With a record number of people either in lockdown or working from home, the incidence of depression and anxiety has sharply risen. Relationships are frayed, and in the face of these conditions, people are often reacting badly to their current situation.
There are coping behaviors that can help, and one of the best is focused awareness. Normally you focus your mind when you are working or playing a game like chess with a strong mental component. No one can fill an entire day this way, so what happens next? The easiest thing is to turn to distractions like binge-watching TV or surfing the Internet.
The problem is that adding more hours of distraction does not refresh the mind but quite the opposite. If you watch TV for more than an hour, how do you feel mentally? The tendency is to feel sluggish and dull. This is a symptom of passive attention. Focused attention sharpens your mind; passive attention dulls it.
A dull mind is more prone to depression and worry. At the very least dullness breeds more dullness. But we can take a tip from folk wisdom. When someone is grieving, the standard advice from family and friends is to keep busy. The wisdom behind this advice is that grief is self-healing. It cannot be sped up. The healing takes place in the subconscious. The grieving person waits until the healing response has done its work, which normally takes six months. In the meantime, sinking into grief does not help, so it is sound advice to keep the mind active while the healing response is left in peace to do its work.
Every day works the same way. When you have a negative experience, your mind automatically resets itself and goes back into balance. This rebalancing can take a minute, an hour, or more. While it is going on, it does no good to dwell on feeling angry or sad, bored or discontented, depressed or anxious. You are only working against the healing response.
Here is where focus helps. I am not referring to focusing on a job or hobby. As we saw, you cannot be actively focused all day. but there is another kind of focus, inner focus, that speeds up rebalancing and resetting your mind. The process is known as centering. I have mentioned it before, but here is a refresher.
How to Center Yourself
- As soon as you notice that you are distracted, find a quiet place where you can be alone.
- Sit with eyes closed and take a few deep breaths or sighs.
- Place your attention in the center of your chest in the region of the heart.
- Continue to breathe normally for a few minutes until you feel calm and centered once more.
The trick is repetition. You need to center yourself as many times a day, or an hour, as you need. Need is indicated by feeling bored, sad, anxious, angry, or dull. During stay-at-home the need will arise much more often than during normal life.
The state of inner focus is where your mind naturally wants to be. It is the resting place from which all mental activity springs. It is also the mind’s natural entry point into meditation and contemplation. In other words, you want to be there whenever your mind is not actively engaged. Besides nipping sadness, anger, anxiety, and fear in the bud, inner focus refreshes your mind, giving you the chance to be interested in the next situation you find yourself in.
There are other awareness skills that everyone can benefit from, such as increased attention span, paying close attention, and finding empathy with another person. They all begin with being centered, however, so this is the best skill you can learn and begin to practice right away.