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
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
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
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
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
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. :)
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
Back in Lockdown, many of us are spending more time in our own heads as the things that usually distracted us from ourselves have been removed.
An important thing to remember right now is that Thoughts are NOT Facts. Not everything you think is true, and so it is helpful to develop a practice of questioning your thoughts, instead of taking them at their word.
Left alone to wander, the mind will tend toward negative thinking. This is just how we are built, it's something that has helped us evolve and stay alive over the centuries - the mind scans the environment for potential danger so we can prepare for it. A certain amount of this thinking is obviously helpful, but too much can paint a dire picture.
Add to this the tendency for our mood to colour our thinking, and a mild sadness can spiral into a depression without us even noticing.
Make it a practice to bring your awareness to what is happening inside your mind, and question it. Here are some questions I find helpful:
"Thoughts simply aren’t facts, they are mental events that pop up in the mind and are dependent on our mood." - Elisha Goldstein
So many of us are feeling extra pressure and strain as a result of the pandemic. It has affected all our lives, and yet, many of us are giving ourselves a hard time for not being able to proceed as normal, keeping up with all we have to do, staying happy and calm.
The reality is that life is different now, many of our comforting structures have gone with working from home, our social lives have diminished, and uncertainty is a part of daily life.
With this change in how we live our lives, it's wise to adapt accordingly.
I am encouraging clients (and myself) to take some of the pressure of, and lighten the expectations we place on ourselves.
When you're making your to-do list this week, be aware of your energy levels. If you are feeling tired or stressed, can you take a few to-do items off your list? Is there anything that isn't absolutely necessary?
Give yourself permission to take it easy if you need to, what's the worst that can happen?
“The first step towards true enlightenment is to lighten up on yourself.” ― Bashar
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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