Tag Archives: Mind

SELF CARE IN A PANDEMIC (80): Accept The Process…

Today I am in my own flat again having had to come back here for work reasons. I am blessed to know that soon enough I’ll be back with my family, God-willing.

The sun is shining and I have a beautiful view. I’ve eaten breakfast and have had a shower and a bath and have got ready and am cosy on my couch watching the world go by from my 10th floor window.

I know that I’m not alone in being among others for whom enjoying the things around us isn’t as straightforward as it might outwardly seem. Sometimes our minds and our subconscious can be a difficult place to contend with. We might be feeling constant anxiety and unease and be battling with difficult thoughts as we try to make it through the day.

If that’s how you feel, know that you’re not alone. It can sometimes seem that the people around us are doing just fine but truth be told we all go through different phases of mental wellbeing or otherwise and some have a more challenging time than others.

I just want you to know that you’re not alone. Sometimes we just have to accept the process that we’re in and take the next steps to make progress. Being in a pandemic might be highlighting issues that are already there or it might be creating new issues in some of our brains and minds. It’s important for you to know that you’re not the only one facing mental health challenges if you are going through something.

You are not alone. Other people are experiencing things just like you are in your mind, only you can’t see it. That’s ok.

There is help out there so please look for it or ask someone.

Get sleep, eat well, keep in contact, distract yourself and have a routine.

Be aware of your waking thoughts and reframe them.

Look for the positives in today and be gentle with yourself. This too will pass.

Remind yourself that you are important.

Do something ‘outside of your head’.

Be brave.

Much love to you all. x

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Self Care In A Pandemic (74): Give Your Brain Some Direction…

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

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Self Care In A Pandemic (72): Psychologically Crossing Over In The Pandemic….There Is Another Side….

Have hope.

Dear friends, have hope.

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

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Self Care In A Pandemic (71): Believe In Transformation…

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

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Self Care In A Pandemic (67): Ups And Downs Are Normal…

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.
  • Have faith.

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

Photo by Madison Inouye on Pexels.com

Self Care In A Pandemic (66): Revisiting Those Habits – New Month, New Goals…? …

Hi Friends,

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.

Self care In A Pandemic (47): Effectively Tracking Habits to Create New Daily Disciplines… ‹ Life as it happens to be ‹ Reader — WordPress.com

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.

Brainstorming:

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

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Self Care In A Pandemic (52): Muddling Through…

There will be days in this journey when we’re just ‘muddling through’. If you’re struggling in this way and feeling a bit down on yourself, remember that muddling through is so much better than giving up. We can afford to lie down and rest for a while, but we’re not the ones to give up. And when we are renewed in our strength we’ll find ourselves more able to reach out a helping hand to others. There are so many needing a helping hand and a caring friend right now.

I’m muddling through a bit myself at the moment. My brain likes to remind me from time to time that I’ve been traumatised and it’s not a fun place to be. There’s power in taking that one little next step. There’s power in resting in faith and reaching out to God to help, strengthen and heal us – to admit that in and of ourselves we aren’t sufficient – we need things like forgiveness, and healing and renewal, and….LOVE. We need love. The Love of Jesus Christ to help and hold and heal us.

Even those of us who do know His Perfect Love, who have been rescued, ransomed, healed, restored to God and forgiven and given a new life, we also muddle from time to time. We might forget His Great Promises, or even if we remember, we might just feel overwhelmed or a bit lacklustre because of our traumas, our fears, our frailty as human beings and because of all the big things going on in the world.

It’s easy to want to run away and hide, but Love will find us if we are open to being found and rescued. Sometimes we get caught up in our struggles, but we will find a way to take that next one step.

Right now I have just finished my lunch break (I’m back to working from home) and am doing some work tasks while listening to a podcast on extraordinary people – people who have overcome the odds. It helps to give ourselves a bit of perspective, and to know that we are not alone in this world or in our struggles.

So many people have overcome so many difficult things simply by persevering in taking those next steps, and I believe, with help from Above.

What next small step will you take today? Balance your times of rest with times of action and keep moving steadily forwards a little at a time, even if that forward movement is a bit like mine at the moment and feels like a wobbly muddle rather than a determined sprint. That’s ok. I think.

Feel free to share your encouragement with me so that I can come back here again and encourage all of you all the more.

Take care dear friends. Take that next small step forwards and if you are feeling strong, reach out to someone else and let them know that they can find the strength to take one more step at a time too. x

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Self Care In A Pandemic (50): Be Informed, But Not Overwhelmed…

I’ve written about managing our news intake in the pandemic, before. I remember writing a post around March 2020 on this, and perhaps I’ve also mentioned it in subsequent posts. I think it is actually helpful for us to be reminded of key themes as we continue on this journey, especially at key points in the calendar.

I’m revisiting the idea of managing news intake so that we stay informed but don’t become overwhelmed by it all, because we’ve crossed over from the Christmas holiday and new year festive season to being in that ‘new year, new start’ mode.

Some of you may not have had a break from work. My special thanks, gratitude and appreciation goes out to all of you who are front line workers. Some of you may be full time bloggers so perhaps you’ve not had to shift gears or mindsets so much. I personally blog as a ‘hobby’ (although, who knows in pandemic times it may be something I’ll have to look into at some point in making it a ‘side hustle’ but for the moment it’s all done in my own time and I don’t earn anything from it). I have a full time job wherein in ‘normal’ times I’d be heading back to the office, but for the time being I’m (thankfully) working from home.

Yet, at this time of year I need to keep on top of what is going on in the news at least on a local level. I may need to pick up a work laptop soon, I may need to travel in and make arrangements for that, and there had been talk previously of working part time in the office, which I am not keen on myself, but I still need to stay informed with what my employer and what the government are saying.

Perhaps you also are shifting gears mentally as we make our way through the first month of this new year. It always takes a bit of getting used to. Maybe at this time you will have to engage a bit more with the outside world for your job, or if you need to take your kids to school and so forth. Maybe you’ve started upping your news intake.

It’s good and important and perhaps vital in times like this to stay informed of what the pandemic situation is, however, we need to maintain a healthy balance between that and protecting our mental and emotional health.

It can become all too easy to become caught up in things and to jump from one news story to another, allowing ourselves to become overwhelmed and emotionally burdened by it all.

So this is just a friendly reminder to you to hold things in a balance. Keep informed but don’t allow yourself to get sucked into over checking the news because it does impact you whether you realise it or not.

Take care of yourself, remember your wellbeing and that of your loved ones, and seek to be informed in a healthy, balanced and productive way. x

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Self Care In A Pandemic (40): Be Inspired, But Don’t Compare…

In the UK, there are a couple of well known insurance companies with catchy ‘theme tunes’ (or ‘jingles’ if you use Americanised English) as part of their adverts.

One is called ‘Go Compare’ with a caricatured opera singer singing ‘Go Compare, Go Compare…!’ Some might find it a little annoying, but it certainly sticks in the mind, and as far as advertising is concerned, I suppose that’s the point – to be memorable, and to ‘stick’.

Another cute advert that you might be aware of is one with animated / toy Meerkats that deliver the lines. Their slogan lets us know that it’s not ‘Compare the Meerkat’ but ‘Compare the Market dot com’ in an Eastern European accent. Almost everyone over here will know these characters because they’ve become so memorable. I even know that the original Compare the Market meerkat is called Sergei! Another is Oleg, the baby meerkat. They offer discounts, cinema vouchers and added extras as part of their low cost insurance. Let me just say that I’m not sponsored by anyone, but it just proves my point that these things can be catchy and stick with us.

Our culture teaches us to compare:

So what does that have to do with anything, and with self care in the pandemic in particular? I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that our culture, particularly western culture or cultures that use a lot of advertising and / or social media encourage us to compare our lives with others or with a ‘dream like’ life.

We are prompted to compare our skin with the skin of airbrushed models so that we will buy that next beauty product that will make us more like the ‘ideal’. We are compelled to compare our bodies, our lifestyles, our health and fitness, our belongings with other people’s and to fill up that ‘lack’ in our lives by buying that next product or paying money to make our lives better in some way.

Sometimes we are prompted to compare our lives with those who are poor or suffering in some way so that we will realise just how much we have, how much they need, and give towards fulfilling the need of others through charitable acts. Such comparison can be good, when we are giving towards causes that are just and fair and above board and that actually do help other people. While comparison can be ‘the thief of joy’, it can also be a humbling force that causes us to be more grateful and to give to other people out of love, duty or kindness, and in that case it can help us to live more thankful and giving lives.

Aside from the world of advertising, social media also can be a source of comparison with our peers. This can prompt a variety of reactions within us if we are part of those worlds. I imagine that people who constantly scroll through social media may do so to keep in touch with others, but they may also find ways to celebrate their friends blessings and achievements. However, as the news stories often highlight, there is a darker side to this psychologically. I’ve read quotes that say that the pictures other people share of their lives are often the ‘highlight reels’ of what is going on with them. We may never know that, but what we do know is that studies show that constant comparison can have a detrimental effect on our mental health and wellbeing.

Is this something you need to think about in the pandemic when issues such as loneliness, poor health, illness and low self esteem may be more at the fore than usual? Do you need to take a step back?

Of course we don’t need to be part of the worlds of social media to experience the comparison trap. We might experience it through the updates of a friend through text, email, letter or face to face. Even though we are separated by the pandemic restrictions, we are in many ways more ‘connected’ than ever. We need to forge out mutually healthy and beneficial connections, but this is not always the case when people are part of worlds when they gain insight into the lives of people they are not necessarily close to.

It is good when we face comparison to take a step back and be grateful for what we have, for our own lives, and to seek to be inspired. Comparison isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s what we do with it that matters and how we process our thoughts, emotions and reactions.

There is a verse in the Bible that says: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn”. What a verse to hold to in 2020 and going forwards, with so many ups and downs and contrasts! Christianity prompts us to lift our eyes away from ourselves to Jesus Christ and to love and serve Him and other people.

If you are struggling with the comparison trap, know that you are human, everyone experiences it to some extent, and don’t beat yourself up for it. Perhaps you need to take a step back, work on a change of attitude, or think about whether something is ‘triggering you’.

I don’t experience much of this on Word Press blogging. Actually, until recently I have enjoyed the variety of things coming up in my news feed on the bloggosphere. Unfortunately, however, I felt the need to unfollow someone whose blog I enjoyed reading because of the contrast that wasn’t good for my mental health – something good is happening in their life and while I don’t personally know them, I am pleased for them from a distance. But at the same time, it feels like they are sharing a lot about this good thing and it is in a way a stumbling block for me, and so to protect my mental health I’ve had to consider not seeing those posts so much. I can choose to go to their blog and read it when I like, but I’ve also chosen not to have those posts randomly pop up in my feed when I’m not mentally ready to see them, because the contrasts are difficult for me. That’s ok. We all need to consider each other, but sometimes we’re not so good at doing that, so we learn as we grow.

I try to write posts that will encourage all of you, but please do let me know if there is anything that you find challenging or want me to consider in how I can better support you through my writing.

In the meantime, remember that your life is unique, beautiful, one of a kind and incomparable. As you live it, seek to uplift other people and don’t let your successes cause anyone else to stumble as far as you are able or it is in your power to do so.

Your life is precious. Live it well. Today. Be blessed. x

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Self Care In A Pandemic (39): A Thoughtful Start To The Day…

Whatever time you get up in the morning, whether you are an early bird or a night owl, it can be helpful to start the morning in quietude and contemplation before the day begins.

I personally like that bit of extra time in bed when I can pray to my Creator God and think, but I also like to read Scripture in the morning. Sometimes I’m not as disciplined with doing this and read more later in the day, but when I do have that time set aside with God spending time with Him and in His Word I do feel strengthened and ‘fed’ spiritually.

I don’t stick rigidly to a particular practice in the mornings as some people do, and we are all different and respond better to different things in line with our unique characters and personalities.

It can be beautiful just to take a few moments to look out the window at the start of the day, especially if you have a bit of sunshine or in this season some frost. As I write I notice what looks like a tiny little bird huddled amid the bare branches at the top of a tree. The sky is a light gradating blue, darker higher up and fading into the palest of blues, almost white, at the horizon. It is good to pause and notice and reflect at the start of your day, or at any time of the day for that matter, when you are able to carve out that time for yourself.

I often enjoy gaining an insight into what other people are doing with their time. On You Tube there are so many morning and evening ‘routines’ that people share that can inspire. I like to approach each day afresh but even the most spontaneous among us have certain key ‘building blocks’ that they include in their day to day lives.

Some people find the benefit from writing ‘morning pages’ of free flowing thought, of writing out goals or lists at the start of the day to give them focus, or of journaling or reading.

Perhaps you use your time for blogging as a form of reflection instead or as well.

2020 has taught us in many ways to slow down. It’s important to allow our lives to progress as we renew our minds. I don’t recommend starting the day with the noise of the world (as in the news of what’s going on in the world) but to strengthen you own mind and heart in some way.

We pay attention to our bodies as we eat breakfast, exercise or go outside, but it is important to also pay attention to our spiritual health and our mental wellbeing and for me that means taking in the Truth and spending time with God, even if for a few moments until I’m fully awake and ready for the day and can ponder more of those ideas later on as the day progresses.

What do you like to do to incorporate contemplation and reflection times into your day? Perhaps it is something you can write about in your blog and make sense of the many thoughts going on in your head through this pandemic? x

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