It is understandable that many people struggle with the changes that 2020 and the pandemic has brought, and longing for things to return to the way they were even as we press through this ‘new normal’ whatever that means.
However, with the human tendency to be to notice things that aren’t the way we would like them to be, it can be all too easy to miss out on the things that are actually going well and to neglect to notice and give thanks for our blessings.
One way of finding’ a more positive way through this pandemic could be to ask yourself, ‘If things went back to ‘normal’ tomorrow, what would I miss?’
It’s hard really to know what ‘normal’ means, but if things were to change then you might have to let go of some of the benefits of this season that you may be taking for granted. By thinking of it this way you might be more inclined and motivated to make the most of the time that you do have in this season.
For some of you, life might be full on and so difficult, especially if you work on the frontline in the hospitals for example. Please know that you are valued and many people are so grateful and thankful for the hard work you are doing.
For most of us, however, things that might change if there was more ‘normality’ could include the following:
– A daily commute to work, for example in an office, when we’re currently used to working from home.
-Appointments and meetings dictating the way we use our time, rather than greater flexibility that we might have at the moment.
– Having to spend time with toxic people, for example in the work place or in other realms of life.
– Losing touch with the people we may have kept in touch with more during lockdowns and restrictions with the use of technology.
-Less time with our families.
-Less time alone.
-Less time for our hobbies, or to pursue our own interests.
-A faster pace of life, and less chance to slow down and take notice of the simple joys of every day living.
-More demands from other people.
-More ‘external noise’ from the world, from society, from other people, from bosses, from commitments.
-Being forced back into the timetable and mould that the world sets for us, rather than having more freedom to do things at our own pace and in our own way.
I wonder if you can think of other things that I haven’t listed that you might like to share in the comments?
Of course, there are things that we are all missing right now in the pandemic. We miss the freedom to go out without risk of infection, we miss our friends and loved ones, we miss doing fun things, we miss human connection and interaction and travel. Oh, how so many of us miss travel! We may miss our jobs, or we may be missing having a job at all, we may miss health and some people (not myself) may even miss the hustle and bustle of crowds and shopping and noisy places filled with people.
While you may be yearning for the things you miss from the life we once knew or were more familiar with, take a moment to really think about the things that you enjoy right now that you might miss if things returned to ‘normal’ tomorrow. Will you miss your own sleep pattern and no early morning alarm clock, will you miss not having to go on a long commute to work, the time you have to do the things you enjoy, to spend by yourself or with family, or the slower pace of living?
If so, you may just be taking things for granted if you are focusing on the way things used to be or the way you wish they were. There may be so much, right now, even in the midst of the pandemic that are blessings to you. Take time to recognise them, acknowledge them, be grateful for them, and make the most of them, because as seasons change, things may just get far more busier than you would like them to be.
These are frustrating times, right friends? They are certainly challenging and frustrating times for the world at large. We’re probably all a bit frustrated with hearing just how ‘unprecedented’ the times we are living through actually are! Enough already, 2020!!
Yet, for some, perhaps many of us, we’ve been living through or have been faced with seasons of frustrating times long before the pandemic. Some of us may have had to contend with a whole range of challenges and frustrations in life including but of course not limited to in this fallen world, some of the following: poverty, low self esteem, abuse, trauma, mental illness, health issues, eating disorders, unfair treatment, unfair upbringing, unkind people, prejudice, lack of access to opportunities, things going wrong time after time, the comparison trap of our peers reaching milestones while we face difficulty after difficulty, self hatred, self esteem issues, financial struggles, neighbourhood disputes, natural disasters, and oh how sadly and frustratingly the list can go on, and on!
If reading all that has made you a bit frustrated with me, then I do apologise, but don’t give up just yet, there is hope to come, so let’s take the next step together.
Sometimes our frustrations can build because of the gap between how we want or desire things to be and how they actually are. Feeling like this can affect not only our feelings and perceptions about ourselves and the situation we are in, but can have a knock on effect on everything else going on in our lives even if other things are not that bad at all.
Think of it this way, do you ever find that you are doing some ‘ordinary’ task in your day such as taking a shower, going for a walk, tidying your home or making dinner. All the while your mind is giving you a show reel of the things that annoy and frustrate you and get you down. Before you know it, you’re so caught up in your frustrated thoughts that you lose sight of the good that you are actually living in right now. I’m not downplaying the severity of the tough things we all go through at some point or another as human beings. Goodness knows, I’ve felt the stab of those ‘glib’ responses of other ‘well meaning’ people including friends, who just wanted to ‘fix’ me, my situation, or tell me off or what to do in times of real suffering. No one needs that kind of ‘advice’ so I’m not going to give it to you. I’m not going to tell you that thinking better will take away your grief, or that you shouldn’t think or feel a certain way because there is so much else happening in the world, and you should just feel grateful for what you have.
No, none of that, but what I do want to offer you is something that has helped and continues to help me in tough times or times of frustration or need. We can shift our perspective and retrain our thought patterns so that the way we process our experiences can help give us a bit of a ‘lift’ even if in the short terms so that we are not adding weight to our existing worries and troubles. As Jesus Christ graciously challenges us, “who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?”.
That puts things in perspective a bit, but it’s not always easy to get off the ‘rocking chair’ of worry and frustration. Sometimes when I’m in the shower or washing the dishes or doing some task I’ll notice my mind begin to wander into ‘grumpy land’. I start to divert my thoughts upwards and ‘now-wards’ if I can coin a phrase, and just start thanking God. Thank You for the clean running water, thank you that I can hear, see, touch…and then I get on that train of thankful thought that leads me to a better place mentally, psychologically and can help me to live a better day.
I think today is American Thanksgiving. Perhaps this could be a good day to give ourselves a refresher in living life with an attitude of gratitude to use that cliched phrase. It may be cliched but it is powerful. At least it can be, if we let it.
Many people nowadays talk about mindfulness. Some people are quiet wary of the term. It is something doctors have helped me with in times of struggle and is a good tool to have if you struggle with anxiety or any mental health challenges really. It is in a way a means of redirecting your focus from the inner workings of your mind to looking outwards, noticing things with your five (or perhaps more, if you have some superpowers? 😉 ) senses, and ‘getting out of your head’. I’ve written about this in previous posts and have a lot of posts about helpful things relating to mental health and anxiety so feel free to delve into my archives, or do a search on my main page and hopefully you will find something helpful for where you are at right now.
Being thankful may not fix all of your problems right now. But it can help you to protect your mental, emotional and consequently physical health. It can help you to become an encourager rather than a complainer, and it can help you to heal. If you are grieving over the loss of a loved one, you will need to process your grief and it is important not to deny the whole range of emotions you are feeling – you can’t just wish them away – you have to go through that difficult tunnel, but even while you are in there you can still see the flicker of lights along the way while you wait to get to that great Light once you get through this tough season. How? You can begin to be thankful for all of the special times that you did have with that person. It may be a small step, but perhaps it will lift you at least a little in times of pain.
You may be in a frustrating living situation. You might be alone, or maybe you are feeling frustrated by the people you are living with. Instead of staying on the negative train, ring the bell for the next stop, get off, change tracks and choose a new destination. Start being intentionally thankful and looking for the good in the situation, in the solitude, or in the people around you and if none of those, then in the lessons you are learning that will make you stronger, more patient, more resilient and perhaps the leaders of the future in your sphere of influence when someone needs encouragement from someone who has ‘been there’.
Whatever you are feeling frustrated by or anxious about right now, there is something you can choose to be thankful about. I am a person of faith but I am also a believer in neuroscience, and for me the two go hand in hand because the Creator Who formed and fashioned the intricate workings of our brain also tells the most learned and the most innocent ‘do not worry’, He tells us to ‘take your thoughts captive’ to ‘be transformed by the renewing of your minds’, and to ‘give thanks in all circumstances’. There are so many more references that can be found in Christian Scriptures that give us real and practical hope, health and healing for our mental health, but ultimately it is Christ my King, Who Is the Healer and Who can and does ‘guard my mind and heart in Christ Jesus’….with a ‘Peace that transcends all understanding’.
If right now you just want to think about the neuroscience, well I’m sure there is a great likelihood that you’ve come across the phrase ‘neurons that fire together, wire together’ (and this is something I’ve also written about previously). We can create ‘tracks’ of thinking that can reinforce and trigger similar thought patterns. As someone who has overcome years of debilitating anxiety, panic attacks, complex PTSD stemming from childhood trauma in the form of ‘bullying’ physical, emotional, psychological and other long term stressors, and severe clinical depression, then you can take it from me, the person writing these things from experience that there is reality and Truth in the fact that the way we think can deeply impact our lives, and also very hopefully that our brains have ‘plasticity’ and we can reform and reinforce new thinking patterns based on Truth. As we are encouraged in the new testament book of Philippians: “Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable–if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy–dwell on these things”.
I’m convinced that the way we think not only impacts our own days and lives but also the way we think of, relate to and treat other people in a small scale as well as a larger societal scale.
I think you have great power to lift your thoughts, change the outcome of your day, and impact the lives of the people around you as you share Truth with them.
We can stay seated in the Rocking-chair of Grumpiness, or we can get up, take action and get on a new train of thought that actually leads somewhere.
It’s not easy, friends, I know. And I certainly don’t mean this to be a ‘glib’ post, but hopefully having read a very little of some of the challenges I have faced and am overcoming, you know that there is something in what I am saying. These days are frustrating on a number of fronts but you can change your perspective about them. You can be a leader, in time. You can speak for Truth and Love and Hope, in a world that is languishing in darkness, hate and fear.
Life may be extremely frustrating for you now, and I hear that, I feel it, I’ve been there. I’m not putting pressure on you that you ‘should’ think this way, but just gently and lovingly encouraging you that you don’t need to stay ‘stuck’. Let’s keep on encouraging each other, and perhaps a good place to start today is by choosing to be Thankful, and then choosing it again, and keeping on going until it is a train of thought that we more naturally get on each day.
Be blessed. Stay safe. With love, in sincerity and Truth. x
Words of Encouragement (11):
*Practical tips to help manage anxiety*
I’m sure many of us have experienced feelings of anxiety and stress around this new situation we find ourselves thrust into in 2020. Although there is a lot that is outside the realm of our control, and that can make things feel very frightening at times, we can do some practical things to help us to manage feelings of anxiety better. Here are three for you to focus on today:
1. Breathing / ‘breath work’.
I know this can sound overly simple, but trust me….I have years of experience in overcoming the ‘anxiety monster’! When we are in a state of stress and anxiety, our bodies can get stuck in a state of ‘fight / flight / freeze’. Anxiety and fear can contribute to lashing out, retreating, or becoming immobilized and ‘stuck’. There is a lot of science behind this regarding the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, the production of certain stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, for instance, and the different brain states that respond to threat (or perceived threat), and the resultant physiological responses. We don’t need to go into detail about that here, but these are all connected to your feelings of stress, tension, increased heartrate, sweating, racing thoughts and ‘catastrophic’ thinking, and so on. I’m sure I’m not the only one who knows what it is like to experience these first hand, and if you have ever experienced a panic attack, then we’re on the same page here. You might find yourself breathing irregularly, pacing up or down, or just unable to concentrate. Being told to ‘calm down’ isn’t really going to help you, but knowing *how* to calm yourself down *will* help.
So what at first might sound over simplified, in focusing on your breathing, is actually very effective, as it changes the state of your body, your brain states and hormone production and release.
Anyway, enough of the ‘theory stuff’….here’s a practical exercise.
You’re most likely breathing from your chest up, but you need to breathe more deeply from your diaphragm. Breathe in through your nose so that your belly rises (for a count of 4), hold the breath for a count of 5, and exhale slowly and completely through your mouth so that your belly goes in, expelling the air for a count of 7. These numbers are indications, you can do what works for you, but make sure that the out-breath is longer than the in breath…that’s important (and there’s science -y stuff behind that too 😉 ). Repeat as often as needed and your body and brain will gradually ‘switch’ states from fight/flight/freeze to a calmer state which will in turn help you to manage your thoughts better.
Pay attention to your five senses, and take time over each one. Some people don’t like the term ‘mindfulness’, but really it is just paying attention, noticing things, and once again changing your brain and body states which is very effective in managing anxiety and the often accompanying racing thoughts. You could try the ‘5-4-3-2-1’ method and work your way slowly through 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 that you can smell and one that you can taste.
Alternatively, you can focus on one object and really take in the details of it, and this will help you to return to a calmer state.
3. Creative distraction
This can be incredibly helpful, especially if you build it up over time, although there can be immediate results on a smaller scale, to help you in that moment. Whether it is drawing, colouring, cooking, painting, playing a musical instrument, or even (less creative perhaps) tidying up, this will help you with attention, problem solving, and focus and using your hands productively will also have a calming effect if you are struggling with anxiety.
Try to incorporate these into your day to day life, even in small ways here and there, and build up your own ‘toolkit’ and adapt it to your own needs. There are so many resources out there, and different ones that will suit you individually, hopefully you will find something that fits your needs, or can connect with a friend, family member or group who can help to point you in the right direction.
Keep calm and carry on 😉
When was the last time you lifted your eyes and watched the clouds drift lazily across the sky? Shadows, darkness and wisps of wonder traverse the skyline, slowly, heavily, lightly, fleeting mists.
When was the last time you looked up, and allowed the gentle pace of the clouds to calm your breathing, and softly nudge your mind to rest?
Have you ever watched the clouds move? Have you ever let them invite you in to a lazy, carefree space within yourself?
I watch the clouds move, and my heart grows calm. The noise of the world seems to dissipate, and all there is is what is in front of me, the moment that I am resting within, swaddled by these wispy, whimsical, gently floating dreams. I don’t see where they go when they move past the corner of my window….where do dreams go as they drift along?
In this vast universe there is a little window of time, of opportunity, of life, your life, and mine….will you slow your heart and mind for a moment to hear it, to experience and to live it, to allow it to deepen the wonder within you?
There’s a sensation in the air that the approach of autumn may not be so far away. Sometimes our heart can sense the changing of the seasons before we apprehend with our senses that any change has yet come. My heart tells me that autumn is a time for lingering, for slowing down, but not yet stopping, for taking the time to live, to be, and to reflect. I find autumn to be a beautiful time of the year (when it is not raining, that is). I sometimes feel that the natural world can have a deep impact upon our inner lives, and the pace of change within ourselves. As I look out of my window and type, the fir trees still stand steady, inked with a deep rich forest green. Other smaller, leafier trees, whose names I don’t know but wish I did, have begun the resplendent transformation as bright yellow gold leaves intermingle with the fading greens. A change is in the air. You can feel it. Not yet winter, but no longer spring or summer, it is time to ‘stock up’ for the colder days ahead, and time also to ‘take stock’ of the days we have lived.
Autumn is a gift. It is a gift that life gives us to slow down and apprehend that life is happening, right now, and it is our duty to pursue wisdom and to live life well. For, as we see life happening, rich, fascinating, unfurling from green to gold to auburn and brown, we are reminded not only that we are alive, but that life also changes, it also fades and this season’s tapestry will in time give way to the next.
In thinking of the seasons of our lives as a tapestry, it helps to remind us that each stitch in time, is part of a far greater picture, and yet is not insignificant – for each little stitch is so important in making the picture, so that things don’t unravel, and so each has its own important place.
It is an important reminder to ourselves, as moving into the latter stages of a year can at times bring feelings of ‘underwhelm’, anxiety, the sense that we have not achieved ‘enough’ or become who we were hoping to be, or done what we wanted, planned or dreamed of doing. Yet Autumn, beautiful and tender Autumn, gives us the permission to slow down, to breathe, to take time over each stitch and to remember that the smallest of details is exceptionally important even in this grand picture, this tapestry of life that is being woven.
You and I may only be a little, tiny piece of a far greater scene – a universe beyond us, time and space that we know nothing about, mysteries that our lives may never apprehend. We someday will be someone else’s ‘history’, we are someone from the past’s ‘future’, and we are here and we are now, each making a stitch in time. We are part of something far greater, and yet we are important – nature reveals this to us – and our Creator through nature speaks volumes. We are both challenged and permitted to take up our own paintbrush as it were, our own pen to write, to create, we are drawn into focusing on the beauty around us, and yes, the fading beauty, but reminded that while we think on these things, we have a part to play, a keystroke to type, a brush to caress a page, a song to sing, a letter to write, a dance to be danced and a life to live. There is beauty in Autumn, and Autumn reminds us that there is beauty with each change, beauty in the smallest of things. So take today as your gift, and be the beautiful part of this grand design that you were born and called to be. x
What do those three words make you think of? ‘Quality of life’. (I mean in a general, everyday sense. I understand that there are many people who are or have friends or family members who are living through terminal illness, severe health challenges, bereavements and other major life challenges, which require sensitivity and compassion and an entirety of focus, therefore this post is aimed more generally, while my heart goes out to those who are struggling with the daily realities of such life circumstances).
I guess the phrase means different things to different people, but individually I think you ‘just know’ whether you are experiencing it or whether something is amiss. As explored in previous posts, we often don’t stop and realise what we really need to change until after we ‘burn out’ or struggle to survive our hectic and stressful days.
As someone who has had a long battle with complex post traumatic stress (notice, I leave out the word ‘disorder’, for we are overcomers and survivors of the brain’s natural coping reactions to severely stressful life experiences that were put upon us), severe clinical depression, resulting in for a few years chronic pain, and also generalised anxiety disorder, therefore quality of life is something I have had to think about a lot.
I am pleased so say that by the grace of God, and with a lot of hard work taking those small and seemingly insurmountable steps every day for years and years, I feel like I am stronger and in a better place.
So, ‘quality of life’ in an everyday sense….what does it mean? You know better what it is when you don’t have it. And what do you think about? Is it having time to yourself to rest and reflect? Experiencing exhilarating challenges and exploring new places? Having a peaceful family life, or finding contentment in your situation whether you have people around you or are ‘alone’? Is it being able to “enjoy your achievements as well as your plans”? To notice the simple things each and everyday?
It is a challenge that each of us have to take up to consider this question for ourselves, and then to give ourselves the permission to set about doing something about it for our own sakes and for those around us. I have taken the day off work today. I was getting to the stage of feeling like I wasn’t ‘coping’ so well, and that’s not the way I want to live. And I think with all I have been through, and all that you have been through in your life, it is a question that we need to *regularly* ask ourselves: am I living, experiencing a real quality of life, even in the simple things everyday, and if not, what am I going to do to make the changes I need to make?
For me some of these changes have taken years to accomplish having had the mountains of post traumatic stress, anxiety and depression to overcome. However simple they may seem, these changes are small victories in my life. And as each gain is made, the quality of life adds up over the years, as does our personal resilience to adversity, just as conversely each detriment adds up, each bad habit, each negative element that we allow to continue in our lives unchallenged.
Some of these changes for me include working on a better sleep routine, and eating more healthily, and looking after my body and mind. Having a time of morning devotions and prayer and seeking God, giving thanks and praying for myself and others, committing my day to Him and being gentle with myself when I don’t manage this and end up rushing. Taking time to slow down and notice the beauty in the everyday, ‘mundane’ things of life and appreciating what I have got. Taking time to create a peaceful living and working environment even if there are challenges in doing this, small changes can make a difference. Taking breaks, being mindful of my breathing, setting goals and plans, and taking the time to do more of what I enjoy, whether it is reading a book while waiting for the train, colouring during my lunch breaks at work, listening to music, giving myself more time so that I am not constantly rushing from place to place, and taking a day off when I need to if I can.
I am a great believer that the little things in life really do add up over time. What you are investing in today will impact your future and those of the people in your life in some way or another. Seeds of legacy. So take time to make time for yourself, small or big changes that will help you everyday to live more in alignment with what really matters, taking consideration of the foundation that you are building your life upon, so that you are living and not merely existing. Small steps, after all, lead to changed lives as the years roll by. God bless. x
It’s January 7th 2018, and I don’t know for how long it is reasonable to talk about the ‘New Year’. One thing I do know however, is that it is always a good time to reflect upon our lives, and to consider whether there are ways we can do things differently, and to look for new opportunities and new beginnings.
I don’t know about you, but I tend to find that as I get older the years seem to hurtle by (at least they did until more recently) in a way in which they didn’t when I was very young. Summers seemed to last forever, and every experience had a certain weight to it. I can remember squinting against the sun, and collecting molten droplets on my eye lashes. I remember sitting on the floor in the gym hall in primary school where we also had to wait in line for lunch, and where we had school assemblies, and noticing the way in which shafts of sunlight streaming through the high up windows caught falling dust particles that wouldn’t otherwise be seen. Sometimes experiences and boredom seemed to drag on, such as on rainy days when my parents were sleeping and I wanted to play, or sitting a test or waiting for that friend to come out to play. And yet, even in these times, I can remember being able to find simple, imaginative solutions to the problem of boredom by becoming wholly engrossed in my own playful reveries. Sometimes on days spent outside, and especially with friends, the possibilities of adventure seemed endless. And on rainy days inside playing by myself, I distinctly and vividly remember the worlds and adventures that I created all by myself and became engrossed in. Perhaps you can relate to these feelings from your own earlier experiences. Don’t get me wrong, my childhood wasn’t always a happy time, and sometimes not by a long shot, but still there were times when I was present, absorbed in the moment of play or adventure, and oblivious to the passing of time.
Perhaps you think, that’s all well and good, but as adults we can’t spend our time staring off into the distance when there are so many responsibilities and so much to do, and with every passing moment, and accumulating task, so little time. To which I’d like to remind you of those two little words that mean so much to so many of us, with a weight and force to stop us in our tracks: “Burn Out”.
Ironically enough, I have returned to my blog and am commencing this paragraph after stepping away to check on the food in my oven, when my leg brushed against the front of the open oven door causing me to gasp at the burning sensation! If ever there was an appropriate and timely lesson in mindfulness and avoiding burn out, that was it! Don’t worry, I’m ok 🙂 …..
Taking this to be a natural pause in ‘Life as it happens to be’, I’ll leave you momently to consider your own thoughts as I concentrate on monotasking and enjoying my dinner, so that I can focus all of my thoughts on part two of this post, to be continued later…. x
You’ve been here before. Looking out to the horizon, the wide expanse of sea and sky reaches forth to meet you, where right now you feel the sand and grit between your toes, as gentle waves lap around your feet. A gull wails in the far, far distance, and other seabirds respond with their own distinct cacophony of cackles.
You spy a razor shell covered with sand. You desire to reach down to smooth off the sand from between its intricate ridges. But the presence of seaweed draws out your hesitance, and you simply stare. You are lost in the reverie you find in the rock pools around you. A crab scuttles into view, distorting the patterns of your peaceful daydream. You lift a foot, shaking off the sand, and begin to walk away.
People come and go all around you, and yet this is your beach. You hold fast to your solitude even in this multitude. You look back to see your trail of footprints, and forwards at the untouched sand. Around you there is the vibrancy of life. Children run and play, weaving their way in and out of the patterns on the sand, splashing in the water and squealing with delight. Sandcastles are built and gleefully demolished. A red and yellow kite catches the wind, falters and then soars high into the bright blue sky as a gust triumphantly lifts it. Somewhere in the distance you can hear the clip clop of horses hooves. People walking dogs come and go, and life goes on and on in this one vibrant unfolding shared story on this beach, where everything is now.
You pull the kite string of your mind to try to both tether yourself and to fly free as you catch a fresh breeze. But this tension within you constantly flutters. Why does it seem that everything you long for is always in the distance, beyond a horizon that you can never quite arrive at?
Perhaps it is because you yourself are distant. Never fully allowing yourself to be here and now, present in the life you are living, the life that other people’s dreams are made of…..? (c).
I took this picture last autumn (‘fall’) while walking down by the riverside not far from where I live. I live in the city, so I love glimpsing and paying attention to nature’s beauty wherever I find it.
This avenue of trees particularly caught my inspiration. I hope it gives you a warm feeling too 🙂 x