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
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
"Go as far as you can see,
Then see how far you can go."
- My Dad's Friend
I have this quote on the wall in my office to remind myself and my clients that while goals are very useful things, sometimes they can become overwhelming, or a stick to beat ourselves with. A goal can loom over us and discourage us by it's very size, or it may seem so far off that we are disheartened by the length of the journey ahead.
It's important to remember that we reach any destination step by step, day by day, breath by breath.
If you're looking to make a change in your life, or if there's a goal you want to reach, have a picture of where you want to eventually end up for sure, but then break it down into bitesize pieces that you can celebrate as you go.
For example, if you want to drop a stone, you might want to break that down into 2 pounds a week and acknowledge that win each week. The encouragement and sense of achievement you feel will keep you motivated to proceed.
If you're working on letting go of depression or anxiety, then acknowledge the 5 or 10 minutes of calm or light-heartedness you felt today, they really do count. Keep working, with compassion and care, and those 5 or 10 minutes will be come 15 or 20, 25, or 30, and some day, a reversal will happen, and there'll be more joy and calm than dark and worry.
Have faith and be steady on your course, as long as you are moving in the right direction, you will get there.
"I long to accomplish a great and noble task; but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble." - Helen Keller
It's in our nature to attempt to foresee difficulties in life so we can prepare ourselves for them. This skill has helped us stay alive back in the days when we lived in a hunter-gatherer society, when danger was always around the corner. It has helped us develop safer and more comfortable ways to live in, and get around our world. This skill helps us live our own lives with more ease and fewer nasty surprises.
However, some of us overdo this. We look into the future and see only darkness and hardship, we may tell ourselves that we are only trying to be prepared, or not leave ourselves open to disappointment, but what we are really doing is allowing the future that may not happen ruin the present. This can leave us stressed, tired, and depressed.
This week, see if you can catch yourself worrying about the future, or thinking of the bad that may happen.
Remember that you are not a fortune teller, and you cannot know the future.
See if you can notice three good things in your life right now, in this moment. (No matter how big or small)
Remember that each time we actively look for the good in life, we are training our brain to be more naturally aware of the positive. You never know, you might find that life is better than you think.
"I am an old man and have known many troubles, but most never happened." - Mark Twain
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
If you knew that your body doesn't know the difference between a thought and reality, would it change how you think?
When we worry - when we run scenarios of what can go wrong, or bad things that might happen, the body actually produces stress hormones in response to the worry thoughts, and we enter stress responses such as the fight/flight/freeze responses. If we do this often enough it can lead to inflammation in the body, and while we sit home safe on our sofas, our own thoughts are making us stressed and ill.
Check in regularly with your mind, and when you find it wandering off to worry, or into fearful places, come back to the present.
Ask yourself - is there actually any danger right now?
In this moment, is there actually anything to worry about? - If there is, then what action can you take?
If there's no action you can take right now, can you let those thoughts go?
"The body cannot tell the difference between events that are actual threats to survival and events that are present in thought alone." - Joan Borysenko
“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.
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
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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