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
Take one minute three times each day to put your worries, thoughts, troubles on a shelf, and just be in this moment.
Breathe deeply and allow the muscles in the shoulders, face, and stomach to relax. Don't worry, anything important will be there when you come back, but for now, rest in the moment.
The more we can allow ourselves to follow this prescription, the more peace we create in our lives.
“The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.” — Abraham Maslow
Back in the days of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, it was necessary to constantly scan for danger, as we were never far from the threat of being dinner for some larger and faster beast than ourselves. This tendency to be on the lookout for what bad thing may happen to us is still alive and well in the most primitive part of our brain today. So if you ever wondered why you remember the one bad thing your boss said about you, and you see to have forgotten the ten good things he or she said, our 'negativity bias' that kept us alive for thousands of years is the answer.
So how do we learn to allow the positive in as well?
We can train our brains to be more aware of the good things by bringing our conscious awareness to those good things.
Each night this week, write down at least 3 things that were good about your day. These things can be big or small, anything from a sweet birdsong you heard on the way to work, to a great performance review, it doesn't matter. What matters is that you consciously look for the good, not allowing the negativity bias to run the show and paint your days grey, when there's so much colour out there if you look for it. :)
"What we focus on, we empower and enlarge. Good multiplies when focused upon. Negativity multiplies when focused upon. The choice is ours: Which do we want more of?" - Julia Cameron
Thought creates feeling, and feeling creates action.
Imagine this scenario: I wake up in the morning and immediately think of all I have to do today, it's a long list, and the thought comes "How will I ever get all this done?", quickly followed by "X always looks so in control, and she's busier than me, why am I such a failure, when will I ever get it together?" In response to this thought, my heart sinks, my shoulders slump, my head feels heavy. I feel tired already, so I turn over and go for a snooze. When I wake, it's late and I think "sure half the day is gone, what's the point??".
This is the power of thought.
Now imagine an alternate scenario: I wake up in the morning and immediately think of all I have to do today, it's a long list, and the thought comes "How will I ever get all this done?" --I immediately step in and ask myself "Where will this thinking take me?". I decide instead to remind myself that I am a person who can get things done, that even if it all isn't done by evening, that doesn't make me a bad person, and, that I am worth the effort to do the work of choosing to think and act differently. (It does take effort, especially in the beginning when all evidence points to the futility of even trying, but persist, and it will get easier.
Are you worth it?
"Your thoughts are a catalyst for self-perpetuating cycles. What you think directly influences how you feel and how you behave. So if you think you’re a failure, you’ll feel like a failure. Then, you’ll act like a failure, which reinforces your belief that you must be a failure." - Amy Morin
“When a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90 second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.
Something happens in the external world and chemicals are flushed through your body which puts it on full alert. For those chemicals to totally flush out of the body it takes less than 90 seconds.
This means that for 90 seconds you can watch the process happening, you can feel it happening, and then you can watch it go away.
After that, if you continue to feel fear, anger, and so on, you need to look at the thoughts that you’re thinking that are re-stimulating the circuitry that is resulting in you having this physiological response over and over again.” - Jill Bolte-Taylor, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Sceintist’s Personal Journey
This quote reflects what Mindfulness training is all about.
As long as we are alive, as long as we love and care for people and things, there will be joy and pain. We can't avoid our emotions, and efforts to do so usually wind up causing more pain. Better to learn to form a healthier relationship with our emotions, so we can live and love fully and fearlessly.
If you would like to learn more about mindfulness, and how to apply it in your life, click here.
"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." - Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
One of the trickiest things with depression and anxiety is that they can steal your motivation to do the things that will take you to a better place mentally.
Any of us who experience depression or low mood will know how it is to have the internal battle of knowing that a walk for example will make us feel better, but struggling to find the energy to get up and go do it.
Those of us with anxiety may relate to feeling wound up, having the thought that doing a mindfulness meditation will help us, but feeling that we'll be too anxious to make it through to the end of the recording.
It's a catch 22 that we need to stop in it's tracks. If we wait til we feel like doing the thing that will help us, we'll never do it. Anxiety and depression will see to that. However, if we can do our best to ignore the feeling and do it anyway, over time, the depression will lift, and the anxiety will soothe.
If you're not feeling great today, do something. Take a walk or do some yoga, do a meditation, phone a friend, something. It's a step in the right direction. Do the same tomorrow and you've taken another step, same the next day, and the next. Before you know it, you'll be in a better place.
In times of uncertainty, instability, and change, it's really important to ground ourselves, and connect with the inner stability we are all capable of.
This short meditation is excellent for tapping into our inner stillness and strength, see if you can manage to do it every day this week.
(It may take a few seconds to start after you press play, thanks for your patience!)
Stay safe and well.
“Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look.”
Fact: The Weather is Bad (For everyone but the ducks)
Thoughts about the fact: Oh my God if I see one more day of rain I'll go crazy. I'm sick of the cold, the wet, the weekend storms, the grey. I can't go anywhere, I can't do anything, this has gone on so long I can't remember summer, no wonder I'm so porky I can't get out to do any exercise. I was supposed to have the garden prepared by now and it'll be too late by the time this stops, it'll be ruined for the year now.............
Thoughts about the fact: Wow the queues into Tesco this morning, everyone is out buying up stuff, should I be out buying up stuff? Where would I put it, this house is so small, imagine being quarantined in here I'll climb the walls! What if we all get it, will we turn on each other for supplies? I hear they're shunning people who recovered from it in China, what if that happened to me? What would I do if all my friends and family shunned me?.........
The mind can run wild (and often does) when we are faced with adversity. There's the fact of the thing, and then the thousand thoughts we have about the fact.
We are programmed as humans to problem-solve, and this part of our brain kicks into action when a problem arises, this is generally a good thing. However, when we are faced with a problem we don't have much control over, many of the thoughts we have about it are pointless.
We can only do what we can do (remember your umbrella in the rain, wash your hands properly to avoid Coronavirus etc.), then, we should try as much as we can to let other thoughts go. Worrying increases our vulnerability to stress, and can have an impact on the body. To be at your best so you can effectively face life's challenges, let worry go, that means, choosing to disengage from worry thoughts.
"The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another" - William James
In the movies change is often depicted as happening in a big transformative event, where someone has a revelation that changes their life forever, and they live happily ever after.
The reality is quite different. Change is more likely to be a collection of small decisions, made over and over again.
What change will you make today?
“A year from now you will wish you had started today.” - Karen Lamb
Have you ever thought about how the information you take in is affecting your mental health?
I'm noticing more and more people mention how the state of the world is getting them down, making them feel anxious and hopeless, and I've noticed the same within myself. I notice when I limit my news intake to once a day, instead of each bulletin, I feel happier and more relaxed.
If we think about what we know about nutrition - we know that the body benefits from nutritional foods, and suffers under processed foods. Can we think of the mind in the same way? If we feed it a diet of fear and horror, that becomes our reality, unless we bring balance.
I'm not advising people to bury their heads in the sand, it's important to know what's happening in the world around you. However, we need to balance the bad with good.
There are some good news sites out there that are worth a look, such as the Good News Network, and Positive News. Other ideas would be to watch a comedy, or read a novel.
If you want to go a step further, you could take some action to make change such as volunteering with an organisation that captures your heart, writing a letter to your TD about an issue that matters to you, or make a donation to a charity. Taking action combats the feelings of helplessness we can sometimes feel in response to bad news.
Bring awareness to your mental diet this week, and see how it makes you feel.
“One reason that cats are happier than people is that they have no newspapers.”
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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