Summer or Winter? Singing or Dancing? Tea or Coffee? These were some of the questions posed to us by Key Into Australia co-founder Maia, to kick off discussion and identify some commonalities.
In a pre-Covid world Friendship Café meetups used to be held at a physical location, however they are currently online since with social distancing required it has been necessary to adapt to a changing environment. Which is another thing we all have in common – we’re not only adapting to moving countries, but also to new ways of maintaining social connections.
October is Mental Health Month, and Key Into Australia has partnered with Way Ahead to encourage all of us to “Tune In” and think about our mental health and wellbeing. Tonight’s Friendship Café would focus on discussions around these topics and include a Mindfulness presentation from Alexandra. Mindfulness can be defined as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”
After saying hello to each other in our native language, we were split into groups of two and later groups of three to introduce ourselves and discuss why we had joined the group and what we had experienced during our relocation to Sydney. We had representation from Denmark, Russia, France, India, and New Zealand so there were a variety of stories on offer.
Next, Alexandra’s presentation included acknowledging how each of us were feeling. Some of the comments mentioned were “tired”, “anxious”, and “exhausted”.
The beauty of online meetings as that we have the chat facility so if anyone is feeling a bit hesitant, they don’t necessarily have to speak aloud. I had posted my comment but upon seeing other ladies’ contributions I found myself identifying with all of theirs, too. As Alexandra told us the story of her own move to Australia, she emphasised the impact such a change can have on our mental health, and that there are self-management strategies we can utilise to help ease stress and anxiety.
Splitting up again, we discussed our personal use of Mindfulness practices or if this is something we would like to pursue more. Even if you have your own Mindfulness routine that is working well for you, you may find that there are other methods which hold more appeal. Alexandra provided some solid examples of different practices we could easily follow in our daily lives, and we each chose one to focus on that night. As she rightfully said, the best thing about Mindfulness is that it’s free!
The final part of our Friendship Café meetup was the breathing exercise Alexandra took us through. By closing our eyes and focusing on our breath in our belly, or our chest, our shoulders, or our nostrils we can tune in to our inner selves and quieten the mind chatter. Thoughts can be acknowledged, but then set free like a cloud drifting away, allowing us to return to the breath.
After a few minutes we opened our eyes and were asked how we were feeling. The change in the comments was so positive. For example, we were “much happier”, “calm and relaxed”, and “peaceful”. In a short space of time we had ALL improved how we were feeling. It was actually so good, that although the meeting had officially ended none of us wanted to leave!
With more “Tune In” activities with Key to Australia planned for Mental Health Month, I can’t wait for the next one. Why don’t you join me?
Written by Penelope Smith
Key Into Australia, 7 October 2020