I know of friends who are looking for new jobs in the pandemic. I know of people who have started new courses. I know of people whose marriages have sadly come to an end, not caused by the pandemic, but coinciding with it. I know of people who have been trying to have a baby for years and have at last become pregnant. I know of people, friends that are a few decades older than me, whose adult children are considering what to do next whether that is to do a college or university course, or are looking for a new job or their first job. I know of people who have embarked upon a new relationship, and are trying to figure out whether to continue or not. I know of people who are working on overcoming mental health challenges, and who are putting their minds to the day to day things of life. There are people, all of us, who are in a variety of situations in this pandemic, some good, some bad, some difficult, some easier. There are people who are starting things for the first time, there are people who are having to begin again. Some people have become homeless in this pandemic for a variety of reasons. Many people are in situations where they feel they are having to ‘start from scratch’.
Perhaps you are one of those people. Maybe you are not starting from scratch in such a way but maybe you’re not sure what’s next. Maybe you need a job or are wondering about whether to start a course. Be encouraged that that’s ok, even if you don’t know what’s next or haven’t made it to where you want to be. There are several areas of my life where I don’t know what’s next or have any idea of how to get there, but I remind myself that God has led me through so many unknowns and challenges already and I can start on my knees, with prayer to Him, Jesus Christ, The Living God.
I, like you, can also start from right where I am right now. You may not be rebuilding your life from some terrible tragedy, but be encouraged that there are people who have, and that you can take the next step of life, your life from where you are right now, even if it is the smallest of steps of faith. In her book, ‘Things Get Better’, Katie Piper talks about how she had to rebuild her life from rock bottom after rape and acid attacks and then being in a coma and being scarred and burned and disfigured. She faced fear, anxiety, PTSD and many, many medical operations. She was given the prognosis that she would be homebound and reliant on full time care. Now she is living independently, is a writer, a TV presenter, an activist, has a charity for burns survivors, is married and has two little daughters and helps so many other people. Initially after her attack she just wanted to die and it seemed there was no hope for her. She is also a Christian, having encountered The Living God in that hospital bed keeping her alive, and her faith has grown as she reaches out to others, and has podcasts on mental health and also shares her faith now as a presenter on the UK television programme ‘Songs of Praise’. You might look at that and listen to that story and think ‘wow’, ‘how did she do it?’. In her book she describes how she set the smallest of goals for herself on a day to day basis, such as ‘holding down a meal’. Things that most of us probably take for granted. She really was at rock bottom and needed help with surgeries, feeding tubes, psychological support and many other intensive care treatments. Maybe we’ve had something in our life that we can relate to in some way, but the chances are most of us haven’t gone through that extent of suffering. We’ve all overcome different things in our lives, some more than others, and perhaps some of you have gone through extremes yourself. We can’t compare, but we can be encouraged and inspired.
What is it you are facing today? You can start today. Do you need to find a job? Well, take what is in front of you, ask help from Above, and take the next step. You have a resourceful mind and you *can* take the next step. Is it getting to grips with homeschooling your child or children? You have it in you to learn to be more adaptable, to be more patient and to figure out a way forwards. Is it overcoming mental health or physical challenges? Maybe everything won’t suddenly get better, but you can make progress, you can keep going, you can take the next step and you can start from today.
Don’t be discouraged. Look up and look around at the examples of hope and courage and be reminded that making progress takes one small step at a time. You can take the initiative from where you are starting from today. Don’t compare, don’t be afraid, but take that next step of faith. x
Have you ever watched the film ‘Castaway’ with Tom Hanks when his character is stranded on a desert island, after a plane crash and being washed up on shore?
It’s a psychologically intriguing film and I think on some level we can all find some sense of human connection with various themes in the film. Like all good plots, from my point of view, there is a transformation story within it and as viewers we can see the physical and psychological changes that take place, firstly in the shock of the situation to someone who is totally out of their element, then to their resourcefulness and resilience in survival and then after being rescued and coming back to ‘civilization’ the strange disconnect and having to relearn what it is to be part of a community and in a totally different environment from that desert island.
I’m not saying that we’re in a situation similar to that by any means, but many of us have had to go through things in our lives that have tested or continue to test our mental, emotional and psychological resilience and adaptability. Some among us, myself included have had to overcome and are still overcoming remnants of complex PTSD pre-pandemic time. I know that some of my readers also are overcoming different challenges that may involve mental health and recovery from something or other. The thing is, living in this world will at some point challenge our mental and emotional resilience, and where we find we haven’t established it yet (say for example if we go through something as a child or young person) then we are put to the test as to discover and build that resilience from perhaps a very low point. But we can do it.
In the pandemic we have a variety of psychological challenges, and I’ve explored some of these in previous posts. There is a lot going on and I don’t want to trigger anyone reading this by going into details repeating some of the many things that we’ve collectively been faced with the past year particularly because there are some among you for whom that might feel too close to home.
But what about the situation of being in an extended lockdown (as we are in the UK)? That in itself has mental challenges for us. I’ve explored the importance of some semblance of routines and habits to give ourselves structure to our days even if we like to break free from those structures at times. Perhaps we can relate to some of the emotions that Tom Hanks’s character faced such as shock, loneliness, isolation, even delusional or troubled thinking from lack of human connection (when his closest companion was a blood stained basketball named ‘Wilson’ with a bloodstained handprint that he connected to as being Wilson’s face).
Our brains need somewhere to go, and when we physically can’t go anywhere, we need to keep adapting and finding ways to become increasingly resilient so that we don’t sink under the pressure of mental health challenges.
Think of the ways you have so far adapted to and grown from your experiences of an extended lockdown if you have faced or are facing one. Are there things that were overwhelming to you at the start that you now take in your stride? One aspect of this, whether for good or bad I don’t know, may be a sense of not being so affected by the daily case numbers that we are presented with. Initially we were all, or most of us were, shocked and worried by these but now we can almost ‘tune out’. We focus on our own situations and adapt and some among us are able to reach out beyond our situations to help others and we can’t forget to be grateful for the many front line workers who continue to do this through all sorts of tests and trials and pressures.
Thank you frontline workers.
So, in an extended period of lockdown, your brain needs somewhere to go. We have the small steps that we can all be taking, but what about a bigger direction? Is there a project that you can get stuck into, something that you’ve wanted to do for a long time that you didn’t seem to have the time for? Maybe something you wanted to do when you finally retired if you’re not there already? I know a lot of people at work who would be of the mindset pre-pandemic that ‘if only they had the time’ to do such and such. Well folks, now we do have the time.
Give yourself a bigger challenge to steadily work away at bit by bit. Maybe you’re not into that and it’s fine, but do you have a novel you want to be working on, a model to build, a business to set up? Do you want to become a mentor to someone but need to learn the skills? Perhaps now is the time to set yourself a slightly bigger challenge and give your brain somewhere a bit more ambitious to go. Maybe you want to set up a charity to help those less fortunate, or to advocate for others with mental health issues, or to be a supportive voice and presence to others who are suffering even if that presence is online and via technology.
Maybe your blog has places to go and you need to put your mind to it. I started this blog when I was in a tough spot mentally myself and I both wanted to do something to help myself and to help others. I find some solace and strength in knowing that my words can be used to help and encourage other people who might need help with mental health issues generally and over and above that to reach out to more people through this pandemic.
It’s a small blog, I haven’t earned any money from it, although if you want to help me with getting more people viewing my blog and finding help from it and thereby encouraging and helping me, please do share it. It’s a small beginning but it gives my mind a purpose bigger than myself to focus on and is also an avenue for me to gently share my faith for those who will read even if we walk different paths.
If we are simply getting up one day at a time to try to manage that bit at a time well, that’s ok and it’s also good and commendable, but it is just one phase of this journey. We can’t stay in a state of shock or disbelief, and we haven’t. We’ve all collectively moved on from that in many resourceful ways. But sometimes our courage can wax and wane and we can lose momentum and feel like we don’t know how to keep on going. We can keep on going. We will.
I also still have mental health challenges. Things come and go in my mind and I need to remind myself of Who my God Is, and also that He has equipped me with a resilient brain and that I can handle many things and not get discouraged by them. But our minds do need somewhere to go so that they don’t simply ruminate, go inwards or become negative and so that we don’t get lost in ourselves. We need vision.
That’s a big statement because I believe the biggest vision for our lives should be our Creator. However, on a lesser scale we also need vision to help us get through our days and to do so purposefully and that’s why having a long term or bigger project can be helpful.
I understand and agree that this is not for everyone and that’s fine, but I do feel that we need to look beyond where we’re currently at if we want to move forwards, make progress and not get lost inside our heads.
What do you all think? How can we encourage each other? Do you have any goals that you are pursuing over and above the tasks you have been focusing on to help get you through each day? The small tasks are crucial so don’t ever think that they’re not enough or not important enough. But for some of us our minds need to go further so that they don’t go inwards and perhaps like me you are also one of those people.
Are you giving your brain some direction and purpose in this pandemic and if so would you be so gracious as to share some of your inspiration with us so that as a community we can help and encourage each other to keep going on stronger?
Take care friends, stay safe, be curious, be inspired and seek to inspire. x
We’re all dealing with different and unique circumstances in this pandemic, yet we all need little things to look forward to. It helps us to keep going.
You might be thinking, well what on earth can I look forward to when I’m ‘stuck inside’ day after day, or if I’m working on the front line day after day, night after night?!
If that’s how you’re feeling, it’s understandable, but it’s not unchangeable. Try to take a deep breath, take a step back from your circumstances and reframe your thoughts.
We can all plan little things to look forward to that will help to give us a bit of mental and emotional ‘space’ and relaxation. We can try to make the small things more special as we learn to savour our experience of them. Yes, it’s hard to live like that all the time, we all get stressed and anxious and wound up, but we can begin to build things into our day to day lives that can help to ease the emotional and mental pressure we might be feeling.
What little things can you and I look forward to? They can be simple and even seemingly mundane to other people, but they can be special moments in our day depending on how we look at things.
You could look forward to a freshly made bed, and tidying up your room a bit.
You could look forward to planning a new art or craft project.
You could look forward to a virtual summer holiday or spring break when you choose a place in the world that you are interested in and find out some facts about that place, read books, watch films and eat food or do activities at home that are linked to that country if you can.
You can plan a catch up with a friend online or on the phone.
You can look forward to making a nice meal.
You can look forward to a film night at home.
You can look forward to quiet times in which you can pray, meditate and read.
You can look forward to slowing down and making a cup of tea or coffee and finding a quiet spot in your home to enjoy it.
You can look forward to setting time aside to journal, or to talk to your loved ones.
You can look forward to finishing up work at the end of the day and planning something nice to do for yourself such as some self care activities, a nice warm bath, listening to relaxing music.
You can look forward to doing something for someone else whether that be giving to charity, making a gift for a loved one, or reaching out to a friend in need.
You can look forward to picking your outfit for the day and making an effort to get ready.
You can look forward to taking a shower, or going for a walk or doing something that will help you appreciate the moment.
You can look forward to curling up with a good book.
You can look forward to rearranging your room or some of your home decor.
You can look forward to times spent with a new (or old) hobby.
You can look forward to times when you are able to get fresh air.
You can look forward to writing down your thoughts, creative journaling, perhaps to going to online church on a Sunday if you are inclined to do so.
You can look forward to hugs if you have people around you, or to connecting virtually with someone if you don’t.
You can look forward to getting a grocery order and making a delicious meal or even enjoying something quick and easy that you can put in the microwave.
There are so many things that we can factor into our day to day lives that will lift our focus to help us to appreciate all of the little things that we tend to take for granted. We can also choose to make our living spaces more cosy if that is possible. Even some inexpensive ‘fairy lights’ / LED lights can make our atmosphere at home seem that little bit more cosy and special, despite whatever else might be going on. We don’t need to travel far and distant places or have a lot of people in our life, or spend a lot of money to have things to look forward to. We can take the time and make the effort to appreciate what we already have, to choose to look forward to these special things, and to enjoy them along the way, despite whatever other difficult circumstances we may be facing in this pandemic. And all the while we can choose to be grateful for the health and wellbeing and life that we do have today. x
Perhaps life, the pandemic, your experiences have put you in a psychological box and kept you ‘stuck’ within what you think is the realm of possibility.
However, as someone coming through on the other side of complex PTSD, I am living proof that there can be psychological crossing points in our life, where after we have suffered, and pressed through, we can come out stronger and wiser on the other side.
What challenges are you facing today? Particularly what psychological bridges do you need to cross? Will you take that journey? Will you believe that you can cross over to the other side? It may be tough going at times and it may be psychologically gruelling but you are strong enough and if you persevere you may find a brighter day ahead, new avenues of thought and freedom.
If you are at a psychological bridge in your mind, know that persevering, pushing through, keeping on going through the strain and the pain will lead you to somewhere new and you will not be the same. We can’t go through such psychological shifts and remain unchanged even if it takes time for us to see that change and even if on the surface it seems that nothing has changed at all.
If you are in lockdown, it may on the surface seem like you are repeating the same habitual patterns over and over again, day after day. You wake up, you go through whatever morning routine you go through, you eat, work, play, sleep and repeat and your days on the surface vary little from one day to the next. But what makes you different from other people who do the same or similar things and stay ‘stuck’ mentally? Maybe on the surface not much has changed, but are you being transformed by the renewing of your mind? Are you allowing your mindset change and in doing so you change the way you see, experience and appreciate the things around you, things that would otherwise seem ‘ordinary’, ‘mundane’ and ‘commonplace’?
A lot of life is spent in normal times in our fast paced societies running away from things, running to the next thing, filling up our minds with information, distractions, escapism. In lockdown perhaps we’ve spent time with escapism and distraction and while at times these can have a helpful place, such as if we need for our own mental health to distract ourselves, living like that is unsustainable. Moreover, we’ll get bored of it after a while. We can’t live life if we’re always running away from it, or from ourselves. Maybe you’ve been there pre-pandemic times. Maybe your and my constant ‘running’ or escapism has led to breakdowns or burnouts or psychological fatigue at various points.
What if we were to cross some psychological bridges as we make our way slowly and carefully through this pandemic? Perhaps in less time than we anticipate it our societies will be back to more of what we were used to as ‘normal’ and staying at home will seem like a distant memory in time. Maybe then we will long for the extended periods at home that we are having to go through now. So, will we use this time well? Will we take time instead of being dissatisfied to cultivate gratitude? Will we learn and train our minds to be thankful and to see the beauty and the life in the everyday?
Will we cross other psychological bridges that we have needed to for so long now? Don’t waste this time that you have right now, your mind may lead you to some new destinations where you can see your life with greater depth, clarity and gratitude. Cross that bridge. Begin today. x
Life comes to us with a variety of challenges. Sometimes these challenges can test and try aspects of our character, but at other times the things we face in life can come close to crushing and destroying us, and even when we do survive, we can be left with the feeling of being broken in spirit and crushed on the inside. When these experiences occur in childhood when we are still forming and becoming who we are, it can have a long lasting impact upon our sense of self. Once again, I speak from experience.
Having faced such hardships in childhood, I persevered through life with a lot of anxiety and symptoms of what had gone on deep within, but it wasn’t until later that all of this ‘exploded’ to the surface as the complex trauma that it was. I re-experienced and had to go through and process things that were trapped and stuck in parts of my brain and nervous system from years of fight-flight and freeze responses as a child and young person. After that I have been working solidly to first survive the crisis, and then to get strong and overcome the symptoms of trauma and the long lasting effects of childhood suffering.
By God’s grace and the strength I find in Christ Jesus, I can confidently say that I am an overcomer. Yet, I know that overcoming symptoms is not all that there is for me, even though I haven’t figured out the next step of life quite just yet.
Can you relate? Not too long ago I wrote about how I saw this recovery journey in terms of stages from victim to rescued to survivor to overcomer to thriver. Thriver is a stage I have not yet got to identifying with or living in.
Much more recently however, I have had another word come to my mind when thinking about moving forwards, an it is the word ‘Transformation’.
Many of us have seen that transformation is possible in our own lives and the lives of others. Most of you reading this blog have long passed adolescence and that stage in itself is testimony to many of the transformations that occur as we move from childhood to adulthood! If you’ve ever seen some of those ‘before and after’ pictures of people when they were age 12 or 13 to what they looked like age 17, 18, 19 or 20 then some of these will be astounding as to how much people can physically transform.
Yet, physical transformation is only one part of life, and it is not the most important part, because who we are and how we look does not determine our worth. It can take us a lifetime to learn this because of how many lessons and lies from the world we have to unlearn! People are valuable because we are human beings, made in the Image of God, Created on purpose, and no matter what words have pierced you through your life, whether from other people and / or yourself, the pain of those words and /or actions, those lies, can never detract from your inherent worth. It has taken me a long time to learn this, and perhaps I am only just beginning to come into more of that freedom of mind and thought.
Yes, transformation is not limited to the physical realm. If any of you out there are ‘Born again Christians’ then you will know that you’ve had a supernatural experience of forgiveness and being indwelt by the Holy Spirit that has changed your life, and that people who are not believers can’t quite relate to. Perhaps you can think back to a time when you didn’t believe in Jesus Christ or the Word of God and thought that ‘those religious people’ were all a bit crazy. I remember in my teenage years thinking that I was a spiritual person and believed in God as a Higher Power and Guiding force but the ‘Christians’ I encountered just seemed deluded and hypocritical and a bit crazy and simple minded in some ways. That’s until I met a Spirit-filled believer, a very different kind of human, then I encountered Jesus Christ, The Living God, and then I chose Him, came to know His Forgiveness, and had supernatural experience after supernatural experience. I was transformed spiritually as some of you have also been. Some of you may be reading this and think that I’m a bit crazy, and I can understand that because unless you have had an encounter with Jesus Christ and are transformed and translated into His Kingdom spiritually then of course it will make no sense.
Transformation can also occur in terms of our thought processes, our characters, our outlook on life. It can be in terms of how we view ourselves and other people and how we engage with the world. It can be all of the above, spiritual, physical, mental and emotional. Sometimes a transformation in a person’s life, especially a spiritual one, can occur suddenly, but in most cases I would surmise to think that it is gradual.
Some transformations we have no control over, such as going through adolescence as our bodies and minds develop in ways that bring us into adulthood with or without our choosing.
Yet, what of other aspects of transformation? Can we have a part in it? We can ask for God to change us, we can ask to be born again, to be Forgiven by Christ, and by allowing Him into our lives, we can experience an eternal transformation and we can see our lives continuing to change as we allow God to make those changes on us in the inside and as we cooperate with Him.
There are also other ways we can experience transformation, and we can be intentional about these. If someone wants to work on external things and experience a transformed body for example, they usually have to put in some work, effort and have somewhat of a plan of action as to steps that they will take gradually and consistently so that they can see changes. Surely when we want to see change and transformation in our emotional, mental and psychological development then we also have to put in some work?
This is something that I am embarking on thinking about more, especially as the idea of being a ‘Thriver’ in life at this moment in time seems and feels a bit unknown to me. Can I go from overcomer to thriver without transformation? When I think of a transformative process, it helps me to know that this can happen gradually. When I think of what life was like a few years ago at the height of my ‘crisis’ when I was suffering tremendously with C-PTSD, depression and anxiety, to where I am now, those two snapshots in time do show transformation, yet on a day to day basis the changes that have led to that transformation seem almost imperceptible.
I’m sure that you can think of areas of your life that when looking back you can see big changes in. Perhaps there was something you were suffering with or through that now is more of a memory or a learning experience. Perhaps your main transformation has been a physical one, and maybe you are ready to let go of some of the things you are trying to control and to go deeper on a spiritual, emotional and psychological journey.
Maybe today is a good day to start thinking about these things. Being in a lockdown and a pandemic is certainly an opportunity to think more, to reassess our lives and to begin taking steps towards a transformed life. When we don’t know how to get from one stage to the next, or if we don’t even know what that transformed stage would look like at all (and maybe some of you do know what you’d like it to look like), it is encouraging to look back at certain aspects of our lives and to realise that over the years transformation has happened, can happen, and will happen again – and that we can also have a part to play in it. There is something encouraging and exciting in that. And when we don’t know that next stage, we can still take encouragement from knowing that transformation can happen gradually and that we can make a step towards that today, even if we haven’t quite got it all figured out just yet.
Ask God, if you are inclined to do so, for help in the journey. He has good plans for us if we’d only turn to Him and trust in Him.
Let us begin to believe in positive transformation and take some small step towards it today.
What could that look like? Maybe it is in saying a prayer, in reading a book, in going for a walk, in allowing yourself to confront yourself with the lies that you have been believing for far too long, in helping, encouraging or mentoring someone else, in picking up a hobby, in showing kindness. Love is transformative, and the world needs a lot of love and kindness. How can we live lives that look to the needs of others? Is there any small step we can take today?
I feel on the brink of many ideas, and yet feel like I am stepping into somewhat unknown territory, yet I have faced many challenges in life and have overcome the unknowns that I was facing then, so surely this challenge towards transformation is another step of faith.
Have you experienced transformation in your life? What did this look like? Was it mainly physical, spiritual, mental, emotional or a lifestyle change or some other kind of change including a psychological shift or perhaps a combination of many of these? How did you find the process, what did you learn, and what can you share with us here as we continue our journey?
If you are feeling discouraged in this pandemic, take heart that transformation is possible, life comes in seasons, and a better change can happen. Don’t give up in this journey, keep going, look up with faith, look for Truth and live with the expectancy that you will find the Answers that you need. x
Mental health has certainly become more of a focus during the pandemic. It’s not a new issue for many of us who have ‘been through the wars’ as it were of mental health challenges. Some of you have had your fair share of difficult seasons when it comes to your mental health, and if you’re familiar with my blog then you’ll know that a lot of the good advice I’m able to give comes directly out of personal struggle, suffering and overcoming challenges.
So, with that being said, I have a new insight to share with you. It may not be new to you, but it is something that I am finding help from. If you’ve ever suffered with complex PTSD, PTSD, or even from anxiety, OCD, intrusive thoughts or some other unwanted thoughts that cause you distress, you may find yourself investing a lot of mental energy in trying to overcome them. Sometimes incidents from my early high school days come into my mind and cause me distress. They used to come back as severe and painful flashbacks when I was re-experiencing childhood trauma as if I was still a child and still in those situations. I Thank God that those difficult times when my mind was reprocessing things have passed. I still have mental intrusions that are less intense but still upsetting and I can get into a fog of rumination or trying to ‘fix’ and make sense of what’s in my head.
Over the past few days, however, I came to a realisation that actually, my childhood brain withstood a lot of assault on it, my young adult brain persevered through anxiety and depression, and my brain in more recent years has also withstood the tests of PTSD and complex PTSD and I have accomplished things despite all of that, even to the point my doctors were surprised that with what my brain went through and what I went through as a child that I had managed to come so far. So if I’ve overcome all of that, then it goes to show I do have a strong and resilient brain, and I believe that God has created all of us to have brains that can cope, survive and go on to be renewed and form new connections and ultimately hopefully to thrive.
I’m not separating you or I from our brains, but it does help to think about things a bit differently from time to time. You may not be ready or able to say of yourself ‘I am strong’ but there’s no doubt about it that your brain is still intact and keeping you going even if it has taken a bit of a battering along the way.
So, when I do get those unwanted thoughts or memories, I can now say to myself, ‘It’s ok, my brain is strong enough to deal with this’ and instead of focusing on what would otherwise upset, confuse or distress me or draw me into my inner world of childhood trauma, I can instead be that little bit more focused on what’s going on around me and take comfort and strength from the fact that my brain is strong and resilient. Yours is too. We can barely comprehend just how much our brains do moment to moment, day by day, by the Grace of God keeping us alive and functioning.
We do need outside help sometimes, so be sure to ask for help if you are in a place of need or of distress because just as much as our bodies need attention and care so too do our minds and brains.
Yet, if you have been struggling through this pandemic with mental health issues, remind yourself that you have a strong and resilient brain that can and will survive whatever you are facing. It might just help to take the edge of negativity off things, and give you a bit of confidence to persevere.
Three cheers for our strong and resilient brains! 🙂 x
Hi friends, I must admit that the mornings here in Scotland are getting a bit challenging for me to deal with at the moment. I’m not sure if the sun is shining in your part of the world, but where I am the sky is a big grey sheet and it is drizzling with rain. Trees are bare branched and there is a bit of a wind whistling through them. I and many others are probably longing for spring and a bit of sunshine (when hopefully the general population won’t go crazy and be irresponsible with going outside or forgetting about social distancing…but that’s for another chapter!).
Whatever the weather is like where you are, it is part of the human condition to sometimes struggle with focusing on the things that our bodies, minds and hearts experience that might get us down. We need to have a plan in place for times like that and the more we can implement better thought habits the better we will be for it through the course of our lives.
My sleep was a bit unsettled, I woke up with unsettling feelings and thoughts inside, and then I woke up to grey skies and a ‘dreich’ day as the Scots say. I knew that I had to get out of my head a bit and so I opened the patio door and got some fresh air on my face. I could see and hear birds, and even saw a fox running behind our garden fence! I appreciate these things having lived the first part of lockdown 1.0 on my own in a tall flat with no garden space or balcony!
It did me good to get some fresh air, but I still felt unsettled. I had breakfast and did some exercise, all the while building up on the new and more helpful thought patterns and neural pathways. This can be effortful at times. We can forget to breathe. We can get lost in the tangle of unsettling thoughts and feelings. We can become overwhelmed and stay stuck focusing on the wrong things. Memories and impressions arose in my mind. Perhaps they do for you, and not particularly the ones you want to remember. Sometimes we want to ‘swat’ them away. Yet there is power in learning to sit with those difficult thoughts and feelings safe in the knowledge that we are not our thoughts, and they will not last.
If you are struggling with things today, be aware of what you are allowing yourself to focus on. As I said in an earlier post, it is normal to have ups and downs, but sometimes those difficult spells can feel really hard to us. That’s why we need Help from Above, and we also need practical tools and strategies.
So whatever it is you are finding yourself focusing on, if it is a negative thing that is, sit with it for a moment, take a deep breath and try to reframe your thought into focusing on something else more positive and productive. The fact that you have read this far in my somewhat rambling blog post is a positive thing in itself! 🙂
Keep moving, feel your feelings, externalise them in some safe way if that helps such as journaling or chatting to a friend, or praying through them to God. Remind yourself that you are not your thoughts and feelings, and that they will pass.
Think of something more positive to turn your attention to and do that for a while. It takes time. We can feel destabilised and discouraged when we feel these difficult things as if we are those things but we are not. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We are valuable. And there is an important reason we are here today and we all have a purpose. If you don’t know your purpose, I have written a post about that and finding it in the very things that are right in front of us. You can find a purpose for the next five minutes, and the next, and the next and going on from that….so just focus on the next step on those difficult days.
Remind yourself also that it takes time and practice for all of us to make new neural connections, and trains of thought and patterns of behaviour as our brains readjust from negative thought patterns, experiences and beliefs that we may have been used to or conditioned by for many years. But we can make a change and each small step is important.
There are a couple of verses in Christian Scripture that help me and encourage me with this: ‘Be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ (Romans 12:2) and ‘You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make /set you Free’ (said by Jesus Christ Who also comforts us by showing us that He Is The Way, The Truth and The Life). John 8:32, John 14:6.
We can be free. And even with everything going on in your life today, you can make progress. If you are in a ‘slough of despond’, if you feel like you have fallen down a metaphorical well and don’t know how to get out, don’t let the darkness overtake you, don’t look down at the ground, don’t stay stuck in your difficult thoughts and feelings – instead, like an intrepid explorer find that spark within you that says ‘keep going’, ‘you can do this’ and like a curious child, look for the solution to a puzzle that can be solved. Look up to the light streaming in that otherwise darkened well, look for the foot and hand holds on the side and begin, one small effort at at time to climb up. You CAN do this.
We will speak again soon, friends. If you are doing well, keep going. If you are doing very well, reach a hand out to help someone else. If you are feeling stuck, you can make progress. Just do that next one thing, and be aware of what you choose to focus on. It’s ok to feel those tough feelings, to sit with them a while, to process them, to responsibly vent them without hurting anyone else, to be creative about it, but don’t stay in that place all day. Focus on something new. Do the next thing. And never give up. x
We’ve talked previously about turning our goals into habits to help us keep on track throughout this pandemic and especially in long and extended periods of lockdown like some of us are in just now.
But what about when all of that still seems too much? We’ve broken things down into small manageable parts so that we can persevere in doing what we want to rather than sinking into a ‘slough of despond’ but sometimes even that seems a bit too much.
It can be difficult to find our way forwards even with some kind of structure and plan, especially if we are feeling overwhelmed or we have pre-existing mental health conditions that might draw us to turning inwards and getting lost within our own thoughts and potentially difficult emotions.
So, try this when you’re feeling that way. Imagine drawing a box in front of you, or perhaps not a box as such but a rectangle like you might see in a children’s chalk outline of a game of ‘hop scotch’ on the pavement. Think of that rectangle as a neat contained space for the next five minutes. Doesn’t that make it a bit easier to take the next step (or ‘hop’ 🙂 )?
Think of something outside of your mind to do and know that you only need to deal with the next five minutes or the next step at any given time. Even when things seem overwhelming and thoughts of past or future depress or unsettle you, the next five minutes doesn’t seem so unsurmountable does it?
I know that it can be hard and I don’t deny you the difficult things you may be feeling or going through, I have struggles too, but I find that these little techniques can get me out of a slump or can help keep me from falling into one. And when you’ve taken that step in that contained five minutes, you can take the next one, and with a hop, skip and a jump, you might just find that you actually begin to enjoy the process!
Stay safe and well friends, and we’ll continue soon through this journey of encouragement and self care as we make progress through this pandemic. x
Perhaps you’ve been making strides forward in some area of your life, or even managing to keep a relatively even keel at various points throughout the pandemic and through lockdown if you are also in that situation.
Maybe you’ve hit some rough waters and things feel a bit more ‘up and down’ as you try to hold on through choppy waters.
That’s ok, friend. It’s quite normal. It’s part of being human to have good days and bad.
What we can do though is to keep seeking to build in resilience into our day to day life and habits. Sometimes I feel like I might be seeing light break through an area of my life that has been challenging for a while, only to realise that my heart and mind are uncovering other areas that need focus. That’s ok too.
If you’re beginning to feel a bit unsettled, don’t worry, it’s normal, and it won’t last forever. Take a breath. Gather your thoughts, try to get some perspective, pray and reach out for help if you need to.
Another thing you can do is continue to think about your ‘self care toolkit’. I may have mentioned this before, but the thing with our minds is that we can so often forget the good learning we’ve done and when we begin to feel all a bit ‘at sea’ again we may feel flustered and not sure of what to do next.
What is in your self care tool kit? What tips and tricks do you do to help you keep calm, stay grounded, and take the next step forwards? Perhaps you need to remind yourself of these or write down some new ones so that you can bring your thoughts back to things that will help you move forwards.
And remember that in moving forwards, the smallest of steps matter. It might feel monumental on a day in which you’re struggling to simply get out of bed, make your bed, shower and get ready and to look after your body and mind. Be kind to yourself. These small steps matter.
Here are some tips that you can incorporate into your own self care routine when you are having some ups and downs:
Remember to breathe properly. This helps to calm your nervous system and those racing thoughts. Breathe in through your nose for 5 counts, allow your belly to expand. Hold for five, and breathe out slowly and deeply through your mouth, expelling the air, for a count of 7. Repeat as often as you need to.
Get a bit of fresh air to clear your head. If you can’t go outside for a walk and if you don’t have a garden, try to open your windows from time to time, look up at the sky, and feel the fresh air on your face. Even a few moments of this can add a feeling of refreshment to you in a difficult moment.
Stay active. Maybe you’ve got a good exercise routine going. Try to keep things in balance so that you are neither over doing things or being inactive. Do things for the right reasons to look after your body and mind and not to ‘punish’ yourself. If you don’t know where to start, try some stretches, move your body a bit and do whatever it is in your capability to do even if for a few seconds or minutes to begin with. Your brain will start to enjoy the movements you give your body and you may just find yourself taking the next steps.
Eat well and drink plenty of water. Maybe you need to change your lifestyle considerably if you have unhealthy eating habits whether over indulgent, eating the wrong foods, or eating too little or too restrictively. Know that it’s ok to start small. Ask for professional help if you need to, there are so many resources out there, don’t feel that you are alone. Set yourself the challenge for making small changes to be more healthy and give yourself a ‘pat on the back’ when you accomplish each small task.
Read. Reading is good for the mind. Try also to learn new things, study and watch or listen to something educational. It’s fine to enjoy entertainment but our minds also need stimulation and learning otherwise they can get caught up in all kinds of negative mental health loops. Sometimes a good distraction and learning something new can work wonders and build new positive neural pathways and connections.
Keep in touch. We all need each other. Try to figure out who the right people are to have in your life right now and how you can mutually encourage each other and try to avoid toxic relationships, and try to get help if you need to.
Invest in your long term mental health and overcoming things that are detrimental to you or are road blocks to you. Maybe you have long standing issues or traumas that need to be addressed. Try thinking of ways to move forwards with these and know that it’s ok to go slowly if you need to. We all have something to overcome, you are not alone.
Keep healthy hobbies near at hand. Whether they are crossword puzzles, colouring in books, model making kits or cross-stitch, a musical instrument, sketch books, a pen and paper to write your thoughts, whatever they may be try to make it easy for yourself to pick up your hobbies because they are good for you.
Help someone else and gain perspective. Sometimes we can feel swamped with our own worries and problems and anxiety can take over. We can seek ways to help other people or even be more aware of the needs of others and this can help us gain a better ‘mindscape’ too. Don’t be overwhelmed or take in too much information that you can’t handle, but do try to look to the needs of others and help other people where and when you can, but try not to overload yourself or become overwhelmed by it.
Monitor your news and social media intake. Know the facts but take a break too. Have some distance from all the bad news of the world from time to time and make sure that you are looking after your mind and what you allow yourself to think about.
Take a break. Sometimes slowing down and focusing on the small things of life can work wonders. Make a cup of tea or whatever it is you like and slow down and take time to enjoy some simple moments.
Sleep routine. This one is a struggle for many of us but try to allow yourself good hours of rest. Maybe you struggle to get to sleep or stay asleep for various reasons. Do what you can to calm yourself down and make your sleep area cosy and comfortable and try to stick to as regular a pattern as possible and make sure you get enough rest.
Be thankful and try to be positive. In the midst of the storms we still see rainbows. Write down three things you are thankful for today, or simply take the time to be mindful of them or give thanks for them.
Make time for the things that you enjoy.
We all have ups and downs. It’s ok. Try to look after yourself and remember that one small step at a time still matters.
Take care. With love and prayers that you will stay strong and keep persevering. x
I hope you’ve all been keeping well and finding the courage to move forwards over the past few days since we last checked in.
If you’ve been following along with my ‘Self care in a pandemic’ series, you may remember that at the start of the year I wrote a post on how to create effective habits. If you need a recap, or missed it the first time round, here’s the link.
As it’s a new month, and the very first day of February 2021 what better time to start thinking about making a fresh new start to things, regardless of how the past month has been for you.
Did you maintain any new habits in January 2021, or did you start something and manage to stick with it for a little while at least? Don’t worry if you didn’t, if we are blessed to have another day, we’re blessed with another chance to try and persevere.
In January I set myself eight new habits to try to maintain everyday, and I’m pleased to say I did pretty well over all, and the only ‘sparse column’ was for continuous learning / studying which I did towards the start, middle and end of the month, but not everyday as with some other disciplines.
How tracking my habits helped me on rough days:
If you feel discouraged reading any of the above, for example, if you haven’t had a particularly good or productive month, then please don’t. You’ve made it to February – in an ongoing pandemic – and you should be proud of yourself with that. You may have had to dig deep and show all kinds of resilience just to survive, so please don’t feel discouraged by any comparisons.
I’m going to be honest because it is so important when discussing mental health and let you know that I’ve had some difficult days this month. I’m on an ongoing journey with my mental health and am still working out ways of coping, managing and overcoming my struggles related to depression, anxiety and c-PTSD. On those down days, having some ‘marker points’ in my days when looking at the habits I’ve been tracking have helped give me a sense of direction and the ability to keep taking small steps forwards, looking outside of my mind, and doing something practical, even if I’m not able to maintain those habits everyday.
They have provided that little bit of leverage needed to persevere from one moment to the next, one day to the next, and keep going, all the while knowing Christ as my True Source and Strength.
Have you had anything in your day to day that has helped you keep to a routine, even if not rigidly, and has this helped you to persevere through your difficult days?
Have you managed to keep or exceed your expectations and have you found any benefit to your mental health from tracking your habits?
Do you feel like you’ve not done very well and have drifted into February and want the chance to ‘begin again’?
Well, if the first of the month isn’t a great place to start, then what is? 🙂
A new month….new goals? …
I think as human beings, we all relish the idea of new starts, especially if there are things that we want to leave behind. However, it’s important to realise that one of the keys to making long lasting changes for the better in life is consistency. Small, meaningful, incremental steps taken daily or on some kind of regular basis, all add up and can make for a brighter future.
This can be especially true if like me you are overcoming some kind of psychological trauma, and trying to unpick the lies and hurts you experienced in childhood. We can wish for a ‘sudden transformation’ but this can be hard to come to terms with mentally if we have been so conditioned into thinking a certain way. For example, if you have experienced years of verbal abuse, it can make you wince if you receive a compliment, because, well, you just don’t know how to receive it in experience. It is alien and unknown to you and it can be really hard to think it’s not a mockery when your personhood and identity has been injured by lies for so long.
Perhaps there are issues in your own life that you can relate to when making a sudden drastic change can feel overwhelming. That’s ok. What we need to do is find a way of retraining our thinking bit by bit, day by day, little by little, and as the Bible says ‘be transformed by the renewing of (y)our mind(s)’. Romans 12:2.
Habits can help with this. Habits can help with moving past trauma. It’s not a ‘be all, end all’ answer, as we need to implement a variety of things into our life and I’m still learning and discovering what these might be, but they can help us move forward a little at a time when our minds and nervous systems threaten to keep us ‘stuck’ in a negative loop of trauma and past thinking. There are times to think about and process the past, but I’ve found that having concrete goals that are to do with the here and now can help me to move forwards in a healthy way in this what can be a very difficult journey.
Even if you’re not dealing with overcoming any particular mental health issues, you can benefit from tracking your habits and setting new goals.
I’ve decided to include the goals I had for January which I managed to track as habits on a daily basis, and include these in my February habit tracker. I have also included new ones so that I have a total of 20. They don’t need to be big things, and they don’t need to be as numerous. Start with one or two areas of your life that you want to make incremental changes to if that suits you better. I know that some people don’t like to track habits and goals and if so that’s fine, feel free to find another blog post in my series that helps you better, but for those who are inclined, this can help you with your mental health and help with that sense of purpose that we talked about in another post, as well as providing structure to your day. You can break free from that structure as and when you want, but if your mind is struggling with what feels like muddled days all merging one into the next, then this could be good for you.
If you feel like you’re back at square one, and don’t know where to start, then why not take a piece of paper and a pen, or type something up on your computer and just have a few minutes brainstorming session.
Write down anything and everything that comes to mind that you’d like to implement into your life that will help you to move forwards. Maybe it’s exactly the same as what you have been doing and you want to strengthen and persevere with the same goal / goals and that’s absolutely fine. Get strong in one area before moving on to another if that’s what will work for you.
Once you have brainstormed, then pick out a few key ideas. If they seem very big at first then break them down into smaller parts and set about doing a little bit everyday, or a few times a week, whatever works for you.
This can also be helpful if your goals seem attainable but a bit vague. Turning your goals into trackable habits can be extremely helpful in making progress. For example, maybe you want to ‘read more books’ for a number of reasons, perhaps also because you feel that this will benefit your mental health, especially in a lockdown! This is something I’ve been getting back into and making progress with. It’s not a small thing to be honest. All my childhood I was a voracious reader. I studied English Literature in my undergraduate degree with Politics and for most of my life have been a big reader, but this had not been the case for many years since after graduating. A few years ago I had a traumatic breakdown when childhood memories were ‘exploding’ out of my mind and were stopping me from living a normal day to day life -it was quite simply terrifying as my body and brain was processing the experiences of traumatic bullying in childhood, years of night terrors, and chronic adult stress from a variety of situations that I couldn’t process at the time. As someone who used to love the peace of solitude and thinking my thoughts, daydreaming, reflecting, reading and writing, it became a terrifying living nightmare to no longer be able to feel safe in my own company and mind. I’d try to sit down and read a book but the adrenaline and cortisol would be coursing through me, I’d be having flash backs of the bullying, and I’d feel like a terrified child shouting out for help and my mind felt so broken. It was heart-breaking for me to not be able to read a sentence of a fiction book properly because all around me was so scary in my mind and I could not process even a sentence. So getting back into reading now is a joy and something I need to continue to persevere with because those triggers can happen when I’m reading and I need to keep on strengthening new neural connections as I strengthen my mind.
My apologies that I digressed somewhat, but hopefully the above insights will help encourage someone else who might feel a bit defeated or discouraged with trying to persevere. Things can get better, please don’t give up.
Reading more books can seem quite vague in terms of goal setting. Even giving yourself a number of books to read can feel overwhelming and you may feel discouraged if you’re not able to meet that goal. Instead, if you change it into a habit, then you will be more likely to feel encouraged and make and maintain progress. I have the dates of the month written as rows down the side of my notebook, and I have corresponding columns for the goals I want to track as habits across the top of the page. Included in that is ‘reading’. I don’t specify how much to read, but I can tick off or make a note of progress as I go down through the days of the month. It’s ok if there are gaps, but I can come back to it and it is encouraging to me to see that I am reading often, even if some days that is little, because compared to where I was before, it is big progress. As I persevere, I find that I am enjoying it, I am more able to push through triggers, and it is good food for my mind.
So what about you? Do you have anything you’d like to persevere with, start afresh or embark upon for the first time as we head into this new month?
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, but if it helps to add structure to your day, and give direction to your mind, then why not give it a go? And as ever, please feel free to share your thoughts and learning in the comments, I’d love to hear from you and you might just encourage someone else out there who needs to hear what you have to say.
Stay safe and never give up, keep taking small steps each day, and enjoy seeing the progress you make, even if you have some hurdles and difficulties along the way. x