Tag Archives: Psychology

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 (69): Be Aware Of What You Focus On…

Hi friends, I must admit that the mornings here in Scotland are getting a bit challenging for me to deal with at the moment. I’m not sure if the sun is shining in your part of the world, but where I am the sky is a big grey sheet and it is drizzling with rain. Trees are bare branched and there is a bit of a wind whistling through them. I and many others are probably longing for spring and a bit of sunshine (when hopefully the general population won’t go crazy and be irresponsible with going outside or forgetting about social distancing…but that’s for another chapter!).

Whatever the weather is like where you are, it is part of the human condition to sometimes struggle with focusing on the things that our bodies, minds and hearts experience that might get us down. We need to have a plan in place for times like that and the more we can implement better thought habits the better we will be for it through the course of our lives.

My sleep was a bit unsettled, I woke up with unsettling feelings and thoughts inside, and then I woke up to grey skies and a ‘dreich’ day as the Scots say. I knew that I had to get out of my head a bit and so I opened the patio door and got some fresh air on my face. I could see and hear birds, and even saw a fox running behind our garden fence! I appreciate these things having lived the first part of lockdown 1.0 on my own in a tall flat with no garden space or balcony!

It did me good to get some fresh air, but I still felt unsettled. I had breakfast and did some exercise, all the while building up on the new and more helpful thought patterns and neural pathways. This can be effortful at times. We can forget to breathe. We can get lost in the tangle of unsettling thoughts and feelings. We can become overwhelmed and stay stuck focusing on the wrong things. Memories and impressions arose in my mind. Perhaps they do for you, and not particularly the ones you want to remember. Sometimes we want to ‘swat’ them away. Yet there is power in learning to sit with those difficult thoughts and feelings safe in the knowledge that we are not our thoughts, and they will not last.

If you are struggling with things today, be aware of what you are allowing yourself to focus on. As I said in an earlier post, it is normal to have ups and downs, but sometimes those difficult spells can feel really hard to us. That’s why we need Help from Above, and we also need practical tools and strategies.

So whatever it is you are finding yourself focusing on, if it is a negative thing that is, sit with it for a moment, take a deep breath and try to reframe your thought into focusing on something else more positive and productive. The fact that you have read this far in my somewhat rambling blog post is a positive thing in itself! 🙂

Keep moving, feel your feelings, externalise them in some safe way if that helps such as journaling or chatting to a friend, or praying through them to God. Remind yourself that you are not your thoughts and feelings, and that they will pass.

Think of something more positive to turn your attention to and do that for a while. It takes time. We can feel destabilised and discouraged when we feel these difficult things as if we are those things but we are not. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We are valuable. And there is an important reason we are here today and we all have a purpose. If you don’t know your purpose, I have written a post about that and finding it in the very things that are right in front of us. You can find a purpose for the next five minutes, and the next, and the next and going on from that….so just focus on the next step on those difficult days.

Remind yourself also that it takes time and practice for all of us to make new neural connections, and trains of thought and patterns of behaviour as our brains readjust from negative thought patterns, experiences and beliefs that we may have been used to or conditioned by for many years. But we can make a change and each small step is important.

There are a couple of verses in Christian Scripture that help me and encourage me with this: ‘Be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ (Romans 12:2) and ‘You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make /set you Free’ (said by Jesus Christ Who also comforts us by showing us that He Is The Way, The Truth and The Life). John 8:32, John 14:6.

We can be free. And even with everything going on in your life today, you can make progress. If you are in a ‘slough of despond’, if you feel like you have fallen down a metaphorical well and don’t know how to get out, don’t let the darkness overtake you, don’t look down at the ground, don’t stay stuck in your difficult thoughts and feelings – instead, like an intrepid explorer find that spark within you that says ‘keep going’, ‘you can do this’ and like a curious child, look for the solution to a puzzle that can be solved. Look up to the light streaming in that otherwise darkened well, look for the foot and hand holds on the side and begin, one small effort at at time to climb up. You CAN do this.

We will speak again soon, friends. If you are doing well, keep going. If you are doing very well, reach a hand out to help someone else. If you are feeling stuck, you can make progress. Just do that next one thing, and be aware of what you choose to focus on. It’s ok to feel those tough feelings, to sit with them a while, to process them, to responsibly vent them without hurting anyone else, to be creative about it, but don’t stay in that place all day. Focus on something new. Do the next thing. And never give up. x

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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

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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 (63): Build As You Heal…

Hi Friends,

For those of you who are more familiar with my blog, you’ll know that I have been overcoming complex PTSD, depression and anxiety from adverse childhood experiences particularly in school and among peers, and cumulative stress throughout the years into adulthood.

I’ve come a long way, and would consider myself not a victim, or survivor anymore but an overcomer. I am still working on this stage, but perhaps one day I will be able to think of myself as a ‘thriver’, that’s one of my goals. I’m not there yet, however, and there are still daily mental battles that I am overcoming. This could easily become a negative obsession were it not for the fact that having had some help I now have some tools to move forwards with to help me be present in my day to day life.

It got me thinking that we all have our ‘stuff’. We all have things that we have survived and need to overcome. Some among you may be familiar with this road, like myself, and others among you may have for the first time experienced something in this pandemic that has hit you hard and even traumatised you as well.

For a long time I had no idea how to heal. The answers are complex, and I rely on the grace of God. There are however things that I can share with you that I have learned. Sometimes we go over our stories again and again in order to try to make sense of them, to find meaning, to reprocess, to create a new narrative. This is hopeful. At other times we are so impacted by our inner pain that we go over and over it because trauma actually has us ‘stuck’ there. Stuck trying to get free, flailing as if drowning, trying desperately to come up for air. I was there internally for a very long time until I got outside help.

Now that I am working on things by myself again, I have made considerable progress with my inner mental road map as I look to the examples of others who have or are overcoming something difficult in their lives. I’ve written about this before, and you might like to look out my post on mentors for more insight.

As we heal, as we continue on our own recovery journeys of whatever type they may be, we can also seek to build. As we try to make sense of what happened to us and the sometimes devastating impact it had and continues to have, we can see opportunities to use these experiences for growth not only in our own lives but to help other people to – to build.

I’d like to encourage you (and myself) today to consider what thoughts are going on in your mind that you are grappling with as you try to recover, make sense of, heal or move on from something.

Many of us have experienced verbal abuse at some point in our lives. For those of us who are particularly sensitive this can be crushing and can destroy our sense of self worth. We may have to spend decades trying to survive these inner wounds until we can get to a place where we can start affirming our own worth and begin to believe it. That is why I say, ‘build as you heal’. While I am overcoming these effects in my own mind and life, I can remind myself that there are still children out there who are going through things like I went through. I can remind myself that there are adults still struggling with the things I did a few years ago at the peak of CPTSD. I can remind myself that there can be greater compassion for people who have suffered even if and when their suffering is different to mine. And as I seek to continue my own healing journey I can think of ways that I can use this for good, and to build up other people.

I may be able to show more compassion, understanding and care to the young people in my life. I may be able in some small way to encourage my friends who are parents, or to build up adult friends who have traumas of their own. I can write, and blog and encourage you. I can think of the examples of others who have gone before me who have used the most awful experiences in their lives to heal and build and build and build.

Can you think of any striking examples of people who have overcome their own struggles and sufferings to go on to help other people in notable ways?

The ways you and I heal and build don’t need to be so notable because the smallest most silent and seemingly invisible acts of kindness can transform destinies. A broken person might have their life course changed by a simple act of kindness that shows them their humanity and worth is recognised. You never know, you might just be the person to do it.

Let us not wait until we are fully whole in order to begin to build. Our families, friends, communities and our world needs kindness to be built up into their foundations. Kindness and love.

As you continue healing, think of the lessons you can learn that you can pass on to others. I personally believe that when we are struggling in our healing journeys that this perspective can actually help us personally as well. If I am so caught up in my own suffering then I may believe the lies that were said about me. But if I think of another little girl suffering the same thing, I can grow in strength and perspective by saying, it’s not her fault, she’s precious and valuable and beautiful and made in God’s image, and then I can more logically begin to apply the same reasoning to myself as a child.

The wounds of childhood can run deep. They can crush us. But they can also be transformative. They can teach us to overcome, and to be the helpers and healers of the future.

Maybe your wounds are from adulthood, maybe they came as fiery darts to you in this very pandemic. Don’t be defeated by them. It is The Truth that sets us free. The Truth of our dignity and inherent worth and value to our Creator God. There are other people languishing in the same kind of deep pain that I and perhaps you have languished in. As we heal, let’s build, not only for ourselves but to be the ones who can and will lend a helping hand …. when the time comes.

Stay safe. Be blessed. Heal….and build. x

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Self Care In A Pandemic (62): Work On Your Character…

Initially all the changes we faced in 2020 when the pandemic really started to impact our lives and shape our day to day realities, left many of us in a ‘survival mode’.

We were compelled into thinking about the immediate practicalities and concerns we needed to get to grips with in order to keep our loved ones and ourselves safe.

I’m sure we all remember the news articles and ‘toilet paper-gate’ in those early days when people were struck with panic and started hoarding essentials for fear of shortages amid the lockdown.

I realise that for many people things are by no means easy now, but in general in a variety of countries we have now established ways and means of managing these new day to day realities of living life in a pandemic.

Working from home has become a default for many people, even if we are still not fully equipped and established quite yet. Home education is a ‘new norm’ for some, and it’s no longer a novelty or new inconvenience to be ordering groceries and then spending our time carefully disinfecting them. These are all part of the rhythm of our new lives, as is social distancing, delivery people leaving parcels on our door steps rather than handing them to us, and so forth.

Some people in society are really hard pressed, such as those working in the ICU, people facing abuse in other frontline settings such as shop staff, and those for whom Covid-19 has had a knock on effect upon their finances, family situation and living situations. Some have become homeless while others are going to food banks for the first time.

I suspect that for many of us with the time to read and write blogs, we may be in a more comfortable situation not living hand-to-mouth on a day to day basis and not having to worry about where we will live next month.

For those of us who are no longer in pandemic-survival-mode, and for those of us who still are, we all have the opportunity to dig deeper and work on our character.

We are being pressed into thinking about many things, some of which many of us prefer to avoid in the general day to day run of life. Death and what happens next is one that is key to think about. I personally believe that there will be a judgement, and the only way to be right with God is by seeking His forgiveness and new life through Jesus Christ. That’s the biggest eternal need of all. Yet we also have other issues that we need to consider such as how we think of and relate to others, how we use our time, and whether we are developing ourselves in a way that will bring kindness into the world around us. We may be humbled by our circumstances and this may open opportunities for us to realise more of our humanity, our need and to develop thankfulness, perseverance and resilience.

So wherever you find yourself today, think of the ways in which you can be developing your character in this pandemic. Think of the person you are and want to become, and how you can use all of your experiences for the greater good, even and perhaps especially those which have been difficult for you.

Take care, as always friends, stay safe and never give up. x

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Self Care In A Pandemic (61): Take A Minute…

When seasons change, are you in a hurry to rush to turn the metaphorical page? To start your new chapter, and head on into the next new thing without looking back?

I’ve been there before. I suffered a lot of pain growing up with a couple of markedly traumatic years in school. I put my head down and just wanted to press ahead and forget everything that was behind me and move forwards. Then later when I finally got my first apartment / home of my own, after facing a range of different challenges, I wanted also to press ahead, and to do things to serve God and help other people. I had it all planned out in my mind. Let me just give you a quick ‘spoiler’ and let you know that the story didn’t unfold that easily for me and was in fact a very painful time. I had gone through so much that overwhelmed me, big and little things accumulating over the years, that I couldn’t just press ahead. I had a traumatic episode of complex PTSD, severe depression, anxiety and panic attacks and although I pressed ahead even when experiencing all of these horrible and terrifying symptoms, holding on a full time job and doing outwardly well by the high quality of work I was producing, I was falling apart. God needed to bleed all that stuff out of me (which is a work in progress) in order for me to heal. Now I am able to build myself up after being broken down and broken apart. At least, God Is rebuilding me and giving me wisdom in how I can be part of that rebuilding process.

Sometimes we want to turn the next page, especially if we’d been on a particularly difficult chapter or few chapters of experience and life, and put it all behind us. Our bodies, brains, nervous systems, spirits and emotions may not let us. We need to heal before moving forwards sometimes, and it can be a painful revelation after having put so much energy and effort into surviving life, only to feel we are back at ‘rock bottom’ once again. It can be hard to see the ‘breaking apart’ as an important part of the healing process – of being progress in its own form.

I was touched to see (watching from the UK) last night, Joe Biden’s memorial service for the thousands of American lives lost to the pandemic. I watched this morning on the news a professor talking about the importance of Truth and Reconciliation in order to move forwards. Truth must come first, and this is a process.

Regardless of what your politics are, and what you may believe, the point I’m making is a humane one and not a political point. There is dignity in taking that moment to show honour, respect to those lost, and also in so many realms of life, of taking time to recognise and perhaps mourn for what happened in order for us to move on.

Perhaps you in your own life want desperately to move on from something. Maybe like me you need to press ahead, but then those painful emotions will catch up with you in a crippling way. You need to allow the wound to be exposed (but in the right way) in order to find deep healing.

As the world watches the changing of administrations in the American presidency today, we are looking at a man who gives honour to that ‘moment’ to pause and reflect, to grieve, and to be honest about things. I’m impressed with Joe Biden as a human being who has overcome adversity and grief and loss and personal struggles in his own life, not by running to push past them or ignore them, but to take time to face them, confront them, feel the human emotions, learn from them, and move forwards with compassion to help other people.

Like I said, this is not a political post, but in my own journey of healing, I look for examples of people who have gone ahead of me from whom I can learn. As I seek to share my learning in my ongoing journey, I also am avidly seeking to learn from the wisdom of others.

So I have been reminded of the important lesson to take a ‘moment’, however long that moment may be. We can’t always rush our healing journeys to fit in with our personal time lines. That can feel devastating when we are living through it, I know that personally, especially when we feel crippled by our emotions and experiences and traumas, even though we have worked four times harder than those around us, only to survive, while they all seem to be moving seamlessly ahead in their lives, even thriving, having never had to experience the things we have had to endure and fight to overcome.

Yet there are others like us. There are others who have found the strength to overcome. And from that they have also found the Grace to be more compassionate people who lift others up, because let’s face it, in this world we all have trouble, we all have battles to overcome and burdens to bear.

The Greatest of all Who has gone before me, before us all Is Jesus Christ. There Is none more compassionate and loving than He, even though He Is Greater than all. He has suffered more than all, having taken upon Himself all of our sufferings, and at the Cross He declared Victory, “It Is Finished”. Yet, He Is The One Who gets down in the dirt, in the dungeon beside us, and holds us and heals us right where we are. He Shines His Light into the Darkest of Places and He binds up our broken hearts and heals our wounds with His own. There is no pain or suffering He does not understand. Jesus Christ, Loving Saviour of the world.

As we face this day, let us take a minute. To remember those around us. To take a moment for ourselves. Let us also challenge ourselves to take a moment before we speak because others are going through their own struggles, anxieties and healing processes too, even those with whom we may disagree. Let us take a moment to be human, to feel what we feel, and to allow love and compassion and Truth and Light into our lives.

Let us take a sacred moment before we turn that next page.

God bless. x

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Self Care In A Pandemic (5). Incremental Changes…

Feeling overwhelmed in life is not unusual considering the generally busy lifestyles that many people lead. There are so many things ‘to do’, so many tasks to tick off, so many people and plans and projects to keep up with.

Yet even in the pandemic, and perhaps especially more so, with a change in the pace of our lives, there is still a likelihood that some of you reading this will be feeling overwhelmed.

There are different issues to think of in new and developing contexts whether these contexts involve public health risks, political unrest, a change to our daily routine, isolation, job and financial instability, and so forth.

Even if these things haven’t impacted you too much, there is still the chance that you put pressure on yourself to use the ‘extra time’ to achieve so many goals, do more things, or become better at others. Another common concern that seems to be cropping up is around body image and weight gain (or loss), which is unsurprising given the way many of us respond in times of stress by either comfort eating or forgetting to eat! You may want to make a change in this area of your life.

Which leads me to the point of this post on self care in a pandemic, namely whatever positive or productive changes you need or want to make in your life, don’t forget that you can only (and only need to) live out one day at a time on this journey.

I like to plan, there’s something reassuring about the creative processes I use in putting pen to paper and bringing clarity to my thoughts as I make sense of my day, and the weeks and months ahead. Yet, we all know, and have learned especially this year, that we cannot put all of our hopes or trust in our plans. A year ago, none of us would have known, expected or thought about a year like 2020, we don’t know what the next day or week will bring, and therefore as you move towards making changes in your life, be they to take better care of your body or mind, to use your time wisely, to learn something new, to maintain your home, to do your job well, to move towards greater financial ‘stability’, to invest time and attention in your relationships, to have a better balance in your day to day life, to be less stressed, to give up bad habits, to encourage others, to read more, pray more, live well, whatever it may be, give yourself the permission to do things incrementally, with care and thought.

When we feel overwhelmed, it is important to maintain a healthy balance between our visions of the ‘bigger picture’ and the small, time bound manageable ‘chunks’ of tasks that we need to do, bit by bit, step by step, little by little to get there.

It’s ok to make incremental changes….after all, isn’t that how most change starts to be made?

Don’t compare yourself with other people, and don’t add pressure to your life and mind with negative self talk over how far you have to go.

Take this moment, look up with faith, have an idea of what you want or need to do that will be beneficial, and simply take that one small next step, make an incremental change, and keep going….

Be kind to yourself. x

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