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How can we practice Mindfulness in a post-lockdown world?

Uncertainty looms as the global pandemic persists. We have so far covered a range of topics on the effects of COVID-19: from how our sleep may be affected, to relational conflicts with family/partners and staying motivated during these tough times to the role of parents and technology in helping us cope. Amidst the uncertainty and confusion on the news and in our lives, perhaps we ought to turn to mindfulness – the focus of today’s blog – to ground us back in the present.

In this COVID-19-dominated world, how do we go about easing the discomfort around uncertainty so that we make sure to stay healthy?

First, recognise the source of your stress. Categorising whether your stress is external to you (outside/environmental) or internal (individual physiology/thinking patterns/anxiety) can help you understand whether or not you have any control over them or not. For example, our COVID-19 study has previously identified various sources of stress ranging from external (lack of social distancing (51.8%), uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 (50.8%), the future (46.3%), to the individual’s current mental/physical health (30-34%). One might benefit by focusing on the internal factors more so, as you have more control over them.

Second, practice mindfulness to help better manage your stress. Mindfulness is a state of consciousness where we focus on our moment-to-moment experience. There are a wide variety of techniques one can try such as those suggested below!

Third, start small and repeat. We know from behavioural research that to enact to big and sustainable change, one must start with creating small habits. So pick one technique above to try, and see how you feel about it! Over time, these tiny habits will amount to more long-lasting change. But how might mindfulness practices benefit you? Below are three key areas of benefit:

1. Emotional regulation

Studies suggest that mindfulness results in more effective regulation of an individual’s emotions because of an increase in metacognitive awareness. This leads to disengagement from perseverative cognitive activities. In addition, individuals may experience a decrease in reactivity to emotional stimuli due to practicing mindfulness over time. Importantly, catching yourself when you are about to react in an ‘explosive’ way is a good start. From there, a trick that may help, is to engage in deep breathing for 6-8 breaths. Through repeated practice, you will gradually increase emotional stability and feel more secure during this difficult time!

2. Attentional control:

Practicing mindfulness also allows for improvements in sustained attention. This means, you will be better able to hone and control your attention onto your task (with minimal distraction) and increase your ability to switch between tasks as well. Research suggests that grasping good attentional control can increase self-regulation in behaviours, motivations and emotions.

3. Stress reduction:

In terms of stress, studies of mindfulness-based stress reduction have shown that practicing mindfulness reduces one’s sense of perceived stress level and psychological symptoms of stress. Practicing mindfulness can help individual’s tune into their needs and the needs of others resulting in heightened empathy and increased sense of belongingness to a community. Regardless of it being a pre- or post-COVID-19 world, certain stressors are here to stay. So, improvements in emotional regulation and attentional control can allow for a more effective and healthy response to our short- and long-term stressors. Although the current circumstances are less than ideal (an understatement), practicing mindfulness regularly may ease some of the short- and long-term stress we are facing.

How do I get started?

You can get started on your mindfulness journey with the simple techniques noted above or by using an application. There are several free applications available including:

  1. Headspace — available on iOS and Android.
  2. Aura — available on iOS and Android.
  3. MyLife Meditation — available on iOS and Android.

Good luck on your path towards mindfulness! Please get in touch with us at contact@globalcovidstudy.com to share your experience and/or let me know your thoughts about this topic!

This post was written by Ms. Reina Kirpalani (@rkirpalani), a third year student on the BSc in Psychology with Education degree at UCL with minor comments from Dr Keri Wong (@DrKeriWong). You can reach Reina directly at reina.kirpalani.18@ucl.ac.uk.

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students

Struggling to stay laser focused? Me too.

In a post-coursework, mid-lockdown world, university students may find themselves lacking productivity in daily life. Our recent Instagram poll found that nine out of 15 voters said that they felt de-motivated since the beginning of lockdown.

How do you stay motivated to succeed given these uncertain times? Setting goals has been found to be critical to increasing motivation and success in many areas of life. Not just any goals will do; setting the right type of goals is necessary. Here are three types of goals that can help you:

Set specific goals

The more specific your goals, the better. This will enable you to detail exactly what intermediary steps must be taken and how much time and effort may be required for each step. For example, instead of setting out to learn French by the end of the summer, set yourself a daily goal to complete 10 minutes a day on an online programme such as Duolingo. By focusing on specific tasks, you will likely feel a greater sense of satisfaction that will motivate you to complete the next task – this known as positive reinforcement. This is especially key when lockdown restrictions feel never-ending!

Set short-term goals

Setting goals that are attainable in the near future, also known as proximal goals –have been found to result in greater motivation toward attainment than those that are distant. These goals can be short-term and can build toward an eventual long-term target. For example, setting yourself a goal of reading a new book on a topic of interest is more effective than simply setting your goal to learn more about said topic. By completing one task (i.e. one book) at a time, you will be able to gain a sense of accomplishment about your own capabilities. This will drive you forward and help you evaluate your progress more reliably and regularly. Being able to cross-off tasks on a calendar or to-do-list may help you to maintain motivation. There are many digital options for these tools as well.

Set challenging goals

Set challenging goals! Paradoxically, if you set goals that feel too ‘easy’, your perception of the time and effort necessary will promote procrastination and reduce your motivation to complete the task. Setting challenging tasks (that are still attainable and measurable) increases your motivation towards the attainment of the goal. The more engaged you are with a task, the more intrinsically motivated you will be towards completing it. For example, your motivation may increase if you set yourself the challenging goal of exercising four times a week for 30 minutes. This is more effective in achieving the eventual goal of fitness as opposed to aiming to exercise only once a week or seven days a week; both of these extremes will reduce your motivation towards the goal.

Whatever your goals may be during this quarantine period, prioritize your mental health. Celebrate the attainment of all goals – big or small – and allow yourself the space and time to adjust to new circumstances.


This post was written by Ms. Reina Kirpalani (@rkirpalani) a second year student on the BSc in Psychology with Education degree at UCL with minor comments from Dr Keri Wong (@DrKeriWong).

What do you do to stay motivated? Please share your tips/tricks with us at contact@globalcovidstudy.com or tag us on @GlobalC19Study (Twitter) and GlobalC19Study (Instagram). We’d love to hear from you!