Someone recently told me that looking after our mental wellbeing is a bit like piecing together a jigsaw. No one thing, or ‘piece’ can solve the puzzle, but overtime, having a range of different pieces can all help add up to our overall wellbeing, and I guess in some cases prevent crisis.
I know that mental health can be such a difficult thing, having gone through complex PTSD, depression, and ongoing anxiety. So, know that I’m not trying to simplify the complex nature of being a human and the difficulties you might be facing in life.
However, what could some of these jigsaw puzzle pieces be? For me, at the moment, I’m recovering from some health issues that mean I’ve only been able recently to go out for short walks again – this was something I’d do regularly to help my mental health. I’ve spent much of the time being isolated, and this has been hard because our subconscious mind chatters away and is not always very helpful, especially as with anxiety the amygdala likes to throw up negatives, be they ‘memories’, feelings, impressions, images, words, all sorts of stuff. It’s not fun, as some of you might now. Let me reassure you, you’re not alone.
So, my jigsaw puzzle pieces might consist of connecting to people on the phone or by email, getting that bit of fresh air when I can (oh, how blessed I am to walk again), eating well, getting rest, watching something positive, being kind to myself, playing my violin when I have the strength, writing an encouraging blog post, maintaining my work and not overdoing tasks that might make me tired.
At the moment, that feels a bit limited – I’m not able to do all the things I used to and the lack of social connection affects me. However, for the past few years since the pandemic started, I’ve held to a verse in Scripture, in the Psalms – ‘This is the day that The LORD has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it’. As humans, we find it very easy to live inside our heads, worrying about the future, ruminating about the past or getting confused by our subconscious minds. No matter what trauma we might have gone through, or are going through, there is still something in this day, in this moment that we can focus on and give thanks for, and that can help our brains focus on the good, which in turn helps with our mental health. We can realise that we still have breath, the gift of life. That we have bodies and minds, whatever they might be going through, they still ‘work’ to a degree. Today, I am grateful that I had a safe and warm place to sleep, food to eat, clothes to wear, the health to get up and do things for myself, the ability to walk again and go for a walk by the riverside even though it was a bit windy and rainy, the chance to watch my church online even though I can’t be in community with people at the moment, the chance to choose my thinking and retrain my mind, and work on focusing on the positives, clothes to wear, and being able to feel and look nice after having been unwell, people to reach out to to encourage, the Living Word to read. Knowing that in Jesus I am saved and secure and never alone.
I am aware that mental health is precarious, and that mine can be too. But this is just one little jigsaw puzzle piece that I share with you today, whatever your brain and mind might be doing or ‘telling’ you. Lift up your eyes, focus on something you can be thankful for, know that one puzzle piece won’t solve the whole puzzle but it can help alleviate your distress a little today. Today the sermon online was about the Peace that Jesus Christ gives to us, one that the world cannot give, and I am thankful that He has rescued me and lifted me from pain and darkness and self, and forgiven me and given me a future and hope in Him. Yes, I still struggle, but I can say that He Is my Peace, and He will hold me fast.
Perhaps that is our greatest need – to be known and loved and taken care of…eternally. I hope you find that you can have some comfort today, whatever puzzle pieces you are working with, and I hope you know that you are not alone. Many people are silently going through similar to what you are and ‘putting on a brave face’….but perhaps you need to reach out and tell someone, and that is a brave step in itself. I hope my ramblings might bring some comfort and help to someone out there. Peace. x
At times we can feel like we’re the only person feeling the way we are or we may be frustrated that we are feeling and thinking in ways that we know aren’t helping us, but we don’t know the way out, and that can make it feel all the more frustrating.
In this moment, I’m thankful that I have the gift and outlet of the blog to reach out to someone feeling the way I am just now. It can be hard to be human, no doubt. It can be difficult and confusing to have brains that don’t always serve us well and thoughts and feelings that can be confusing.
You are not your thoughts:
Something that has helped me to hear is that ‘you are not your thoughts’, and that the ‘stuff in your head’ is just ‘stuff in your head’. It can be difficult to separate ourselves out from what’s going on seemingly inside us, but regardless of what your mind is telling you, you are unique, valuable, treasured and worthy. You are the only one of you – one of one, not one in a million, and you are not your thoughts. I believe that each one of us are worth dying for, worth the blood of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, that’s how precious and valuable our lives are, but even if you don’t believe that in this moment, know that you are unique and valuable.
Our brains have had to process so much in our lifetimes and in the past few years globally. The amygdala and its fight / flight response can trick us into feeling that we are constantly under threat and we can lose perspective of who we are, our worth and what is actually real about our lives. Maybe we use ‘coping mechanisms’ to help us through. If you’re going through this, even when you’re trying to rest, know that you are not what’s happening in your brain and you’re not alone – you’re certainly not the only person experiencing mental, emotional or physical distress and it doesn’t mean something is wrong with you – you’re human, and these experiences are part of the human condition.
Finding an outlet:
It can be easy to listen to and follow up on the thoughts that come into our minds, even if they are not helpful to us or are confusing. We can feel bad about ourselves for doing so and that can make it worse. But we don’t need to follow every thought that pops into our minds, they’re not real, and we don’t need to go down every rabbit hole.
Finding an outlet can be helpful to distract us, and I know that can be difficult at times especially if coupled with low mood. But we can start small, telling ourselves that ‘this too will pass’, affirming that we are not our thoughts, that thoughts aren’t real, and that we are valuable no matter what anyone else has said or what our own minds tell us. We are unique, valuable and one of a kind, anything contrary to that is a lie.
Eating well can fuel our bodies and our minds, as can finding positive and true things to think upon such as watching or contemplating something in nature and being careful of the media we take in or the thoughts we dwell on. Reading something helpful or studying can activate certain areas in our brain that are more ‘rational’, and reaching out to talk to someone can also help as can doing something creative even if for a little while.
You are not alone:
It can be a hard battle to fight to try to untangle ourselves from the many messages we’ve taken in or the chemical reactions going on in our brains involuntarily, but you are definitely not alone friend, so please don’t give up. Even if you find a little relief from your distress for a moment it will help you to think a bit more clearly and perhaps you can find a regular healthy outlet that can help you to build up more positive thought patterns, resilience and connections in your mind.
One thought at a time.
I also take comfort in my faith in knowing that on another level I’m not alone and never will be alone. Jesus said, ‘Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest for your souls…’ He knows us on every level and will never cast aside anyone who comes to Him.
And you’re not alone in your human experience as there are millions of other people going through mental health issues throughout the world. Take heart and don’t give up. Do something kind for your mind today. ❤ x
Anxiety can be a big deal. I know, I’ve lived it and continue to deal with overcoming its challenges. Our brains and bodies and nervous systems can cause all sorts of havoc and experiencing anxiety can be very distressing not only because of the physical sensations but also because of the intrusive and scary thoughts and memories that we can have, especially if they are coupled with other things like trauma or depression. When we are in the midst of this it can be very difficult to separate what we are experiencing from the reality that we are not our thoughts and that what our brains are doing are not real experiences in the moment. That’s not to say that we are not experiencing them, it’s just they are not in the real world. Thoughts are powerful but at the end of the day they are just thoughts and with time and effort we can replace them with Truth.
Our fight / flight / freeze mechanism can keep us in that heightened state of stress and anxiety and troublesome brain activity. So practically what can we do to alleviate some of these symptoms which many of us are facing on an almost daily and nightly basis?
Sometimes it can help to slow down and focus on just one thing at a time to calm down that frantic sense of the many things we need to do that can leave us immobilised. I find that if I am struggling then if I set a five or ten minute timer on my phone I can focus on a task at hand for a few minutes and get ‘out of my head’ a bit more because I have a goal at hand to achieve. That doesn’t mean troublesome thoughts don’t exist but I’m not merely sitting with them and getting lost in them or overwhelmed by them. I’d have still have done my dishes or made something to eat in the meantime, or accomplished whatever small goal I might have, and then be able to take a break and go on to the next thing.
2. Eating well
Speaking of something to eat, it’s important to fuel up our brains and bodies but when we are running on high levels of stress it can be hard to get past the anxiety and depression to be able to take care of ourselves and focus on eating well. Planning in advance during the times when you do feel a bit better or asking someone for advice in this area can help because nutrition will help build us up and provide the energy that our brains need to operate better.
Deep breathing can help calm the nervous system and get us out of fight / flight mode when thoughts automatically pop up causing us distress to think that there are things we need to fight or flee from. If we can calm our bodies to be in a state of rest and digest rather than fight and flight then we can be better placed to calm that anxiety and get on with our day more productively and healthily. This can take time and practice but it is good to know that something so simple as breathing can help with our wellbeing. Breathe in deeply through the nose, and exhale for a longer count through the mouth, and repeat as often as required to calm the nervous system.
4. Talk to a friend / get support
Anxiety and distressing thoughts can be overwhelming, especially if we feel like we are going crazy or don’t realise that these are ‘normal’ symptoms. Sometimes we need the reassurance that we are not alone, that we are not going to act on these scary thoughts (some of which for heightened anxiety include suicidal or harming thoughts) and we can diffuse what we are going through by chatting to a friend, or a counsellor. Spending time with people, making connections can all help to keep us grounded in the moment that we are in and out of our heads. It also helps to know you’re not the only one going through what you are and that there isn’t something wrong with you for experiencing anxiety and stressful thoughts.
5. Exercise, rest and time outside / in nature
It really helps the mind to keep the body moving, especially if this can involve getting fresh air and exercise outside or going for a walk in nature. There is something calming about the pace of nature and if we can engage our senses to notice the things going on around us in the here and now that can help us get outside of our own heads. That doesn’t necessarily mean distressing thoughts or feelings will automatically go away but they will be alleviated in the moment. Rest and listening to our bodies is also important so make sure you get good sleep as well, and if need be have a nap during the day.
6. Things you can’t control
Our brains are processing so much and especially with the things going on in the world right now it can feel hard to ‘switch off’. We might find ourselves worrying about so many things outside of our control that we can’t do anything about whether in our own lives, those of our friends and families or at the world at large. We can try to make a conscious choice during our waking hours to engage with what we can control rather than worrying about what we can’t. I know it sounds easier said than done, but at least we can try.
Whether it be cooking, gardening, colouring, drawing, dancing, playing an instrument, or reading or writing a blog or a book, creativity can really help to keep us grounded and engage our hands and our minds in a productive way. So too can learning something new. It might help ease some of that stress even if we start small at first.
8. Faith and the Reality of God
The other week I was trying things to help alleviate anxiety and stress – deep breathing, I started adult colouring again, and for the first time perhaps in years I tuned in to a Ted Talk. The remarkable thing was that that very Sunday at church my pastor talked about all of these things as ways and means people turn to in order to help with stress and anxiety and seeking wisdom (including the ‘art of decluttering’) in how to live and get through these stressful days. It really did make me take notice, as sometimes you know God Is speaking specifically to you. However, he went on to discuss the importance of seeking our wisdom in the True Source of hope and wisdom for life, and the only True source of real Peace – Jesus Christ. We need to ask for the Spirit’s help to reveal the reality of these things to us, we need a saving relationship with the Living God, and that reality is only found in Jesus Christ. I am so grateful that while I may try various things to ‘help me through’ He Is The One Who has saved my soul, Who will hold me fast through this life and bring me safely to Him after death, and Who Is with me each and every day on earth. I have something better than mere ‘tools and techniques’ to get me through, I have a Living Saviour Who loved me and gave Himself for me and Who will be with me in every anxious moment, helping me to look to Him and find Peace. ❤
Believe it or not, your thoughts can influence the course of your life. We need to be aware and mindful of what is going on in our minds and how we are letting things affect us. It can be a jumble in there, but the Truth can make us free, if we know it and apply it.
You might not realise it, but we are also in a spiritual battle, and there is a lot going on that can influence our minds and our thinking. From the lies we are told about ourselves in childhood that shape our sense of self and identity, to the information that we have to process as adults in a changing and challenging world.
Everyday, we allow thoughts to affect us, and it can lead to needing professional help at times, or to affecting our moods.
What is going on in your mind today? What thoughts are you allowing to influence and affect you? Is something from the past creeping into your mind today that either you need to work on or that you need to shut the door on?
Are you able to be present today, are you able to know your identity and worth?
Take your thoughts captive. Don’t let them take you captive. Be blessed. x
We all have ‘niggling’ thoughts from time to time. Some of us have had to overcome more traumatic thoughts or episodes in our lives, when thoughts really got ‘stuck’ because we couldn’t process an event or circumstance in our life, especially if we were children at the time.
However, no matter what age you are or were when this thought got ‘stuck’, particularly something negative in your mind that you feel you need to ‘figure out’ or ‘fix’, there are some common patterns.
Sometimes we need to work out traumas and go through a difficult and painful process of talking through things, making sense of something so that we can see it in a new light and process through to get to a better place so that we are not consumed by it. But what if having gone through such a process, or perhaps not necessarily needing to if it wasn’t particularly severe, we still have negative thoughts, feelings or memories popping into our minds? There are definitely times when we need to seek out help for mental health and do the hard work that goes along with that. But at other times we may just be allowing ourselves to indulge in old thought patterns of rumination. For example ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ and getting stuck in someone else’s negative words or opinions about you or the way they treated you that was unkind or unfair.
Having worked through the past, do we fall back into ruminating over it to no end? Do we allow ourselves to remain as a victim (and I know with deep sympathy from experience that there are times when we have been victimised and need to work through that pain and hurt and that’s ok), or do we allow ourselves to move on to being in a sense ‘rescued’, getting help, and then taking that big mental shift in seeing a new identity where we can be strong even in allowing the negative things that we all in different ways experience in our lives in this world to be used for good – do we allow ourselves to move from rescued to rescuer?
Where are you today? Are you allowing negative thoughts from the past to overtake your present moments? Or even looking to the ‘good old days’ and lamenting where you are now instead? Take these thoughts and turn them for good. If you were hurt, seek ways in which you can heal and then eventually reach out to help someone else who might be hurting now. Put this into practice and allow a gradual mental shift from victim to survivor to overcomer to thriver and victor. I believe in our core soul this healing, deep healing is only every fully possible in Jesus Christ, His Love Is a balm, and His suffering can bring victory over evil. Yet no matter where you are in your thinking or beliefs or what you are going through, don’t let your thoughts crush you. Take them, use them and change the track of your mind one thought at time. Seek to know the Truth that will make you free. x
Anxiety and depression can often involve thoughts that draw us inwards to ruminate on past events or feelings, or away from ourselves to worry about an unknown future.
In a pandemic, this can be exacerbated in a way when we might not be able to connect so freely with other people. You might start worrying about the ‘what ifs’ – what if there is another lockdown, what if I catch covid, what if someone I care about gets sick, what if I can’t get a job, what if I have to go back to the office, what if I am single forever, what if my children struggle at school, what if I grow old alone, what if things don’t work out for me, what if I struggle with my uni course, what if, what if….?
Or you might be ruminating on the ‘why did’s’ or ‘why didn’t’ – why did that happen to me, why didn’t things work out, etc.
You’re not alone. I have written several posts on trauma and PTSD and working through things that have got ‘stuck’ in our body, brain and nervous system, so if you need to, feel free to do some key word searches on those topics. However, aside from the serious subject of traumas, and clinical depression, which I have also posted about, we can’t change the past by ruminating on it (although there are times when we need to ‘work through’ certain events to get free from them, and we may need professional help to do so, and that is ok, it is more than ok, it is brave). So if you’re not in those situations of trauma and depression, but you do find yourself going inwards into your own thoughts too much such as thoughts about the past, or worrying about the future, then it may be time to take a deep breath and focus on the NOW.
Slow down a bit, try to do something while being aware of all of your senses. It can be something as simple as making a cup of tea. What do you hear when you boil the kettle (or teapot), what do your eyes see when you observe the steam rising, what can you hear, see and smell when you pour hot water into your mug over the tea bag, how does it feel to hold that warm mug in your hands, what do you taste when you take a first sip?
Be aware of NOW. Bring your mind into the present, and seek to enjoy THIS moment. x
You will find so many different posts and articles throughout my blog regarding help for mental health. I realise that sometimes we need a fresh reminder, and on difficult days something ‘short and sweet’ can help when we don’t want to read too much.
So, I’ve decided to start a new series, with quick tips.
Tip number 1 is if you are struggling with your thoughts and feelings, take a few moments away from your computer, your phone, the news, etc, and if you can, step outside in nature. Look up, notice the textures of things around you like leaves or trees, sense the air on your skin, and immerse your senses in what is around you. If you can’t go anywhere, perhaps you can look out of a window, and take some time to observe what you can see or hear.
If you don’t have much of a view, then maybe there is some other way that you can find to ‘look up and out’….to look away from your difficult thoughts and feelings – can you look to help someone else, or to do something creative, or to pray, even if for a few moments at a time? It may not solve all of your problems at once, but it may give you those few minutes of ‘respite’ that your brain and heart need right now.
So, take it easy, step away from your worries, and look up and out. x
I know that blogging about mental health and self care in a pandemic is good for other people, and it helps me too to write and explore my thoughts. Yet, you may have noticed that I haven’t blogged for a few days, or perhaps a week or so since my last post, I can’t quite recall. Sometimes, friends, it’s hard to keep going, even with the things that we know are good for ourselves and for other people. And that’s ok.
It’s ok to have peaks and troughs, ups and downs in life. For many of us, the pandemic and lockdown is just one aspect of what we are going through just now. Many of us are overcoming longstanding mental health issues in addition to some of the cares and concerns of present day, and that can be tough.
For the most part, I’ve found that the tools and techniques I had previously learned to help me to overcome complex post traumatic stress, anxiety and depression were helpful in sharing with others and sharing ideas of how we can progress through this pandemic. Yet lately, I’ve been struggling a bit with some of these recurring issues. Sometimes it is hard to keep going, and I’m sure there are many among you who know what I mean. Our minds can at times be scary places and can throw up all kinds of traumatic memories, sensations and even things of their own imaginings, and when we are in lockdown it can seem all the more intense.
So what do we do? Let me remind us of two truths:
We are not our thoughts and feelings.
This too shall pass.
When I was a child I thought I was my thoughts and feelings and I thought I was all of the horrible things that people called me. I had no concept that the rush of anxiety and the hormones my body was producing and the intense emotional, psychological and physical pain I felt made me feel awful together with the abusive words and treatment from other people against my very personhood. I thought I was awful and horrible and disgusting because people and my own body and brain made me feel that way, and I did not know how to de-escalate those feelings. The result was a very dark season of my life when as a child I thought there was something terrible about me and when everything felt so bad and the reality was that I was severely traumatised. I also for the first time no longer wanted to be alive. I’m using that language so as not to trigger anyone.
Well, by God’s saving grace, I survived. I’m overcoming things. Yet at times my brain and body throws up those awful experiences and it’s my job as an adult to know that those things are separate from my worth as a person and to learn ways to de-escalate those feelings.
Perhaps you are struggling with unwanted or uncomfortable or awful thoughts and feelings and you need someone to remind you that you are not your thoughts and feelings and you are not the bad things that you may have been told. That’s not how your worth is defined as a human being. You are worthy because you are human and the God Who Created you loves you and wants to restore you, forgive you, clean you up, heal you and give you a future and a hope. That’s not to say that there won’t be ups and downs but Jesus Is strong enough and loves you enough to get you through.
So, regardless of what you believe right now, know that your worth is simply in your humanity. You are not what you feel, you are so much more than that, you are valuable and important. That is a FACT.
Secondly, this too shall pass. There have been times when life has been hard as a child and then later in adulthood when traumas resurfaced that my brain started throwing up those horrible thoughts and feelings about not being able to cope and about giving up on life, etc. If I gave in to those thoughts and feelings, then I wouldn’t be here writing these words of encouragement to you. Those thoughts and feelings came and over time and with effort and God’s grace, they went, or lost intensity. I no longer feel that way. So if you are feeling overwhelmed, helpless or stuck in this pandemic or in some difficult circumstance or by your own mind, know that it is a temporary state and just as the seasons change so too will the way you feel, and you can take steps (read my many blog posts to find some suggestions) to feel better. The sun will shine again my friends.
In addition to this, I’d like to encourage you to do the following:
Engage your logical brain especially when your thoughts and emotions start to overwhelm you. It can be tough to do things that are good for us when we’re not feeling just quite right, but you can do it, I believe in you. Maybe you could do a crossword puzzle, or play a non-triggering computer game such as solitaire. Maybe you can go outside for a walk if that is available to you and start to notice things of a certain colour, or count how many birds you can see. Maybe you can set yourself some small tasks around the house, or if you are in a better place you can engage with some of your much loved hobbies from playing an instrument, listening to music, dancing, exercise, reading a book, cross stitch, gardening, cooking, or some kind of arts or crafts. When we engage with our senses this helps to activate certain healthy brain areas.
Connect with other people and let someone know how you’ve been feeling. It’s understandable that you may feel you don’t want to ‘offload’ onto others if you think they are going through their own things, but it is important to have human contact and to be able to bounce ideas off other people and to know that those connections are in their own way a form of ‘grounding’ in present reality. We don’t always have to talk about our ‘stuff’ but it is important to keep in contact with other human beings. If you don’t have someone to talk to then you can always call a helpline. And if you aren’t up for that, always know that you can read my blog for encouragement and advice and know that you’re not alone in whatever you are going through.
Try to maintain a routine outside of your head. It’s all too easy to get lost in our minds and trying to figure out or to solve our problems from the inside out. I’ve struggled with this a lot over the years and that’s ok. One thing that does help me get from one moment to the next is to have tasks to do outside of my own head and it gives my mind a focus knowing that I have to get up and do this or that rather than allowing myself to lie down under the weight of whatever it is I am thinking or feeling. Perhaps these could include eating something healthy, reading a book, doing a bit of exercise, getting fresh air, playing an instrument, writing a blog post, or watch something non-triggering and uplifting such as a nature documentary. Sometimes the things we do to help ourselves can also uplift those around us or those we are connected to online, such as in the blogging community.
So if you are finding it hard to keep going right now, remind yourself that you are not your thoughts and feelings, you are worthy as a living being, a human being and try to give yourself some positive affirmations. Also remind yourself that this too will pass and you will move forwards and feel better again just as you have in times past. Try to engage your logical brain, stay connected with other people who are good influences in your life, and set yourself some small self care tasks that will help take you out of your head. If like me you sometimes feel like you ‘shouldn’t’ be struggling, or you feel bad because of your mental health struggles, then know that it is completely normal, all human beings have faulty minds in some way or another and encourage yourself that you are looking for healthy ways forwards, even by reading this blog you are doing so, so give yourself a ‘well done’ and a pat on the back for that because small steps matter.
Remind yourself that you are not alone, and take a look through my blog archives for plenty of helpful material on managing your mental health and self care in the pandemic and otherwise just generally in life.
Even if all you feel able to do today is the smallest of steps then that’s ok, because small changes add up. We all have our ups and downs, and I had to take some time out of blogging over the past few days because I was finding things difficult again myself. That’s ok. I am proud of you for reading this blog post especially if you have been finding things difficult. That could be one of the tasks you have done to care for yourself and there are plenty of posts you can come back and read later on too to help keep you going and give you ideas for how to persevere.
Well done, my friend. Let’s keep taking those small steps forward to care for our bodies and our minds in what has been a challenging time and to remind ourselves of how far we have come and that we can keep going.
You are worthy, you are important, you are here for a reason and you have the strength to take that one next step and the next, and the next and on and on……
All you have to do is live a moment at a time and you CAN do that.
Be blessed. Stay safe and know you are important, worthy and loved. x
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
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