It’s in challenging, stressful times that we can be at the mercy of our thoughts and feelings. However, most people have more control over their thoughts, and therefore how they feel, than they realise!
Furthermore, our thoughts and feelings can also be at the mercy of what and who we expose ourself to if we’re not aware that we have a choice in the matter.
So, today we’re looking at some key ways you can better ‘manage your mind’ during challenging times.
Although these points can be used at any time, I’ve chosen them specifically in relation to help you this Winter:
When we’re stressed our body floods with stress hormones preparing us to ‘fight or flight’. In a real-life moment of danger where you would need to fight or flee, you are hard-wired to scan the environment for all potential threats. This still happens to a lesser degree when you’re stressed but not in a life or death scenario — your mind will naturally gravitate to think about potential threats. This is how we can fall into negative thinking, worrying, rumination or focusing on the worst-case scenario. So, it makes sense then, that you would want to keep yourself as calm as possible to avoid these negative thinking patterns.
Check your perspective
The moment you recognise you’re worrying, ruminating, thinking negatively or going to the worst-case scenario, you can then do something about it because you’ve created separation — you realise you are not those thoughts and feelings; you’re just temporarily experiencing them. You then have the opportunity to shift your perspective. It can be hard to do this through thinking alone — it is much easier to do this on paper or talking it through with someone whose opinion you trust. I suggest writing down your fear-based or worst-case scenario thoughts and then make a list of the opposite perspective; the best-case scenarios. You can also imagine and write down what you would say to a friend if they came to you with these thoughts.
Keep the foundations in place
I’m referring to the basics of good wellbeing: sleep, food, movement, hydration. If any of these are out of place, your mental and emotional health will suffer because stress levels also rise when the body is physically stressed. Going back to point number one, if you are aiming to keep stress levels as low as possible, then it is critical for your mental and emotional health that you are getting good sleep, food, movement and hydration.
Limit exposure to negativity
This one is key right now and it’s something you have direct control over. There is so much drama, negativity, hype and fear inducing content in the media and it will only get worse as we move into Winter with COVID-19 cases on the rise, a recession and current political dramas. Remember that the media knows viewing ratings rise if people are scared. That’s not to minimise what is happening in the world, but I would say most people feel more stressed after watching or reading the news. So be very conscious of when and what you’re watching or listening to. It is self-care to have boundaries around this. I personally barely watch the news for this reason and when I do, I consciously choose neutral, credible sources to catch up on what I ‘need’ to know.
The same also applies to friends and family – if you find they are a source of negativity or drama, check in with yourself and get clear on how they make you feel. If they make you feel more stressed, limit your exposure or have a conversation to assert some boundaries around what you do and don’t want to discuss.
Accept the downtimes
One thing is true of life and that is we will all experience times of struggle, hardship and days where we feel low. Much of people’s pain when they do feel bad is amplified by judging and trying to escape the pain. As cliché as it may sound, if we can sit with the uncomfortable feelings, we often find that they pass more quickly and less painfully than we imagined.
Know when to seek support
Following on from the above; I want to make it clear that if you find yourself in a dark place and you know you are struggling, then do seek support. Part of this involves acceptance, but rather than processing things on your own, find someone to help. Whether that’s a friend, family member, professional or specialised helpline; we may need someone to help us get back on track. Vulnerability can feel scary but is one of, if not the, most brave thing a person can actually do.
There are also many other practices and tools you can use to help keep you emotionally balanced — obvious ones would be meditation, mindfulness, gratitude, exercise, time in nature and surrounding yourself with positive influences such as people, books and podcasts.
Next week I’ll be looking at ways to stay connected, inspired and motivated this Winter.
I’ll be launching an online group course in December to support and inspire people over the Winter period – if you are interested to find out more or to join the wait list, CLICK HERE.