdoor expansion of our living space even more important than usual, and many people I speak with are already thinking about what it will mean to head back inside during this ongoing pandemic. The long days of darkness, typically a time of quiet renewal, may feel less welcome this year.
As someone who struggles with Seasonal Affective Disorder during the northern winter, I share this concern. But whenever I feel myself getting too attached to something that will inevitably end, I lean on yogic philosophy, specifically the idea of non-attachment. In yoga this is called
aparigraha, and this yama invites us to take only what we need, keep only what serves us in the moment, and let go when the time is right. Right now there are many things that we should not let go of, such as the fight for social justice, equality, and democracy. But the seasons march
on, and wishing the weather to be different will not make it so.
Like the trees release their leaves at the completion of their annual growing season, we can release the thoughts and perseverations that bring “optional” suffering into our lives. Letting go isn’t easy; it requires practice. And neuroscience has shown us that we focus on the negative in
order to keep ourselves safe. We come by this tendency honestly!
One of the most powerful ways of managing our minds is to get into our bodies. Moving our bodies helps quiet the chatter, but when I really can’t turn my brain off, I find guided relaxation to be an incredibly helpful mindfulness tool. My favorite technique is progressive muscle relaxation
(PMR). PMR is profoundly relaxing because it down-regulates the sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight“ response), and is a great pre-bed routine for those struggling with insomnia, which is very common right now. PMR is beneficial whether you are guided by someone, or do it on your own.
I’ve recorded a short guided relaxation for you to follow, and I invite you to rest in a comfortable supine position, cushioned by bedding or pillows, for as long as you’d like. Not only will your mind benefit, but your stress hormone levels will decrease, and this will boost your immune response (more important than ever!).
This gift of rest will help you make wiser decisions about which thoughts are serving you, and which would be better to release. From there, you can take the right actions to support your wellbeing, allowing you to show up the way you want to for yourself and those you care about.