Man sitting at the edge of a dock with mountains

In order to reflect on something, first we need to notice or observe it, as well as asking ourselves what we can hear, see, and feel when we take notice. Taking notice of our internal and external landscapes can improve our mental health and wellbeing by reducing worry, stress and anxiety, increasing self-awareness, and encourages us to be present. 

During lockdown, I have been trying to make time to pay attention to what’s happening in the outside world, changes to the external landscape, and to my thoughts, feelings, and overall sense of wellbeing, which I refer to as my ‘internal landscape’.

Taking in external landscapes

As I’m able to work from home, my contact with the outside world has been limited to my daily exercise, picking up shopping, and spending time in the garden. I realise I’m very lucky to have access to outdoor space. We have all no doubt seen pictures and videos of the worldwide changes to nature and landscapes brought about by the decrease in pollution. Have you taken the time to stop and take notice of these changes where you live?

Stop and pay attention

Taking just five minutes to stop and mindfully pay attention to things we might not normally notice can give our minds a much-needed break from the stresses and strains of trying to adjust to this ‘new normal’, whatever that might mean for you. As we have been experiencing warmer weather, I’m opening the windows so I can hear the birds. There’s something very soothing about taking a moment to pause and tuning in to what’s around us, whether that’s the things we can hear or see.

Changes to landscapes

In a rural environment such as the one I live in, you can easily see the changes in seasons which can be a source of comfort. The signs of spring arriving have been a reminder that some things are constant – the seasons will still arrive in their usual way, even if we are mostly confined to our homes. Nature will continue to do so whether we pay attention or not. If you live in a more urban environment, it can sometimes feel harder to pay attention in this way. Before this crisis our cities were bustling, dynamic places where lots of things demand our attention all at the same time; buses, advertising, shop windows and so on. In order to wade through this myriad of noise we understandably close some of it off, instead listening to music or using our phones.

Look up

I lived in London before mobile phones were really a thing, and one of the best pieces of advice I received was to look up. Look up at buildings beyond eye level and the shop window display and you’ll discover some fascinating details on the historic buildings. If buildings aren’t your thing, look higher still, you can always find a patch of sky and clouds to observe.

Pay attention to your internal landscape

I’ve also been finding it useful to pay attention to my internal landscape, and you may do too. Initially I found that my emotions were very close to the surface as I began to adjust to being at home. It’s completely normal to feel a sense of grief and loss when the normal things that we are used to doing are suddenly taken away from us. Some of us will also be experiencing grief at the loss of a loved one, and there is a sense of collective loss as we have seen the numbers of people dying from COVID-19 increase.

You may also have been aware of a sense of shock and denial at first – experiencing a sense of ‘how can this be happening’? I certainly did! Remember that we have all had to adjust as best as possible to our individual circumstances. It can be helpful to track your mood and to reflect on how it’s affected by different activities such as reading the news or by exercising.

Taking notice of physical changes

Have you felt more tired than usual? Tiredness is common symptom of stress. Have you managed to create a new routine for yourself including exercise? If, like me, exercising once a day feels like plenty, you may not have been especially excited to hear that we can now take unlimited exercise, but for some that news will have come as a welcome relief! As gyms and leisure centres remain closed, you may like to include some of these  movements and exercises in your routine. How about sleep? If getting a good night’s sleep has been an issue, you may find this sleep wellbeing blog helpful.

Uncertainty and cautious optimism

I have noticed recently that I’m experiencing a whole new level of uncertainty related to how we come out of lockdown. At the same time, I’m cautiously optimistic that we will begin to take some small steps forward. Whilst we have all probably accepted that it’s unlikely to be a return to the ‘normal’ that we left behind in March, with social distancing in place for some time, we’re not quite sure what moving forward will look like.

In addition to taking notice of your internal and external landscapes, you may also find that the Mentally Yours podcast offers a more useful and positive way of thinking about things.

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