Maintaining Change in Trying Times

You may have been making changes prior to the pandemic and all the changes that came along with it.  You may have been going along just fine, then quarantine came along and ran interference on your goals.  Between missing out on the usual routines that bring comfort, constant Zoom meetings, missing social contacts, and feelings of uncertainty about the future, it’s easy to let positive behavior changes go by the wayside.  But these very behaviors can play a huge role in helping us to cope with the pandemic in the most resilient way possible.  Here are some strategies that may help you to maintain positive behavioral changes during this time:

  1. Take advantage of all of the technology that is available. So many things are being offered online right now.  
  2. Explore alternatives and get creative.  Is there a different way to engage in change?
  3. Break things down into even tinier steps.  Breaking big goals into small steps is always a good idea. Right now, life is so disrupted that we need to break those small steps down even more. 
  4. Ask yourself: Is there a simpler way to get the same results?  Can I reduce the amount of time I spend making changes so that I won’t get burned out?  Can I lower my expectations a bit?
  5. Find support from people with similar goals. Even with social distancing in place, we can still reach out for support.  Many support groups are being held online that can create a sense of community around a behavioral change goal. 

Fighting the Quarantine Blues

With all the disruption we’ve faced lately, most of us are experiencing some level of “the blues” at times.  Between social isolation, financial worries, and losing the comfort of our routine, it’s no wonder we might feel down!  Try some of these tips to help yourself feel better:

  1. Put limits on the amount of time you spend in bed. With nowhere you “have” to be, it’s so easy to sleep in or even just stay in bed most of the day, but it can actually make you feel much worse. Try to stick to a sleep schedule and physically get out of bed when you wake up in the morning.
  2. Eat well.  Try to limit the junk food and eat balanced meals.  Good food will help your mind and body work more efficiently.
  3. Indulge in self-care. Even just 15 minutes of doing something you enjoy can improve your mood.  Find something relaxing that helps you to unwind. Read, listen to music, take a hike, do something creative.
  4. Prioritize and organize your tasks. With all the disruption to our normal routine and structure, things can feel more overwhelming than usual.  You may need to break tasks into smaller steps than normal, and that’s ok!  Write out the steps you need to take to accomplish your goals and tasks, and check them off as you finish them. 

The Bright Side

I am constantly moved by how people can overcome obstacles in life and still see all the beauty that there is.  The fact is, many of us will face something pretty catastrophic at some point in our lives. Whether it’s a devastating loss of a child or a partner, a chronic illness, an accident that leads to a disability.  It’s actually pretty amazing that people come out on the other side of these things. Of course, not all setbacks are going to be so severe…but they can hurt just the same.  

So how can we build resilience?  How do we know we are starting to heal?  What prompts someone to come out of total darkness and start seeing some light?  And what does “looking at the bright side” really mean? Is it different for everyone?  

There are several ways that we can build resilience.  Being able to regulate oneself is essential. This means that we can assert some control over our behaviors and can manage the range of emotions we might feel.  

We can develop resilience by building a strong support system.  It’s important to seek out relationships that are healthy and supportive.  Having a network of people who care about us and are dependable during times of stress is essential.  

Healing from trauma is a long process, and it is important to acknowledge progress along the way.  One of the biggest contributors to healthy healing is finding some meaning in the struggle that one has been through.  Is there something to learn from the experience? Is there an opportunity to reach out to others going through something similar?  Maybe an opportunity to educate or advocate?  

How many times are we told to “look on the bright side?”  It sure sounds nice, doesn’t it? But, like most cognitive exercises, it’s easier said than done.  Luckily, there are some ways to enhance your ability to look on the bright side:

  1. Search for a silver lining.  Has there been ANY positive outcome…no matter how small?  Did you grow somehow? Are there things that you appreciate more?  
  2. Start a gratitude practice.  Start and end the day by listing 3 things you are thankful for.  Pretty soon you will find you are naturally noticing the good things.  
  3. Choose a positive visualization.  Pick something that evokes good feelings.  It can be a good memory, a person, place or thing that you love, or something that you are looking forward to in the future.  Be intentional about focusing on this visualization when you are going down a negative thought spiral.  

Try some of these strategies and see how it feels.  Remember that these strategies take practice, just like developing any other skill. Feel free to be creative and discover what works best for you!

Wellness in the Time of Covid-19: Avoid Information Overload!

The current Covid-19 crisis is impacting all of us…as a community, city, state, nation, and world.  Being such a “hot topic,” there is an unlimited amount of information to consume on every platform imaginable.  Newspapers, websites, social media…literally everywhere!  

While it is wise to stay informed, it is all too easy to go down a virtual “rabbit hole” of information!  When we constantly feed our minds with bad news, it can lead to increased fear, anxiety, sadness, and anger.  So much of what is published is alarmist or sensationalized, and only serves to make us feel terrible, rather than providing useful information.  Luckily, there are some actions you can take to limit your engagement in indiscriminately consuming information about the crisis:

  1. Choose just a few sources that you will go to for information.
  2. Set a time limit on the amount of time you will spend consuming information each day.  For example, no more than 30 minutes twice a day might be reasonable for you.  
  3. Consider limiting time spent on social media.  While it can be a great way to feel connected with others, it’s also a platform for TONS of information related to the current crisis…some funny, some alarming, some true, some sensationalized.  Monitor how it makes you feel and adjust accordingly.
  4. If you struggle with being able to set limits on time spent consuming news and information, as least schedule a few 20 minute breaks throughout the day to give your brain a break!
  5. When interacting with others, try to talk about subjects besides the current crisis.  
  6. Make it a point to look up “happy stories.”  There are positive things happening, too. Have you seen the penguins who got to wander around the closed Shedd Aquarium in Chicago?  Impossible not to smile! 

Try these tips out and try to take in information a little more mindfully.  Pay attention to how it makes you feel. Choose to seek out something that will make you smile!

Relationships that Renew

When we stop to think about it, almost everything in our lives either depletes our energy or renews it.  It’s important to be aware of the impact that our relationships have on our energy levels. We all have people in our lives (friends, family, colleagues) that it takes a significant amount of energy to be around.  On the flip side, most of us have a handful of people in our lives who never fail to energize and renew us.  

The thing is, you can choose how much to engage in these relationships.  You don’t have to bend over backwards to engage in relationships that end up depleting you.  It’s ok to seek out people to renew you when you are feeling low. Consider the following tips when deciding who to engage with:

  1. Assess your current energy level.  If you are having a low-energy day, are irritable, or exhausted, it may not be wise to spend time with those that you know require more of your energy than you are currently able to give.  Save those interactions for days that you have plenty of energy to spare.  
  2. Ask yourself: Am I doing this out of obligation or do I really want to do this?  When we do things with or for others solely out of obligation, resentment can build quickly.  Saying “no” unless you truly want to engage will actually be much better for the relationship in the long run, whether in the work setting, within the family, or with friends.
  3. Decide on boundaries and stick to them.  Boundaries may be around time you are devoting to the relationship, how often you are seeing them, or around things that you are willing to do (lending money, assisting with problems, giving rides, etc).  Having boundaries and sticking to them can actually create a sense of safety within the relationship.  

Finding “Normalcy” Amidst Grief

After a significant loss, it can be so difficult to transition back into “normal life.”  It can even be scary. Everything was going fine before loss hit and took so many things away from you.  It might feel safer to avoid re-engaging in life in new ways. What if you get hit with another loss? It’s already happened (at least) once, why not again?  The fear can cause us to freeze.  

But here’s the thing: after a certain point, staying frozen in time after a loss just causes us to lose more and more.  Social relationships may suffer due to self-isolation. Our brains suffer from lack of engagement in healthy and challenging pursuits.  Our bodies become weaker as we lounge the days away.  

There’s a good chance re-engagement will feel REALLY uncomfortable at first.  You may not know what to say to people or things that used to give you joy no longer elicit the same response.  You may find yourself wondering “why am I even putting forth the effort?”

The good news is this: the more you do these things, the easier it will start to feel.  Eventually you will start to feel some joy. It’s like anything else in life that’s difficult but worth it.  Try to do something each day that gets you out of just simply sitting in your grief (which has its place too).  Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Meet a friend for coffee.  If you feel like you need to set a time limit on the interaction to avoid becoming overwhelmed, just tell them you have an appointment right after.  Let them know what you feel like you can and can’t handle that day. If they are a real friend, they will absolutely understand and respect those boundaries.  
  2. Go to the bookstore and buy a new book.  Try something new, like an author you have never read before, or read a mystery if you usually read romance.  Find something that will engage your brain in new ways.  
  3. Take a hike. Literally.  Being in nature is extremely healing.  Hiking can be a meditative experience. Pay attention to all of your senses as you walk along.  What vibrant colors do you see? What do the flowers and the trees smell like? How does the fresh air feel on your skin?  Allow yourself to relax and explore.  

3 Tips for Managing Traumatic Grief During the Holidays

If you have suffered a traumatic loss, you may find that the holidays are an especially difficult time.  With some planning ahead, you can honor your feelings of grief while making the most of the holiday season.  

Tip #1: Set boundaries if you need to

You may not feel up to taking part in all the usual holiday traditions, and that’s ok!  Give yourself permission to check in with yourself and say “no” if you need to. You may feel pressured by well-meaning loved ones to engage in holiday celebrations as usual.  Listen to yourself if you really feel that any activities will cause more pain than comfort.  

Tip #2: Find a way to connect with your lost loved one

An important task of grieving is finding ways to maintain a connection with those who have passed away.  This can be achieved in a number of ways. Cooking their favorite meal, decorating their gravesite for the holiday, creating a special memorial…be creative!

Tip #3: Consider starting a new holiday tradition

Holidays are a time of celebration, but for some, re-creating past traditions can be painful…not to mention failing to live up to our expectations!  It can be helpful to add a new tradition to the holidays. Consider adding a holiday movie night, volunteering for an afternoon somewhere, or going to a holiday parade!  Anything new can bring a fresh energy to the holiday season.  

Journaling your Grief

Grief can make us feel “frozen.”  We wonder if we will ever be able to “move on” or if we will ever feel any better.  Processing the grief and naming our emotions are an important part of the healing process.  Sometimes talking to someone else can feel overwhelming. A grief journal can be a safe place to begin expressing your thoughts and feelings related to your loss.  Here are some prompts to get you started:

  1. What I miss most about you…
  2. I am having a really hard time with…
  3. I feel a little bit better when…
  4. The worst time of day is…
  5. My favorite memory is…

What does it mean to be Grateful?

The recent holiday season got me thinking about gratefulness.  Every year around November and December, I see friends on social media posting about all of the things they are grateful for…and most of us sure do have a lot of things to be thankful for.  I love seeing what people are grateful for and I think that recognizing all of the good things in our lives…big and small…is one of the healthiest and best things that we can do for ourselves.  If you ask me, true gratitude is something that we can focus on each day…not only around the holidays.

Gratitude is a tool that I consciously used during a particularly depressing time in my own life.  I was working in a job that I absolutely HATED. I was applying for other jobs but it felt like it was taking FOREVER for them to respond.  Every single day I was sad, cranky, angry, and tired. It reached the point where even showering seemed like too much work, and I clearly remember one day skipping a friend’s graduation party because the thought of showering and getting ready was literally too exhausting.  Anyone who knows me knows THAT’S NOT ME!

At some point around that time, something prompted me to make a list of all the good things I had in my life.  I wish I knew where that list was, but I do remember some of the items: my dogs, my home, my truck, a family that loves me, a sizable list of amazing friends.  You know…the things we are all grateful for if we are lucky enough to have them. But what really struck me what how many relatively little things made that list.  Things like peanut butter coffee creamer and cinnamon toast crunch. Like my Christmas tree and bubble baths. It’s so important to take notice of the little things as well as the bigger things.  

After making and reading over my list, I felt SO MUCH BETTER.  It’s a strategy I have used frequently in the years since when I am feeling down.  Here are some ways that you can invite gratitude into your life:


    1. The November List.  If you’re on social media, you’ve probably seen this.  During the month of November, many people make a habit of identifying one thing per day that they are grateful for.  This can be a great way to jump-start your gratitude practice, and it doesn’t have to be in the month of November…any month will do as long as you make it a daily practice.  You can post on social media or keep it private, perhaps in a journal. Whatever works for you.
    2. The Daily Gratitude Log.  Many people enjoy the benefits of taking just a bit of time each day (we’re talking just one minute here) to identify 1-3 things that they were grateful for that day.  If you journal, you can include it in your daily entry. Or jot them down in your planner. A great way to stay accountable to your gratitude practice is to buddy up with a friend and text something that you were thankful for each evening!  
    3. Identify a “Gratitude Trigger.”  Choose an event that happens to you at least once a day.  For example, you might choose your first text or phone call, seeing a dog on the street, or swiping your debit card somewhere.  It really can be anything. Once you choose your “trigger,” start thinking of something you are thankful for each time that trigger happens.  Before you know it, you won’t even have to think about it.

Gratitude isn’t something that we should just be aware of during the holiday season or when we are trying to pull ourselves out of a funk.  Gratitude can become a way of being and thinking everyday. People who are grateful tend to notice more good things in life, especially the little things that add pleasure to our lives (like the steamed chai I am sipping on right now and the chubby dachshund I just locked eyes with outside the coffee shop I am sitting in).  Give gratitude a spin and see for yourself.

My Loving-Kindness Experience

I’ve been trying to pick up my meditation practice lately, and decided to revisit arguably one of the most popular meditations: The Loving-Kindness Meditation.  


You’ve probably heard of this meditation.  Maybe you’ve tried it out for yourself. Perhaps it’s a routine part of your practice.  


If you aren’t familiar with the practice of loving-kindness meditation, it goes something like this:


Throughout the meditation, you picture 4 people:  yourself, someone you love, someone neutral (such as someone who works at your bank), and someone that you are experiencing conflict with.  Starting with yourself, and ending with the person with whom you are experiencing conflict, you focus on sending well-being, happiness, and love to each recipient.  


I’ve done it in the past, and honestly didn’t really have much of a reaction to it at all.  This time was a little different.


Sent all the good stuff to myself.  Easy enough. Next up was someone I love.  I pictured a dear friend easily. Then on to a neutral person; I picked someone who works at the grocery store I go to.  I kind of felt…nothing.


On to the person I have “conflict” with.  


Ohhhhhhhhhhh boy.


I experienced some of the strongest emotion I have ever felt.  Now, I should explain that I am an EXPERT at shoving my anger down as deep as I can.  I should also explain that I picked the person I feel the most contempt for IN THE WORLD.  The person who makes my blood absolutely boil.


Soooooo back to the meditation.  Intense feelings came up. Surprisingly, not just anger.  Not even just rage. Some super-strong emotion I can’t even quite put words to.  Tears came immediately. I was so angry but also finally allowed myself to feel so, so sad. It was extremely uncomfortable.  


Maybe starting off with someone that I hold SUCH INTENSE negative feelings for was a bad idea.  One might think that this experience would turn me off from the whole idea. I actually had quite the opposite reaction.  It became something of a personal challenge for me. I became focused on eventually being able to send this person loving-kindness without having a strong negative reaction.  


I don’t know if it’s something I will ever accomplish.  I continue to try. It’s not really getting any easier. But, I figure the fact that I keep trying is an accomplishment in and of itself.