Tag Archives: process

Self Care In A Pandemic (13) – Be Active and Not Reactive – Take Time To Process…

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

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A mind map

Human beings thrive on narrative. We need things to make sense, and we try to bring order out of chaos through talking things through, discussing them, or compartmentalising them in our minds.

Women perhaps more than men make sense of the world through verbal narrative. Men may be bemused at why women seem to talk things through so much, but what they probably don’t realise if their brains are wired differently is that there is a lot going on socially, emotionally and psychologically through the process of talking about things. By this I of course don’t mean gossip, but if a woman has a problem you may find that her instinctive response is to talk about it, whereas men are more ‘solution – driven’. The verbal narrative helps us to process our thoughts and emotions, make sense of things, find validation and connection as we engage with the person we are talking to and also work through possible solutions without jumping straight in.

Yet regardless of how we approach the narratives of our lives, we all need our stories on some level to make sense. Isn’t this one of the deepest reasons for why we write?

In trauma, a lot of our experiences, memories and sensations simply do not make sense nor do they fit into a ‘timeline’ because these unprocessed parts of our experience, and of us, are up front and in the here and now just as much as they are from the past and we often experience them in the present with great intensity.

Whether or not you’ve experienced trauma, you do have an innate need for reason, logic, the unfolding of a story and for things to make sense. I personally think that’s one part of being human. And so we write, we talk, we listen, we express.

Yet, some of the ways we think actually impact our unfolding narratives. Which is why we need to work on our ‘mind map’ – our own internal mental journey, because this impacts how we move through life.

Regardless of what your experiences have been you can find purpose and meaning in them, even the most difficult, as you gradually reframe them and make them part of something bigger. Seeing the difficulties as chapters in a book for example, and discovering how these form the identity that you are walking into. Look back at my post on superheroes and origin stories for a better idea of what I mean.

The more we are aware of the mental road map we are forging out the more we are able to navigate our way forward with purpose and positivity, taking the difficult things and allowing them to be used for good, for a greater purpose, as part of a bigger narrative.

man wearing black cap with eyes closed under cloudy sky
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The racing doesn’t stop, even when you do! …

Most of us in society nowadays, live pretty ‘busy’ lives. Even when we are sedentary for hours at a time, we are still ‘wired up’, connected to our tech, and our minds are solving problems, figuring things out, and absorbing information. Busyness isn’t therefore simply in the form of rushing about, doing things, making appointments, getting to places by a certain time, meeting people, attending functions, and the endless list goes on and on. Busyness, nowadays also represents our state of mind.

The racing doesn’t stop, even when you do. Maybe you spend a significant amount of work time at a computer. By the time you get home, your mind most likely needs some time to process your thoughts, experiences and to assimilate these and make sense of the day. However, how many of us give ourselves the chance to do just that? I wonder if we overwork our minds by the amount of stimulus we allow into our experiences, in an unhealthy way similar to that of an overworked muscle that eventually loses some of its agility and function and ultimately its health?

I think because of the society we live in, we need to really be intentional about this aspect of our wellbeing. In years gone by, before instant photography, people used to have to develop their pictures from negatives, in a dark room….and it took time for the picture to form and appear. Now that we are so used to things being ‘at the touch of a button’, or at the sound of a voice, we have grown less patient, and have come to expect things to happen instantly. We no longer make much time to sit in stillness, and to replenish ourselves, to process and develop, and allow the pictures and the meanings to form; and this isn’t healthy, and I know I’m guilty of such bad habits too.

When we come home from work, what do we do? Do we really connect with ourselves and the people around us, or do we continue to absorb ourselves in an online world? Don’t get me wrong, as a blogger and a writer and a creative person, I think it is a wonderful outlet, but I also realise that there is a fine balance to be had between the digital and analogue worlds. How many of us, having been at the computer for several hours, continue to go online, or to sit in front of the TV, and take in more mental stimulus than our brains can handle? Is our relaxation, really relaxing? Do we actually give our minds a break?

I tend to feel it when things get out of balance for me. I need a lot of time on my own, and solitude, time to think and to be creative, but sometimes I do just get absorbed in the next drama or box set or article online, and I am almost compelled to keep watching, listening, reading. When what would be really good for me would actually be to sit in silence for a while, to observe nature, to read a book, to think, to process, to write and journal, and to create, draw, play my violin, pray, colour, paint, cook, experience. Yes, really experience. Our minds can’t be in a continuous state of rush, absorbing information, and never having a break or a chance to process these experiences and the multitude of data we feed ourselves with. Like ‘junk food’ we are drawn to the instant gratification of what is quick, easy, with a short term ‘feel good’ factor, but is in the long term detrimental to our health.

I find blogging a healthy way to engage with life online – it gives the chance to step away from the constant streams of information to actually begin to process my own thoughts and make sense of life as it happens to be. Yet, it is not enough. I know I for one need to be more intentional in stepping away from technology and spending real quiet time being present, being creative in an analogue way, and just allowing my mind the chance to slow down, take in one thing at a time, consider it, dwell upon it, and process.

The racing of our minds doesn’t stop just because we do, especially when we don’t give our minds the chance to be still, constantly bombarding ourselves with information until we are full, overloaded, and at the brink of malfunctioning. However, we can give ourselves the chance, to ‘hibernate’, sleep, reboot, restart. Surely if our computers need to, we do too!

Can you relate?

man riding bicycle on city street
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