There will be days in this pandemic, and generally in life, where things just aren’t going right. Maybe things are actually going wrong, with a variety of external challenges, or maybe your circumstances are just fine, but you are not.
I had one of those days yesterday. Circumstances fine, but me not. Some of my long standing health issues were getting the better of me and I ended up sleeping for most of the day. I haven’t done that all year so it was unusual for me. I’ve managed to keep myself going, being relatively productive, and manage some kind of routine despite the ups and downs, but yesterday it just wasn’t happening. It was one of those days when psychological distress, depression, anxiety and all the rest came upon me afresh. In recovery from anything, we know that there are ups and downs. My lovely mum reminds me that this will pass, it won’t last forever.
And so today is a new day, and there are still things within me and in the world that could cause me distress and anxiety. I started the day early because I slept so much yesterday. I started the day with prayer and Scripture, and here I am at 11.20am writing my blog post.
The thing is though, we all have those ‘off days’ and we need to try to keep in fine balance a healthy means of giving ourselves a break and moving forwards so that we don’t get stuck.
Sometimes though, and I know from experience, we either don’t give ourselves the chance, or circumstances don’t give us the time or space to take a break and the result is emotional and psychological burnout and sometimes physical ailments that are an expression of our bodies inability to cope with the unceasing stress.
Thankfully, this year, I don’t have the burden of a daily commute, or of my sensitive brain having to deal with an avalanche of day to day stimulus by way of sounds, conversations, sights and so on – it can really take a big toll on me day to day, so that’s a massive blessing and relief.
Where am I going with this, for you? Yeah, take a break, my friends. Give yourself a break mentally. We are going to have ‘off days’ in life, and we will get back up from them again, but it’s ok to listen to your body and your mind if it’s just too much sometimes. Hold this in balance with a forward motion in life so that you don’t get ‘stuck’ though.
Where are you today? What’s going on with you? What do you need to take a step back from, and what do you need to embrace?
Take a break and take time out to rest. Your mind needs it, and hopefully you will feel that good bit better for it. Also give yourself a break mentally and emotionally. You and I were never meant to bear the burdens of the world but sometimes we feel the weight of them, so we need to learn to let go and focus on what is ours to tend to, and not that which is not.
Take a break today friends, and give yourself a break too.
I’m fairly sure that if you are reading this, and are looking for ways to better care for yourself and others during this pandemic, then you are likely to have encountered some challenges along the way this year.
I mean, really, which of us haven’t encountered challenges? I’m sure we are all dealing with something. That being said, how we get through things can have a lot to do with not just our circumstances and means of help, but also how we process (or don’t) the things going on in our lives.
Let’s take for example somebody does or says or doesn’t do something to you and this stirs up your emotions, you start thinking about the situation and feel almost ‘stuck’ in your thoughts, and you *react* to things in a visceral way. There may be certain situations in life when an immediate ‘gut’ or visceral reaction is appropriate and even necessary, such as if you or someone else is in immediate danger and you need to do something instantly, but in the main, this kind of response is not helpful, to ourselves, other people, to resolving the situation, or to our wellbeing.
If you think about what you’ve had to take in this year, even if you’ve not had a lot going on in your own personal circumstances, the chances are you’ve had to process quite a lot. The fact of the pandemic itself has been a big thing for us all. Then there has been the various lockdowns and easing of restrictions, the daily ‘count’ of deaths in some countries where we are presented this in the news or by politicians’ daily briefings, social and political unrest, the situations of friends, family members, colleagues or acquaintances, our own day to day routines and the impact on our living, job, relationship and mental health situations, and so forth. Whether you have experienced the ‘big’ things hitting you this year, like grief, loss of a loved one, loss of a job, loneliness and isolation or other health concerns or you name the thing that you’ve been dealing with, or if you are somehow coping or trundling along without a great deal of change in your personal situation, either way, the fact that we are in a pandemic year will have impacted you in some way, and it is important to take note and take account of that.
The reason I say this is because living through these things in a ‘reactive’ way can be damaging to our health and can also impact our relationships and be damaging to those around us. Can you think of anyone you know who when they see a news story that raises a reaction in them, they start calling people names, or swearing, or getting agitated or anxious? There are a lot of people reacting in such ways at the moment. This impacts their immediate physical, emotional and psychological health, and most likely not in a good way.
If you are that person, soaking up the news and experiences of 2020 in a very reactive way, then chances are you are causing yourself some damage. So what’s the solution?
I’ve found in recent weeks that things have been affecting me such as work stress, or changing dynamics of friendships. When I get those ‘warning signals’ in my ‘gut’ so to speak, when those anxious thoughts and feelings start to arise, I know that it’s time to take a step back, to take a break, to take a few deep breaths and get a bit of space from the situation and focus my mind on something calming and grounding.
Doing this can produce an almost ‘immediate’ effect on our nervous systems. However, in itself, it is not enough. We not only need to get distance and calm ourselves down in the immediate situation, but we need to put in a little bit of effort to make sure we are giving ourselves the time, space and chance to process our thoughts, our feelings, our instinctive reactions so that we can move forwards positively and actively rather than reactively.
There are various ways that we can process what we are dealing with and it is probably good to have a range of ‘tools’ and techniques to hand, and it is good when we can also find ways to use what we learn to benefit other people.
So what could you do?
One thing is finding a way to externalise your thoughts and feelings. This could be by writing or journaling, for example.
Talking to someone else can also be a very helpful way to diffuse intense emotions, and can help give us a more balanced perspective, as well as helping us feel that we are not so alone in dealing with our problems, challenges and issues. If you are physically alone, perhaps you could have a few friends or family members that you can talk with every now and then, on the phone or online. And if you feel like there’s no one in your life that you know who you can turn to, then perhaps you can seek out some helplines that you can phone. I have done so in the past in times of depression, anxiety and crisis, even though I have friends and family members. Sometimes we need to just talk to someone else, because maybe those close to us aren’t available or we don’t feel comfortable always turning to them. Sometimes we just need to hear the voice of another human being and chat things through and that’s perfectly ok, and definitely not something to feel ashamed about. That’s what they are there for.
Creativity can also be a balm to troubled emotions and it can also be a stepping stone into community where you can link up with like minded people, and these days there is so much going on online, even if you don’t wish to connect personally you can still find sources of inspiration by watching or reading about what others are doing and this may help you as you seek to process or externalise or express your own thoughts, ideas, feelings and experiences. Creativity could be expressed in a variety of ways such as art, music, song, dance or play or so many other things.
Community can also be a source of easing our inner tensions, diffusing pent up emotions, sharing experiences and letting us know we’re not alone. For me, keeping a sense of connection with church and other Christians has been an encouragement, but at the same time, sometimes we need to be careful that we aren’t left feeling alone by being a part of a group, which can happen from time to time. Try to find a helpful balance for you.
Nature is also a source of calm for me, that helps settle me down and release those ‘reactive’ thoughts and feelings. It helps lift my mind and take my mind off certain negative trains of thought.
There are many more calming and soothing things you can do to gain space, perspective and help process your thoughts and experiences and it is so important to do so to enable you to act rather than react to situations.
That’s not to say everything will somehow sort itself out, but you will be in a better place to make positive decisions in your own life in response to what you are facing. I’m personally finding it necessary to reassess some of my friendship dynamics this year so as to avoid being taken for granted for example, or even forgotten about, and so that I can protect my mental and emotional health as well as that of others. I’ve found that even though I’ve been really productive at work this year, working from home, that doesn’t necessarily stave off the stress that accompanies work at times, and it is my responsibility to step back, and find a healthy balance for myself so that I can act positively rather than simply react instinctively to ongoing challenges and situations.
So what about you, friends? Does any of this resonate with you or do you find it helpful? What do you do that helps you? Whatever you are going through this year, I hope that you will take the time, and find a way to step back, process, and move forwards in a way that will contribute to your health, happiness, wellbeing and that of those around you.
Take care, stay strong, and sending each of you uplifting prayers for this day and those ahead of you. Peace. x
*Is this really happening? How on earth has this become our new “normal”?*
Once we have got over the initial panic and fear and taken action to establish some kind of safety for our loved ones and our friends, and once we are safely tucked away in our homes (most of us reading this at least, I presume), we will be faced with a range of thoughts and emotions.
As I have explored in this series of posts, we will be juggling with the practicalities of daily life, and also the bigger life questions perhaps running in the background of our thoughts. We need to consider a new routine, a new way of living, a new way of being as a society, that seems to be becoming increasingly restricted day by day, for our own good it seems.
But at some point, once we do begin to feel a bit safe and settled, we are healthy, at home, have food, are able to help and support others in some way, the ‘craziness’ of this situation may hit us.
It’s important to be kind to ourselves and each other as we process things, bit by bit, and to prioritise self-care. This is *not* normal, this is nothing like any of us could have anticipated, and no one can tell you what the right or wrong way to process this is, because none of us know.
As with many of my words of encouragement, I will once again reiterate the importance of community. The reality of faith and God in my life is what is getting me through, but not all of you have that. We need each other. These are strange and crazy times, and we need to figuratively put our ‘I’ pads away, and become the generation of ‘we’ and not just ‘me’. I’m thankful for technology that is helping us to do that.
What is helping you to process things?
Words of Encouragement (8):
*Can I feel happy and sad?*
In short, yes. This is a confusing, strange and distressing time. We are alive, we are surrounded by life, but also by continuous news of death and suffering on a mass scale, on a global scale, yet also right in our own towns and cities. We are all learning how to be happy with those who are happy, and to also mourn with those who grieve. We are surrounded by contradictions that we are all learning to hold in balance. We are trying to find ways to encourage and support each other, to enjoy the gift of life and be grateful for those in our lives, to make the most of ‘isolation’ and keep our spirits up, and encourage our friends and families and especially children, while at the same time living through wave upon wave of tragedy crashing in upon humanity. You might feel guilty for the times you smile, laugh and enjoy life in this strange season, and you also might feel a burden of grief at times as the world around you wails. It can be confusing, it can be tough, but there is no right or wrong way for you to feel, and your experience of this situation and your feelings are valid. Take time to just sit and be with your thoughts and feelings for a moment if it is all a bit much. Breathe deeply and try to find ways to be calm and relax. This is affecting people in different ways, and that’s ok.
Take care to try to maintain a balance. To know that even while it is a very dark time for many people across the world, it is ok for you to smile, and to share something positive, because those around you may just need that joy and that hope to be able to keep going.
Positive Distractions: Create a self-care ‘toolkit’ or list of your favourite things that you can go to that will serve as positive and healthy distractions when your mind is not in a good place.
Some ideas below:
Something tactile, soft and comforting, like a cosy blanket, a soft toy, etc.
A colouring book, pens and pencils.
Arts and crafts materials such as paper, card, stickers, pens.
Beautiful pictures or postcards of calming scenes such as nature scenery, animals, or photos of friends and loved ones that don’t ‘trigger’ you but only bring about positive and helpful emotions.
Some mood lifting songs.
A journal where you can write out and express your thoughts.
A book of puzzles or mind teaser computer games such as cards or word games (avoid anything with too much noise, visual stimuli or emotional content).
A favourite or sentimental object that makes you feel happy.
A stress ball, children’s play dough, slime or putty, that feels relaxing when you hold it.
A book of beautiful pictures.
A bar of your favourite chocolate, dark chocolate is good for you (in moderation like everything of course) so if you like that maybe you can choose a bar of dark chocolate.
Some calming scents, such as a fragrant wax lavender candle, something that gives of a calming aroma without you having to light it, some essential oils which you can also get in the form of a room spray, lightly scented hand cream, etc.
A book to ‘doodle’ and draw in.
Cosy socks / slippers.
A cosy cardigan or jumper.
Stencils to create patterns.
A favourite book that has a positive message.
A DVD of your favourite film – preferably something uplifting or light-hearted like a comedy.
Audiobooks (that will not be ‘triggering’ for you).
Encouraging, inspiring and uplifting podcasts, Ted Talks, etc.
Anything else that you know will help, calm and soothe you in those difficult moments.
To survive this winter season, and to thrive as you journey through it, I’d like to encourage you, and myself, to have regular mental health and self care ‘check ins’. Make an appointment with yourself to focus on taking care of you. It’s easy to get lost in the many things going on around us, to the detriment of our mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. So along with all of the other tips in this season, let’s make our wellbeing and our mental health a priority. Once again I have loads of helpful tips and articles on these issues on my blog, and the many things I’ve learned over the years from personal experience, so I’m with you friend, I know it can be hard, but you’re important and your mind matters, so do what you can to take care of yourself, to regularly make some time just to be kind and look after your wellbeing so that you can be and feel your best this season. x
When someone hurts us, whether intentionally or not, we can go through a variety of emotions and responses.
We feel sad, and maybe we feel some anger, a sense of betrayal, of confusion, of loss. It can be easy to try to make sense of things in our minds, to deal with the way we’ve been treated, by putting the other person in a ‘box’ in the way we think of them.
Someone has hurt us and acted in a way that doesn’t seem right to us, and so we ‘deal’ with it by telling ourselves they are selfish, unkind, uncaring.
I’m processing some things just now, and I realise that’s not a mature way of looking at things or thinking about them. The reason we feel hurt is often because we cared a lot. Something mattered to us, it was important, it was valuable. If the person was all of those not so nice things, we probably wouldn’t have allowed them in our lives for so long.
People mess up, they muddle through life, and they hurt people along the way. You’ve hurt people and people have hurt you. And usually we feel the hurt because we care, because someone matters to us.
I think of The LORD Jesus suffering, fully Man feeling every human pain (and at the same time fully God), on the Cross and all the time His Arms outstretched in Love. True Love. In His suffering He was thinking of other people, He was loving people, He was concerned that Mary would not be without a son to look after her, and He was concerned for John, and so He in His anguish told John to take care of Mary. He was thinking of others. He was thinking of them. Of me. And of *you*, dear one.
Our natural fallen broken responses to hurt might be to clam up, to fold our arms around our chests rather than open them wide and expose our pulsating hearts. We have a choice to make. To protect ourselves or to love. It can be a tug of war sometimes, but Love is always greater than the hurt. Love overcomes all.
Jesus chose to Love me completely, He gave His life for me, so however I have been hurt or wronged, I choose to Love. x
In my last post (21) I wrote about taking time out just to ‘be’ and to enjoy doing nothing in particular. This post explores taking time out to reflect and to deal with some of our ‘stuff’. Not the stuff in our attics, spare rooms, garages or basements – but to spend a bit of time sorting out what’s overflowing from our ’emotional junk drawers’ in our hearts and minds.
Hopefully we’ll all have a bit of time this season where we can have even at least a day or two to ourselves to rest and reflect. If we think we don’t have this time, then maybe we are not being intentional in making this time for ourselves (time we would otherwise spend watching TV perhaps).
The new calendar year will be upon us in a matter of weeks, and the general mood of new years, and beginnings of various sorts tends to be geared more towards action rather than reflection. Those around you, as well as the things you read and see in the media, will be imparting messages of goals, things to accomplish, plans and experiences.
This time of the year, however, lends naturally to reflection, to taking time to pause and ponder, to rest and be thankful, to look back before looking forwards, to re-evaluate where we are and where we need to go. It is also a time for being honest with ourselves and taking time to deal with some of our ‘stuff’ emotionally and mentally.
We can choose to view some of our struggles as blessings. For example, this time of year can bring certain things in our lives more sharply into focus. Light might be shed upon our true feelings and motives, for example, the sociable nature of this season might reveal our inner loneliness; the frivolity and consumerism might pull on our heart strings to search for something deeper and more meaningful in our lives; the end of one year might nudge us into reflection as to whether we have made the best use of our time or simply been frittering it away.
As much as we need plans, and to take action, we also need to do this purposefully and to do so requires quieter times of thinking and reflection.
Moving forwards also requires letting go of some of the burdens that we carry. We might be allowing things from our past to hold us back from stepping into the future that we long for. Perhaps we need healing, need time to seek counsel, therapy and to get help with how to deal with traumas or difficulties in our lives. This can be a long road, but we have to start somewhere and we don’t have to do it all at once. We often face a ‘stop-start’ process in any journey of self-reflection, repentance, healing, recovery and change. But the thing is to start, to reflect upon what is needed to go from where we are to where we are meant to be.
I am blessed in that I don’t take this journey alone. Jesus Is my Shepherd, King, Healer and Lord, and He leads me forward with grace and peace. There is healing that only He can bring and things that only He can do. There are also certain things that I must do to cooperate and participate in the process – things like renewing my mind, working on difficult issues, forgiving, letting go, and reframing the way I think about difficulties I have experienced. These things, like the changing of the seasons take time.
But it’s important that we do take time to reflect upon our lives and to consider what things we have been ‘stuffing down’ deep within our hearts, and into our subconscious that we hope will just ‘go away’, things that actually in their time need to be dealt with in order for us to go forwards in our journey with a greater understanding, appreciation of life, sense of identity and purpose.
Will you give yourself some time to do just that this season? You need and deserve it. x