When I offered a free virtual session about using mindfulness to manage lockdown, I was shocked when hundreds of people signed up!

While some people admitted to enjoying lockdown, most owned up to feeling anxious, uncertain, frustrated and at times completely overwhelmed. These are normal emotional responses to living through a pandemic and juggling the realities of working from home (or not working at all) but that doesn’t make them any less unpleasant.

The session I ran outlined a selection of mindfulness practices that work best to manage difficult, unpleasant and sometimes overwhelming emotions including breathing techniques, using a gratitude practice and simple mindfulness meditation.

However, while meditating regularly builds the mindset to stop yourself from unwittingly feeding unhealthy mindstates (like worrying excessively and imagining all kinds of worst-case scenarios that will probably never happen!) the PLAN model is a great in-the-moment tool whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed.

It really helps!

PLAN is an acronym for:

P = Pause and breath

L = Label (name) what you’re feeling

A = Allow your emotions to have some space (instead of trying to get rid of them asap!)

N = Need (asking yourself “what do I need right now?”)

I came up with PLAN years ago – but it has never been more relevant!

Below is a little more detail about how to apply it.

  • P stands for Pause and be Present. Whenever you notice unpleasant emotions arising, stop and take a couple of deep breaths. Slightly lengthening your exhalation and breathing out through pursed lips will help you feel calmer. It also gives you a moment to collect yourself. Without pausing, it’s easy to yell at the kids, snap at your partner, or say something you’ll later regret in a Zoom meeting.
  • L stands for Lean in and Label. Can you name what you’re feeling and locate where you’re feeling it in your body? You might be feeling anxious, sad, frustrated, confused, angry, sad, lonely, or some other emotion? Let yourself stay with these sensations and explore them for a moment. You might experience tension in your jaw or shoulders, a dropping sensation in your stomach, or a fluttering in your chest. Labelling is a powerful way of finding a bit of space between you and your emotions and also allows you to respond more wisely. Emotions can easily hijack the best version of you. The simple act of naming an emotion brings the smarter part of your brain online.
  • A stands for Allow. Give your emotions permission to exist. Instead of resisting uncomfortable emotions and sensations, allow them to be there. Be curious. Give them a bit of space.  All emotions are telling you something important and it pays to listen. You don’t have to like how you feel, just acknowledge ‘yes this is happening‘. The moment you stop resisting, denying, feeding or trying to numb your emotions, they tend to dissipate all on their own.
  • N stands for Need. This is an important step, so please don’t overlook it. Ask yourself, “what do I need right now? How can I do to better look after myself and others? What’s the best action to take? Is any action required at all, or do I simply need to take some time-out?”

As humans, we are programmed to avoid and distract ourselves from our unpleasant emotions, but this doesn’t work.

If you don’t listen to your emotions when they whisper to you, be prepared to hear them scream!

Mindfulness is about learning how to accept and skillfully navigate unpleasant emotions. As you become more self-aware you learn to be kinder with yourself, and self-acceptance grows emotional intelligence.

So, whenever you feel overwhelmed, try the PLAN model. Pause, lean in and label what you’re feeling. Allow yourself to experience your emotions and then ask “what do I need?”