So, COVID-19 came and rocked our entire planet for most of 2020. Life came at a screeching halt back in March. Countries closed their borders. People got incredibly sick. Jobs were lost. And quite frankly, things looked pretty damn bleak. However, there was something else that silently changed and is now here to stay in our post-COVID world.
Mindfulness, and our approach to mental health and wellness in light of the changes we’ve all had to make this year.
While conversations around mindfulness have occurred on various platforms, I wanted to use mine to chat to Helen Kartika, a professional mindset and performance coach who helps individuals release their subconscious programming and identify the patterns that keep them stuck in order to overcome challenges and achieve their goals.
With a passion for fulfillment at work and entrepreneurship, Helen specialises in helping ambitious, high-potential women elevate their personal and professional lives. From feeling more satisfied in careers or business, to overcoming imposter syndrome or simply achieving more work-life balance, in Helen’s own words: “Girl, I got you!”
As we somehow try to redefine was ‘normal’ is, or at least live life under the ‘new normal’, I wanted to chat to Helen about what this looks like from a mindfulness perspective. We may be adjusting to everything else in life now, but how are we adjusting mentally and doing so in such a way that we can still perform as best as we can? Well, Helen has some answers for this and I’m so glad to be sharing her insights with you. So, grab your notepads and pens for this one!
The Personal Impact of COVID-19 and Mindfulness
Khalipha Ntloko: Helen, could you tell us how have you seen COVID-19 impact your mindfulness routine?
Helen Kartika: I’m pretty good with sticking to a routine. I’m a morning person so I wake up relatively early each day and journal- this is a non-negotiable for me. Sometimes I meditate but a lot of the time I like to sit in silence and just reflect (over my cup of coffee, of course!). As long as my morning routine is slow and I have 1-2 hours to just ‘be’ before getting stuck into work, I know I’m setting myself up for the day. During COVID I think what’s impacted my routines the most is the non-obvious micro-anxieties felt throughout the day that we didn’t have before. Things like the fear of a job potentially falling through, a text from a friend who has just been made redundant, or the latest border closures you see on the news… life is filled with all sorts of uncertainties and obstacles to navigate as it is and that’s been amplified tenfold since COVID. In terms of my routine, this has made me consciously take more mindful moments throughout the day. To just breathe and bring myself back to the present. Even if it’s only for a minute at a time.
KN: What are some of the ways in which you’ve managed to deal with or overcome the challenges that COVID-19 presented?
HK: Seek and get help! I was listening to a podcast the other day where the guest mentioned that she was building her own personal growth team; she had a wellness coach, a therapist, a masseuse and all sorts of people to support her in being the best that she could be which I thought was awesome. I, myself, work with a life coach and a therapist and am currently also looking into other holistic healers to help with my energy. Whilst I understand it is a privilege to be able to integrate this kind of support into your life, there are many informal and personal ways that you can get the help you need too. I advocate people building their own personal development toolbox by identifying what makes them feel happy, grounded and present. Does moving your body liberate you? Great, you can put online dance classes into your toolbox. What about taking 5 minutes out of your morning to visualise a successful day? Perfect. There are all sorts of tools we can adopt and develop ourselves to deal with the challenges that arise. The trick is to experiment, find what works for you and actually do it, even when you don’t feel like it!
New Normal = New Mindset
KN: Now that society is beginning to adjust to the “new normal”, when is the right time to also adjust mindfulness practices to this new environment?
HK: As cliché’ as it sounds, the time is always now, as the present moment is all we have! Whilst we’ve seen some industries devastated, if COVID has shown us anything, it’s that we can all take a slower, more considered approach to work and our daily lives, without compromise on the output itself. As a challenge, see how many conscious moments you can have within your day. Savour that sip of coffee for just a few seconds longer than you usually would or take a moment to appreciate the colours of nature whilst out on a walk.
KN: How have you managed to stay motivated during these uncertain times?
HK: I am very motivated by connection and community. Even you and I have had some incredible conversations despite having only ever met online, come from completely different walks of life and live on the other side of the world from each other! Whenever I’m in a funk I’ll reach out to one of my peers in my community or a friend. There is just so much richness in talking something out and having someone provide the space to listen. That and I love to binge-watch motivational content on YouTube- it’s my guilty pleasure!
KN: What can someone do today to start creating and maintaining successful habits in our “new normal” environment?
HK: A habit must be established before it’s improved. Therefore, habits are all about starting small and building from there. Author of Atomic Habits, James Clear, talks about how he once had a client that was trying to get into the habit of going to the gym. The guy would go to the gym just for 5 minutes without even working out, just to get into the habit of going to the gym. So whatever habits you want to form in your ‘new normal’ environment, make it easy for yourself. Give yourself some grace and start ridiculously small.
KN: In a post-covid world, what are some of the positive changes you look forward to seeing?
HK: At a time when we’ve all had to radically change the way we do things, we’ve had the chance to experience a different way of living that might not have been an option for us before. We therefore, now have an opportunity to figure out what parts of our old lives we don’t want to go back to and what parts of the ‘new norm’ we’ll fight for. A slowed approach and flexibility in remote working being one such example!
KN: COVID-19 has been an uncertain time in our lives this year; what is your advice for overcoming the stresses that come with uncertainty?
HK: Going back to my own mindfulness routine mentioned about, anxiety and stress live in the future, so the more present we can be, the better we can manage our state. Uncertainty literally comes from us trying to predict the future and unfortunately, most of us don’t have that super power! So, by bringing ourselves back to the present moment- i.e. back to the stuff that we know is certain, we are shifting our mindset to focus on the things we can control, not the things we can’t.
If you find yourself stressed in the moment, adopt a breathing technique for relaxation (e.g. breathe in for 4, hold for 7, exhale for 8) or do something to ground yourself in the moment. For example, thinking of 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch such as your feet on the ground, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.
Simply getting things off your mind works a treat too. If I feel my stress levels rising, I’ll make a list of all my stresses or worries and either start taking action toward them or identify why they are things I actually don’t need to worry about. I also like to set designated time aside in my day to worry and stress which is something that my own therapist recommended. You essentially catch your worried thoughts throughout the day and write them down so you can come back to focus on them later and not let them run your day. You’ll often look at them at the end of the day and realise what you were stressing about wasn’t so big after all!
Helen Kartika’s Top 3 Tips for Cultivating a Positive Mindset
Consciously creating ‘space’ in your day
“This involves carving out time in your day, every single day, to reflect, take stock or plan ahead. All too often we’re rushing from one thing to the next and it all just becomes a bit of a blur. Doing so leads us to feel exhausted, unsatisfied and largely out of control in our own lives. Developing a morning or wind down routine to bookend the day or attaching this time to an existing routine you already have is a great way to integrate this space into your life.”
“As humans we have a negativity bias which means we can sometimes be quick to think the worst of a person, situation or event. Take for example our tendency to focus on the one comment surrounding an area of improvement in a performance review at work when the rest of the review is largely positive. This is all part of our survival mode which triggers defense mechanisms we’ve inherited from our ancestors back when they were running away from saber-toothed tigers. Our brain is designed to protect us and keep us safe, not to make us happy! Thinking the worst of something rather than the best is much more effective from a survival perspective. So our reactive thought or feeling might not always be the most productive for us in modern times, but being aware of this and reframing allows us to get the most out of a situation.
For example, instead of “I’ll never be able to do this!”, reframe it as: “I’ve faced challenges before and have overcome every single one. I am capable.”
Instead of: “I’m a failure.”
Reframe it as: “I welcome failure as an essential opportunity to learn and grow.”
“This one’s so simple, but so effective. It’s heavily backed by science and psychology and is seriously not to be underestimated! Taking time to remind yourself daily of all the things you have in your life that you are grateful for is one of the single-most effective ways to put yourself in a positive mindset. Journaling or thinking about just three things you’re grateful for before you get out of bed in the morning does wonders for your mood and outlook.”