Even before the pandemic, I don’t know anyone who has come through life without facing their own personal challenges and crises and sometimes, it is useful to start with taking a step back and observing our own situation in a more detached way. Mindfulness researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn (2012) reminds us that the events we have experienced until now have already happened to us; we can’t change them, but we can change the way we react to and overcome stressful situations. The ways we find to manage life will be unique to each of us; what works for some may not work for others but here are a few ideas about remaining grounded and resilient, no matter what is going on around us.
Mindfully observing the ‘movie’ of our own lives
Practising mindfulness can help us switch off panic and anxiety and begin to think differently. Stopping to watch how our own life movie is unfolding, without judging it or trying to fix what we don’t like, can help us to detach from being ‘in’ our experience. Mindful pauses can help us break stressful patterns of thought and find clarity and even for just a few minutes a day, mindfulness practice can slow our heart rate and positively refocus our attention.
How many of us are actively holding our breath, or holding stress and tension in our bodies, when this serves no purpose apart from perpetuating the anxiety cycle? I know I have caught myself responding this way to stress. Changing this behaviour can be achieved through some easy mindfulness practice and kinder self-talk. A simple trigger word like ‘relax’, as a reminder to self to release tension we are holding and taking a couple of minutes for focused deep breathing can really help with changing your state of mind. There are many mindfulness and meditation apps which with just a few minutes a day, can help us build a habit that research has shown can lead to increased ability to cope with both expected and unexpected life events.
Grounded in gratitude
Many people have expressed to me that gratitude is really difficult to experience when in the middle of a challenging life event. For many, negative emotions like anger and fear, can be all-consuming for a period of time. Yet this is when we might need gratitude more than ever. The most grateful people I know are those who are able to appreciate life’s little miracles, despite their circumstances. Gratitude is a behavioural trait, with some people possessing a natural tendency to be grateful, but it is also a practice that we can all learn. A recent study by Cousin et.al., (2020), suggests that practicing gratitude may literally help heal a broken heart, by changing our biomarkers for heart disease.
So how can we become more grateful? Again, start small. Notice little things during your day which make you smile and actively think about and appreciate them for a few moments. Then start writing about them at the end of the day, even just a few of them for a few minutes. It can be anything; a sunset, a flower, a conversation with a friend, anything which makes your heart sing. Even over a short time period of a couple of weeks, gratitude journaling can have a positive effect on mindset and set up a habit for keeping us open to the great things in our lives that might get lost in the noise of living.
Our thoughts are not things
As conscious beings, we all have thousands of thoughts a day, as part of our own unique lived experience. But whether our thoughts are good or bad, they are simply thoughts. We may experience many feelings based on our thoughts, but our thinking is not our permanent reality. Sidney Banks’ work on The Three Principles considers wellbeing and mental health from the psychospiritual perspective that we are all innately resilient and mentally healthy, no matter what is happening around us.
Pransky and Kelly’s (2014) study discussed working with the Three Principles in various therapeutic settings, suggested that participants experienced a shift in consciousness towards a more resilient way of being, despite particularly challenging circumstances. If you have never come across Sidney Banks’ work on The Three Principles, it is worth exploring this simple yet profound understanding.
Small changes for big results
As we move on with life, through an ever-changing path of discovery and while are no right or wrong ways to manage the challenges in our lives, working on even small changes can help us remain resilient and ready for our next challenges. Small shifts in our behaviours can have a long-lasting impact, enabling us to continue to embrace and grow from our experiences so that we can thrive, now and in the future.
Cousin, L., Redwine, L., Bricker, C., Kip, K., & Buck, H. (2020). Effect of gratitude on cardiovascular health outcomes: a state-of-the-science review. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1-8.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2012). Mindfulness for beginners: Reclaiming the present moment—and your life. Sounds True.
Pransky, J., & Kelley, T. M. (2014). Three principles for realizing mental health: A new psychospiritual view. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 9(1), 53-68.
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