It's been a while since I've sat down to write a Weekly Minute. I feel like a naughty kid who hasn't got their homework done, desperately scrambling for a good excuse to give the teacher (you). I have to stop myself and remember that I'm not 10 years old and no-one is going to call my Mammy and tell her I've been bold!
Self-forgiveness and self-compassion are recurring themes in the Counselling office these days. So many of us are hard on ourselves on a regular basis, demanding constant busyness and impossibly high standards, all the while encouraging our friends & family to relax and go easy.
I've noticed that I and others are still expecting 100% from ourselves despite the ongoing challenges of the Lockdowns, and we could all do with cutting ourselves a break.
This week, watch out for times when the words 'Should' or 'Must' come to the mind. If you're holding your happiness hostage to a list of what you 'Should' or 'Must' be doing, see if you can question whether that thing really absolutely needs to be done today, and if you can, let yourself off the hook. We are all under enough pressure at the moment, no need for us to pile more on. Allow yourself the option to rest and restore, life will feel easier if we do.
"... If you feel "burnout" setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself." - Dalai Lama
The Anxiety Equation
I heard someone say once that if we were to write anxiety like an equation it would be "an overestimation of the problem, over an underestimation of our strength to deal with the problem".
Something I often ask clients to do is to take an inventory of the strengths and resources they have, things such as perseverance (aka stubbornness), friendships, compassion, creativity, a meditation practice, work ethic, communication skills, a loving and loyal pet, you get the idea.
These are the things that we can call on to help us through difficulty, and as we head into another year of uncertainty, now is a good time to take stock of what we have to see us through.
If you find your list is looking a little short, ask a friend or someone you look up to to help you (you can do this in your imagination if you like), what would they list your strengths and resources as?
When you have your list, keep it handy, read it often, and always remember, you're stronger than you think.
"I am larger, better than I thought; I did not know I held so much goodness." - Walt Whitman
The Off Switch
We are in the space between Christmas and New Year, and for those of us lucky enough to be off work, it can sometimes be a challenge to completely switch off when we've been busy. The body and mind get used to going at a certain pace, and remembering to intentionally relax can help us to get the rest we need to face the new year refreshed.
Check in with yourself a few times each day this week to see what your inner state is, are you needlessly rushing? Are you holding tension? Are you thinking about things you have to do?
Whatever you notice, give yourself permission to let it go. Slow down, relax the muscles, park the item onto a to-do list and forget it.
Think of these little acts of switching off as money in the energy bank for the coming year.
“Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is relax” - Mark Black
It's The Thought That Counts
This Christmas may be unusual for many of us as so many people won't get home to see our loved ones. No doubt this will bring some sadness, but it is possible to still have a Merry Christmas, if we take care with our thoughts.
Thoughts really matter. If we approach the holidays focusing on what we lack, we will feel that lack whatever we are doing. If we approach them with a sense of gratitude, we can have a merry and full holiday, whatever our circumstances.
See if you can bring your awareness to the mental attitude you bring to the coming weeks, and if you notice an attitude of lack, see if you can shift toward gratitude. Don't underestimate the power of a little gratitude, studies have shown that a regular gratitude practice can rewire the brain to be more positive.
When we have breath in our lungs there is something to be grateful for, so bring your attention to the small things, they really do matter.
Wishing you a Joyful Christmas, whatever you're up to.
"...nothing is really good or bad in itself—it’s all what a person thinks about it." - Shakespeare
A Gift to Yourself
There has been a change in pace in the past weeks, with the easing of Lockdown restrictions and Christmas shopping and socialising back on the menu, and for some, this has brought an increase in anxiety levels as we struggle to adjust and keep up.
This week, give yourself the gift of a little self-care by making some time to do one of your favourite practices. It might be a little yoga (Yoga with Adriene is my go-to), a guided meditation (Tara Brach has some nice offerings), or take a 20 minute walk by the sea or in the forest.
When life is busy, we may feel more squeezed for time, but making space to calm the mind saves us time in the long run, so consider it an investment.
“Love yourself first, and everything else falls in line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” - Lucille Ball
A common theme in the office this week has been that the one thing we can be sure of is that everything changes.
When we feel anxious or low, we may look toward the future with negative goggles. For example, if we are having a low day today, we may tend to think that the party we have to go to next week will be terrible because we are not going to be in the mood for it, and the very thought of getting dressed up to go out makes us want to crawl back to bed.
However, a lot can change in a week. Today, we could decide to make a change that will lead to a happier mindset next week, such as getting out for a 20 min walk every day (yes the weather is terrible but there's always wet gear!), or starting a mindfulness practice, or a yoga or gratitude practice, or eating healthier food.
The negative goggles might try to convince you that these won't work, but have faith, science has proven these techniques have worked for millions of people, so why not you?
If you can commit to ignoring the negative goggles for the next week, you never know what might happen....
“Everyone acts like nothing will change yet everything changes.” ― Meir Ezra
Don't Meet Trouble Half-Way
We've all heard the saying "Don't meet trouble half-way", but how do we put it into action?
This week, set a timer on your phone to go off at random times during the day.
When you hear the timer, check in with your thoughts. Are you thinking of what might go wrong? Or worrying about how you're going to deal with a problem?
If the answer is yes, ask yourself "Is there anything I can do about this right now?" If not, then let the thought go, it's just stressing you in the present.
“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” – Leo F. Buscaglia
In the Bubble
This week the Weekly Minute is again inspired by a client. (Whenever I use an idea inspired by a conversation with a client, I always ask their permission before publishing it)
In session we were chatting about overthinking and worry, and how best to let go of troublesome thoughts.
As we all know, thinking about things to a certain extent can be helpful-- we need to plan what to have for dinner, how to get from A to B, what we need to pack for a trip. However, some of us tend to over think, we make a plan and then proceed to consider all sorts of scenarios where things could go wrong. The reason we need to let this type of overthinking go is that the body doesn't know the difference between a thought and reality.
So for example, say I have an appointment in a new place I've never been to before. The logical thing to do is get on google maps and check the route and how long it will take to get there, and plan my departure time from that, done. But then my mind may start wondering what will happen if there are roadworks? Or an accident? Or if I am in an accident?? Or if the car won't start!! All these thoughts cause the body to tighten up and experience a stress response as if they are actually happening. This is why it's so important to not engage with these thoughts when they come. I can plan to leave 15 mins early in case of an unexpected event, and then leave it there. The next time a worry thought comes in, I can let it go, knowing I have planned as much as I can.
My client came up with a fantastic visual to help her work with this: She pictured herself enclosed in a safe protective bubble, and when a worry thought comes in, she gently places it outside the bubble, where it can't cause stress. She may need to do this over and over, but each time she does, she is breaking the habit of worry and overthinking.
Give it a try this week, or see if you can come up with your own. :)
Muscle Relaxation for Sleep
Lots of us are having a bit of trouble sleeping well right now. Here's a tried and trusted technique to help you drift off more easily...
When you get into bed lie down and take a few deep breaths, and tell yourself the day is over, and it's ok to be calm now.
Next, move through the muscle groups of the body, and simply tense them, then relax them, focusing on the sensations of tension and relaxation as you go.
Start with the feet, tense the muscles of the feet and toes, hold a few seconds, then relax, paying full attention to the sensations of tension and relaxation. If you find your mind wandering off, simply bring it back to the area of the body you're working with.
Then work upwards slowly through the calves, thighs, buttocks, abdomen, back, shoulders, arms, hands, finishing by scrunching up the muscles of the face, and releasing (remembering the small muscles around the eyes and the forehead).
You should find yourself relaxed and ready to snooze if you make it to the end without falling asleep!
“There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.” ― Homer, The Odyssey
The 'Off' Button
A client of mine shared a brilliant practice she had been doing during the week. She has been practicing mindfulness, and learning to be in the present moment. She described being out for a walk and checking in with her thoughts, and when she found they had strayed into the subject of work, she mimed pressing an off button in the air in front of her.
I loved the way she had developed a practice of her own, and the visual and action of pressing the imaginary off button.
This person had come a long way from when I first met her 6 weeks previously, and it was obvious why, she was really walking the walk.
We can all do this really simple but effective practice whenever we find our minds have wandered away from the here and now (remember-no judgment, all minds wander all the time!).
Don't forget how much it matters what we think about - your body doesn't know the difference between a thought and reality, and stressful thoughts create stress in the body. Also, when we are lost in our thoughts we miss out on the good that is in the here and now, and life is too short for that.
"A man is what he thinks about all day long." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Weekly Minute is a blog I write each week with the aim of providing proven tools to help promote positive mental health.
The collection of short, practical mindfulness and therapy tools for self-reflection and self-improvement, can equip people to take their mental well-being into their own hands, and improve their quality of life.
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