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
It may only be the beginning of November, but soon we will be made more aware of the festive and holiday season approaching. If you live in America there is ‘Thanksgiving’ in November, and among other Western countries you may be approaching Christmas, New Year and / or other faith-based or holiday celebrations.
The most wonderful time of the year?
It certainly can be ‘The most wonderful time of the year’. But if we’re all honest with ourselves, we know that it isn’t always the case. Sometimes the most wonderful time of the year can serve to highlight the pain and difficulties of life all the more starkly because of the sharp contrast with how we feel things ought to be.
Reflections and moving forwards:
This year I’m looking forward to and trusting God for a happy, Peaceful and healthy Christmas with family and friends and as a Christian, celebrating my Wonderful Saviour. However, Christmases haven’t always been bright for me. I won’t go into details but there has been light and shade over the years, and it hasn’t always been easy. A few years ago, I was at the point where I just had to open up to my family about how bad I was feeling – and I faced the guilt of telling them, on Christmas day that I was having suicidal feelings. I felt like I had spoilt things, but they were so loving towards me and to cut a long story short it was the beginning of some very difficult steps for me to get professional help with severe clinical depression, and to be diagnosed with complex PTSD, and Generalised Anxiety Disorder. The joureny over the next few years proved to be very tough, but with perseverance I got help, support and am here feeling much better and more purposeful today. Without God moving in my life to hold me and support me and move me forward one painful step at a time, I wouldn’t have got to where I am, so I am very much looking forward to a blessed festive season after some not so good times.
Where do you find yourself?
Perhaps you find yourself looking joyfully ahead. However, I know that many of you are probably having to just put on a brave face and you are feeling pretty low about things, or maybe you do have happy times ahead but you feel stressed about the effort and organisation that will fall to you in making them happen.
Take a moment to reflect upon how you feel and what your thoughts are knowing that this time of year is approaching once more. Give yourself time to feel and to think what you think and to ask yourself what changes you can make to make things better for yourself and for others.
Burdens come in many forms:
We can learn to look at our challenges as opportunities, however, for the most part hard times are just that – hard times, and we somehow have to struggle through them. You might be facing anxiety, family problems, depression, bereavement which may be particularly poignant at this time of year, separation, loneliness, ill-health, loss of some sort, poverty, homelessness, broken relationships and friendships, isolation or a whole host of other pressures and painful things.
Maybe you have more than one of these things weighing you down.
What can you do?
From what I have learned in my life, my encouragement to you would be to start getting into the mindset of preparing yourself to ‘cope’ if need be, right now. That way you will have some time before things get really ‘in your face’ about how happy you should be and before you are unable to avoid the constant stream of conversations, advertisements and shop window displays.
Have a plan:
Start now, in early November, with some set-aside times of self-reflection. While the month is still pretty quiet (in terms of societal pressures as I realise that you may have a lot going on in your own life right now), find a way to carve out some time for yourself to do some thinking. With the pressures in your life you may feel like you have ‘no time’, but you do – it’s all about finding something that will work for you. Perhaps if you only have five or ten minutes at a stretch you could get a notebook and over a few days or weeks whenever you get the chance begin to think and plan how you can look after yourself during these challenging and maybe painful holiday seasons.
Meditation, quiet time, journaling and knowing your triggers:
Ok, so now you have some time set aside, what do you do with it? Here are a few ideas to get you started. Silent reflection / meditation and listening to how you feel. Journaling to express your thoughts and feelings and to externalise what is going on with you and maybe even to figure it out. And very importantly, learn about what your ‘triggers’ may be (things that can ‘set you off’ on a negative emotional or cognitive decline).
As to meditation, quiet times and journaling I think you can find what if any of these works best for you so I won’t go into more detail on those. Knowing your triggers is crucial and I encourage you to take some focused time to really think about what these may be and plan ‘safeguards’ around them. Spend time observing your own moods, thoughts, behaviours and make a note of what kind of things make you feel bad, brainstorm, write them down and come up with a list of the most prominent triggers that you foresee yourself having to deal with.
A list of triggers, noting how you ‘cope’ and creating a wellbeing plan:
Now that you have established the things that could trigger you into falling into a bad place, it is important for you to take time to reflect upon some of your unhealthy ‘coping mechanisms’. Be really honest with yourself and write down what these might be. For example, maybe you turn to alcohol, comfort eating or something more harmful to ‘numb the pain’. Maybe you isolate yourself, ruminate, allow yourself to sink further into depression, sleep a lot or self-harm or push people away. There could be a whole host of damaging and unproductive ways that we find to deal with the most painful things in our lives and it is important to know what these are. It is also so important to commit to choosing a healthier way of dealing with things and making a plan and a strategy of getting through.
Where do I start?
This may all sound well and good in theory, but maybe you feel overwhelmed by these suggestions in and of themselves. Therefore, I am going to use some real and hypothetical scenarios to illustrate how you may go about coping with things and you can use this as a template for your own self-care and wellbeing plan.
An example of a wellbeing plan.
Ok, so imagine that you are facing a difficult situation this year of having health challenges, facing loneliness, anxiety, depression, change of circumstances, and the breakdown of a friendship or relationship.
You’ve given yourself the kindness of time to think about what’s really going on with you and to process some of it, as well as to think about what might be your ‘triggers’.
Some of the triggers you face include the following:
Crowds and busy places make you feel anxious and unwell.
You don’t have anyone to talk to about how you feel and you feel like you ‘ought’ to be happy or you’ll ruin the mood for other people, and so you try to cope with the depression on your own.
Things have got worse for you health-wise and you feel overwhelmed and alone.
You are struggling with the breakdown of a close friendship or relationship and don’t know how to deal with it, you know that you’ll soon be surrounded by all of the ‘picture perfect’ scenes in films, advertising, social media and among your friend or acquaintance circles who are in a happy place in their lives.
You are having to deal with stressful family situations and don’t know how you’ll cope with the enforced times together that you have to be a part of.
You know some of the things you turn to that aren’t helpful for you. You know that you’ll want to escape and so you isolate yourself, you indulge in negative coping mechanisms and isolate yourself all the while these things make you feel worse.
A better way forward:
You know that you don’t want to fall into the slippery slope of negative emotions, thoughts and reactions, and so you plan some ‘self-care’ and contingency plans to keep you safe and even enable you to enjoy some of this season despite what you’re facing.
These contingency measures will be very specific and personal to you, but to help as many people as I can in a general way, use this ‘Checklist’ that I’ve come up with as a guide:
Health: Give yourself time to get the healthcare and professional medical advice that you need. Listen to your doctors and those who have your best interests at heart, and ask them for their help and advice in what you should do and how you might be able to cope better.
Isolation / Loneliness / No one to talk to: You may feel like there is no one to talk to, but try making a ‘contact list’ of people you can turn to for general support and in case of an emergency. You might feel bad being at the stage of having to do this, but believe me I had to do this for a long time, I’ve been there and eventually you will get stronger so don’t feel bad if you need to lean on people from time to time.
Think of the people in your life who care about you. Do you have a trusted friend, or a few good friends, a family member, pastor, colleague, relative that you can turn to and confide in? You may find that they in fact care a lot about you, your well being and will be there for you in whatever capacity they are able, so please reach out to such kind people of noble character if you are blessed to have them in your life. If you don’t have this, then please know that you are never alone. I have also had to turn to ‘crisis helplines’, phoning the Samaritans and talking to doctors during tough times – they may not have been ‘friends’ as such but they were a lifeline for me, and sometimes you need someone to talk to and those in the caring professions are often a good and safe source of support. Make a list of contact numbers you can call and reach out to, and also be aware that nowadays with technology there are a wide variety of ways you can contact professionals such as by text, email and video conferencing.
If you are a bit stronger in yourself maybe you can reach out to others in similar situations or even those who are in greater need such as through volunteering, meeting groups of likeminded people and seeing what’s going on in your community.
Be sure to plan in some ‘happy times’ even if you don’t necessarily feel happy inside, create opportunities for positive experiences as far as you can manage. This may be planning a lunch, dinner, cinema outing with friends or a friend. It could be going for walks in the park or getting away somewhere refreshing by yourself. There are so many possibilities but you may have to plan ahead before things get busy to ensure you have something in place.
Diet and exercise: Plan in ways that you can stay well and healthy as much as possible as what we eat and how we use our bodies has a big effect on our mood and mental and emotional wellbeing.
Know when to say ‘no’: You may have certain social and familial obligations to deal with. There may be commitments you need to uphold. But there is likely also to be a lot of things going on that will simply drain you, so you need to know what these might be and how to keep yourself well – you don’t need to say yes to everything.
Practice gratitude: even in the hardest and most challenging of times you can find something to be thankful for, a lesson to be learned for the future, and a lesson that will someday help someone else if you choose to learn and grow from it. So try to find the silver linings rather than allowing yourself to be oppressed by the clouds.
Positive distractions: For when things begin to get on top of you, know what positive distractions you can turn to such as hobbies, a musical instrument, a favourite TV show, a walk in nature, painting, art, writing, blogging, journaling, exercise, chatting to a friend on the phone, model making, etc. Do something that will absorb your focus and help you move forward that one next step at a time.
Plan ahead: You may have a lot of practical things to consider, from organising festivities to managing finances, paperwork, and other ‘grown up stuff’. Plan for these so that they don’t get lost or forgotten when you are perhaps struggling emotionally and mentally. Break things down into smaller, clear, focused and manageable tasks and check them off as you go. Keep your list somewhere where you won’t lose or misplace it, and this will help you stay on track and not get into further challenging situations because of something you may have let slip or forgotten to do.
Next steps: Ok, so life isn’t quite how you hoped it to be. You’ve felt like giving up and giving in, but you’ve chosen the better way – you’ve chosen to keep on living and looking for a way to cope, to survive, to move forward and ultimately to get stronger, to thrive and to see good come out of these challenges. One of the positives about this time of year is the opportunity to embark upon a ‘New Year’. You may look upon this as a flimsy human-made demarcation of time, but you will be in amongst a lot of other people seeking to improve their lives, their wellbeing and their circumstances. Try to thrive from the positive vibes that are encouraging this forward thinking and goal setting and look at the bigger picture of your life. Ok, so you’re not where you want to be but faith tells you that you can be in a better place, so spend some time figuring out what you want moving forwards, what you need to do and to change and what the next practical steps might be and take this forward with you to a hopefully better and stronger year ahead.
Be blessed, and stay strong friends. You are loved and you are never alone. xx