How Do We Stay Calm During a Crisis?

What do we think about when fears are heightened ? ….

 

Up in our attic room with the wind howling, seemingly day after day, and the rain beating against the window, it is easy to question things and wonder if there is something out there conspiring to shake our stability.

The outbreak of the Coronavirus has taken us into uncharted waters and for many it feels unsettling to say the least.

During scary times what do we do? We all have our own ways of coping with worrying times, but when we are bombarded with unsettling news it can be easy to lose focus and panic.

Many of us have to accept that situations we had planned so perfectly go left instead of right when the universe has other plans!

Here are just a few of my thoughts on coping during times when normal living may be temporarily (hopefully!) restricted.

Aiming to disconnect from our concerns – if only for a while, gives us time to process a dilemma and the surrounding emotions, and then we are able to approach a situation with fresh perspective.

It makes sense to eat a healthy, balanced diet and get plenty of sleep – well rested people are better at fighting off viruses.

It’s good to take a walk in the fresh air and look at the spring flowers – the banks are starry with beautiful yellow primroses and the blue crocuses are peaking out in clumps in gardens everywhere. That must make us feel hopeful. Nature always finds a way and Mother Nature is on our side.

If we can develop a ritual we enjoy – perhaps some meditation or some exercises we enjoy, we can increase our stamina. These simple routines can help us feel more empowered to handle trying situations.

It’s good to talk! When we call our friends and have a chat, we can tell each other how we feel. This helps us avoid feeling too isolated. Personal relationships are crucial in maintaining perspective, elevating mood and allowing distraction, taking us away from concerns that trouble us. Even in imposed isolation, it is important to combat loneliness and keep talking – for example, via video chats.

Continuing normal activities where possible and maintaining perspective will help us reduce unnecessary stress and is the key to psychological survival.

Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset’.   Saint Francis de Sales

I am going to try and make the most of it if I have unexpected time on my hands. I might get out my favourite books and re-read them. Perhaps I will start a journal and write down my daily thoughts – this is something I have been meaning to do for ages. I have a simple hardback book with unlined pages ready for me to decorate, write and doodle in! I also have a glue stick so I can paste in things of interest I have found.  Writing and being creative is marvellous for channeling our concentration. In fact, I think creativity is medicine. Since way back in time, humans have been soothed by making things with their hands.

Something I love doing when I write is to play some well-loved music in the background – I browse Spotify and listen to stuff I haven’t heard in a while. It’s good to go back in time a bit and reminisce!

Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us’.  Martin Luther

I am regularly going to remind myself that things are happening that we couldn’t have imagined but that we are all in it together.

Man is Not Free From Conditions’ – Victor Frankl.

We are dealing with this virus as one world. Draw strength from loved ones, and in turn, stay positive and support your family and others around you. There will certainly be light at the end of the tunnel. And maybe, allow yourself to listen to the news, once, or twice a day at the most. It is good to give our brains time to rest and avoid overthinking what we have watched or read. Watch other shows apart from news, and talk to people about other topics.

If you don’t know the guy on the other side of the world, love him anyway because he’s just like you. He has the same dreams, the same hopes and fears. It’s one world, pal. We’re all neighbours.

                                                                                            Frank Sinatra.

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Photo by PhotoMIX Ltd. on Pexels.com

 

 

 

 

Surviving Treacherous Times and Finding Your Compass…

 

This is a blog I wrote a few years ago and I thought it was worth posting again….

If you were washed up on a desert island and desperate to survive, I wonder what survival technique would serve you best? No matter how fit and strong you were, if you weren’t mentally strong you would find it difficult to keep going. Bulging muscles and gym enhanced fitness might help you bounce around the sand for a while but without mental fitness you would soon start to panic or go into ‘freeze’ mode. You would only be able to run around searching for ships on the horizon, and an immediate solution, for so long. While it is certainly good to keep physically fit, there is much more to survival than that. Often the person with hidden strengths survives against the odds.

Just as we would find it hard to cope alone on a desert island, this time of year especially, with all the extra stresses and strains, we may feel we need to go into survival mode. We may not be lost on that desert island but we may feel just as stranded and panicked. It may not only be the stresses of Christmas that bring us down; there could be more serious worries in our lives; worries about finances, health, relationships or body image may become more pressing during the festive period. There is something about Christmas that heightens our emotions and makes us feel things, both good and bad, more deeply.

The strongest survival skill comes from managing the mind. Everything you do and experience comes from your mind after all. It is hard at times I know, but there are some basic tips to help you settle your mind and feel more in control. Just as when trapped on that island, if you worry too much you may panic in stressful situations. In times like this just STOP.  Stop and find a quiet space and take a breather. Pause and do nothing and think about your situation and what is really bothering you. Think carefully about what to do next. Are you stressed by loud music and crowds in a shopping centre for instance? Can the shopping wait to another day? Is it really that important? Think about finding a quieter area to regain some calm. Remember most things aren’t as crucial to get done as you think.

If you were stranded somewhere you would probably make yourself a base camp – somewhere where you felt safe and could shelter from the storm. In the same way so it is also needed in normal life – make sure your surroundings at home are peaceful and comfortable – create your own safe haven and your own ‘go to’ place. Escape to this place from time to time and especially during frantic days, and feel the calmness there. If you work in an office keep your own space uncluttered and perhaps keep a photo on your desk of loved ones or have a framed positive quote that you like. Have a little corner that is just yours and rest your eyes on a scene that is tranquil. If you can go for a walk at lunchtime and play some peaceful music on your headphones you will feel more able to cope with the day.

Make a plan – in  the desert you would formulate a plan so that you could attract help and the possibility of rescue. Do the same in your mind to help you ease your worries. Think of who may be able to help you in your current situation, whatever it may be. Be open to advice. Put out feelers  – you will be surprised where help may come from.

Work out your everyday survival techniques. Have an imaginary compass in your mind – picture it pointing you in the right direction – the calm and happy direction. If you have a problem that is really worrying you, picture your compass rotating until it points you to a place where you can work out your problems. Picture it pointing you to a friend who is ready to receive you with kind and open arms. Imagine it sending you towards your own personal North Star where peace and contentment abounds. It is amazing how this can help you find a way forward and calm your mind.

Every time you leave your own particular safe place, your ‘base camp’, and venture out in a calm and peaceful way and can cope with what ever is outside you will be building confidence and more able to take control of different and even anxious feelings. Also, knowing you have a place to retreat to and recharge your batteries will help, even if you just go there in your mind when you are in a chaotic place.

So next time you feel you are anxious or jittery, put your mind to survival and find the path you lost.

Post Script :

Lately I have heard of so many sad situations , especially those people suffering loss,..I hope this quote from J.K.Rowling may lend some comfort –

To have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection for ever.’ 

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Embracing the Lead-up to Christmas.

How do we deal with the pre-Christmas rush?

I first wrote this blog a few years ago. Re-reading it, I realised it is probably even more relevant today when there are many anxiety inducing factors around. Unstable political parties, global warming, over-stretched health systems…I could go on…. More than ever, we need to stay grounded, to remember that most of us just want to do our best; to be peaceful, calm and happy, and go with the flow. Peace is high on my list for sure. I am determined to switch off regularly, to step out into the frosty clear night and look up at the stars. Somewhere out there in our amazing universe lies the answer to all our questions and fears if only we could trust in that….

It’s the time of year when there is a lot to think about. Perhaps more than usual. If you are prone to anxiety, the thought of coping with Christmas plans can add to your anxious feelings or to the feelings of someone you love. While for many, Christmas is nothing but exciting, this is not always the case for those who suffer from anxiety, depression and conditions such as OCD.

Do you find yourself caught up with the stress of the pre – Christmas rush? The build up seems to start earlier each year and before we know it we are bombarded with all sorts of smart advertising containing supposedly endearing stories and mini films with the ‘ahhh’ factor, that are really there to entice us into spending money in the big, well- known stores.  The media paints a picture of wonderment and happiness; we would all love this of course, but for some people this is not how Christmas is for them. The world is not perfect all of the time and we need to hold on to that thought and remember we are not the only ones who get anxious this time of year. For some, loneliness can be a real problem, perhaps because of the loss of a loved one, and the sadness of loss can certainly feel desperately raw at this time of year.

Christmas parties, whether it is with colleagues or old friends can be hard to cope with at the best of times, but add anxiety to this and before you know it you may dread the social scene. You can be out of your comfort zone having to speak to people you don’t know well and worried about having to impress – maybe a new boss or confident looking colleagues. With parties closer to home, it may be a case of meeting new neighbours or friends you haven’t seen in a while.

Food shopping is something else to negotiate – for some reason we feel the need to buy massive amounts of extra food this time of year; ok we may have people coming to stay or extra mouths to feed at Christmas Day, but even if not we tend to buy stuff we wouldn’t normally buy – think big tins of biscuits, the Turkish delight, the boxes of dates and the mountains of Yule logs and mince pies. I know it is good to have a treat this time of the year, but perhaps we do get tempted to buy too much. Then there is the alcohol too – would we dream of drinking chocolate liqueurs and mulled wine (often not even worth drinking) or egg nog any other time of year?

Apart from the fact we end up spending a lot more money on food and wine this time of the year resulting in a negative effect on our bank balance; eating and drinking extra calories and rich food this time of year can make anxiety levels worse and again have a negative effect on us, this time on our health.

Buying presents is something most of us get concerned about. Of course, we want our loved ones to have something they like to open on Christmas Day , especially the children, but for an anxious person, the results of spending a lot of money in a short space of time can seem very scary and worrying. Money aside, the crowds, loud jarring music and queues can make Christmas shopping seem unbearable.

So okay, the above situations are those which most of us have encountered at sometime in our lives and I am painting quite a grim picture of what should and can be a magical and completely enjoyable time of year. Because it really doesn’t have to be such a stressful time of year. Who makes it that way? And why?

Going back to the advertising, we are taught from quite an early age what we can expect Christmas to be like. But it cannot apply to us all. We are not all the same. And we are all coping with our own personal situations. What may be wonderful for one person may not be right for another. What do most of us remember when we look back down the years? Piles of presents around the tree, huge amounts of food and big parties? Or do we remember the excitement of hanging the stockings at the end of the bed and the thrill of opening the small gifts in the early hours, so lovingly and haphazardly wrapped by a caring parent.  Or sadly, there may be memories that are not quite as happy, and that may be another reason Christmas evokes pain and stress.

Maybe this year  – with still some time ahead before Christmas is really upon us, we can decide to take a different view and look at what is really important. One thing that always strikes me every year, and I always comment on to my husband without fail every year, is that the build up to Christmas is huge; we all rush around trying to get things done, caught up in the whole rush and excitement and then suddenly we arrive at Boxing Day and hear murmurs and mutterings of: ‘well that’s that for another year’, and: ‘where are you going for your holiday this year?’ It seems to be indicative of the society we have become: always looking for the next thrill, the next celebration or occasion before we have had time to enjoy and digest what has just occurred. So this year how about making a decision not to get too ‘wrapped up in Christmas’? Have a year where you do not make too many commitments. Be honest with people and say no in the nicest possible way if you don’t want to do something. Do most of your present shopping online and do it in your own time. Book an online food shop well in advance if it suits you, and apart from the convenience you won’t be so tempted to buy lots of unnecessary goodies (which aren’t really goodies at all). Also, explain to everyone that your Christmas this year may be a little more low key and that includes your present giving. Offer loved ones time instead. Time is the most valuable gift of all.

Decide a few things in advance to help keep your anxiety at bay. Plan to eat healthily and avoid too many stimulants like caffeine and alcohol. Have plenty of rest and not too many late nights. Cortisol is the body’s most powerful stress hormone. It causes a number of changes in the body, including increasing stimulation and the perception of fright. Getting regular good rest and sleep can keep cortisol production to a minimum and reduce the feelings of dread.

If you reduce your expectations about the holidays you will not be disappointed when things don’t always go according to plan; likewise if you are feeling calm you will be more able to enjoy things and ‘go with the flow’. Good things that do occur can be received with joy and thankfulness. Do things you like to do too, like walks in the clear, crisp night when the stars are out and the world is peaceful. Spending time doing the things you love and want to do is a great way to celebrate the Christmas season and you will feel better for it. This isn’t being selfish but just being your true self. Having healthy boundaries is essential when you are prone to anxiety.

A good tip is to think and act a bit more like a child at Christmas – have you noticed how children don’t run around getting stressed about Christmas? Far from it! They just enjoy the time while it is there.

So now that the lead up to Christmas has started remember that every day is special and also has it’s own challenges and delights. When the events of the holiday season threaten to overwhelm you, breathe deeply, take time out until you feel calmer, and look forward. Look forward to celebrating in your own way and until then remind yourself there are no rules to follow for a good Christmas break!

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Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

 

 

 

A Crystal Ball for Christmas?

Don’t panic – you WILL be ready for Christmas!

It’s almost December and I had one of those nights last night when I woke up worrying about Christmas shopping, or to put it another way, the lack of it in my house! Of course, when I was up in the morning with the curtains drawn back and the light streaming in, I realised how little I have remembered about past experiences: I wonder why I fall into the same trap every year. I am getting on a bit now and I have seen a lot of Christmases – I should know that everything always gets done in the end! And if it doesn’t, does it really matter?

This year, I am more aware than ever that not everyone has the chance to celebrate Christmas in the way that I and my family do, and I am mindful of the fact that we are bombarded with commercialism at this time of year. The big stores competing to screen the best Christmas advert may cause us to ooh and ahh as we watch their presentations of cosy and homely perfection, but at the same time, we are encouraged to fill our homes with every conceivable gadget and tasty morsel so that we can achieve the perfect Christmas.

However, the perfect Christmas is about being together with family and friends, following the old favourite traditions and perhaps starting new ones. What do you remember when you look at past Christmases? It’s not normally about money spent or having the best of this or that, it’s about the simple things – the old favourite recipes that come out every year, the games after lunch or the corny jokes in the Christmas crackers.

I have written before about the anxious feelings we can experience with the holiday season fast approaching. The fact remains that no matter how hard we try to keep sensible about the festive season, there are extra things to think about this time of year and many of us can feel jittery and stressed. We may find ourselves more reliant than ever on those we love. Sometimes though, we find that those around us have their own problems and anxieties which sometimes present themselves in unexpected ways.

If you had a crystal ball and could see into the future, do you think you would find happiness? Would you put an end to anxious feelings you experience if you knew how life was going to pan out for yourself or others?

I recently came across a story about a ‘Naughty or Nice’ book. The heroine of the story mysteriously received a book through her post box at Christmas, which enabled her to find out more about the people she knew, and the actions they appeared to be taking to achieve what they wanted in life. Just by uttering a name over the book, the girl found that the book magically opened and revealed unusual and sometimes apparently undesirable things about the people she thought she knew. What was interesting was the girl’s reaction and the conclusions she came to after seeing what was revealed in the book. Rather than being helped by what she saw she was often dismayed and perplexed, and felt let down by neighbours and colleagues, and the people she loved. Rampaging around she accused people of various misdemeanours and often made them ashamed or shocked. Things got worse and her life started to unravel.

However, before long, she realised that if she turned the book over, there was another side to each story. People did things for a reason; they were led to perform certain actions because of a series of events. Sometimes what looked bad on the surface wasn’t really bad at all but just part of an ongoing story. Once she saw that everyone had their frailties and their own wishes and desires, indeed, their own story, she forgave, and built both old and new relationships. The book showed that hardly anyone is just ‘naughty’ or just ‘nice’, but perhaps a bit of both at times.

We may feel it would be a good thing to see what lies ahead and why things happen like they do, but I think most of us do not really need a crystal ball or a magic book. If we give ourselves time and give time to other people we can probably work most things out and find the real reasons for why things happen as they do.

So when we are feeling our own lives are complicated or we are bowed by worry or stress, it is good to remember that very few people live perfect lives. Almost certainly, anxiety and fear manifest themselves in our behaviour and can show that we are uncomfortable in our situations; we may feel isolated, but chances are that others will be feeling the same too at times. We are not the only ones who’s behaviour can be misinterpreted, so don’t beat yourself up after a night out; don’t go home and worry about how you come across to people. Chances are they won’t have noticed – they will have been more concerned about they came across to you!

Most people have times when life gets them down, but if you are someone who doesn’t have anxiety, I urge you to be a bit careful with your words and reactions during the holiday season. What may seem silly to you could be a genuine concern for someone else. At the very least, look at both sides of the story.

By the way, I must say I love the John Lewis advert featuring Elton John singing ‘Your Song!’ It’s my most favourite song of all time so I’m not totally against the advertising!

 

Have a good week!

 

 

Seen on a Christmas tree near me.

 

When Things Change ….

Hello again! I’ve been out of communicado for a few weeks due to a house move. It’s been a busy time with lots to do and great excitement as we enter a new phase of our lives. My blog will always be ‘Notes From Dove Lane’ though: this title is dear to my heart and was taken from my book ‘Tea at Raphael’s which was inspired by a favourite lane in Somerset.

No matter how we are pleased with life’s new twists and turns, anxiety can still creep up on us and make us feel unsettled or jittery; its as if the old ‘worry monster’ likes to gain our attention and remind us of those old scenarios that cause us to fret. But it is good to remind ourselves that change helps us move forward and embrace new beginnings, and by engaging in new routines and trying out new surroundings we can move forward, even though we may move tentatively at first.

Today I am sitting in a delightful cafe in my new village – it’s a book shop that serves coffee and snacks – definitely my sort of place! The walls are lined with books from top to bottom and the array of coffee and cakes available is fabulous. I may be here often, (especially as I have no broadband yet!)

Please excuse my short blog this week – there is much to do at home and many deliveries and callers to attend to! One thing I must say though is that the weather has been glorious, and as we look out over the open fields beyond our house and watch the red kites swooping and hear their familiar whistle welcoming us, I am filled with gratitude.

Before I go, I have some exciting news! Last weekend, the Janey Loves Platinum Award Ceremony took place – and I am very pleased to say that my book ‘Best Foot Forward’ received a ‘highly commended’ award. It is always wonderful to know that someone has enjoyed your work!

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See you soon and blessings to you.

 

If It Doesn’t Open It can’t Be Your Door

Do you ever feel you haven’t got what you deserved?

Have you ever had trouble coming to terms with acceptance? When you feel you haven’t got what you deserved or when you can’t seem to bring a plan into action even though all the signs were there that gave you hope for a good solution? Stressful situations occur when we dwell on what we haven’t got, what we haven’t been given when we feel it it is rightfully ours or perhaps a relationship hasn’t worked out even though it seemed to be going well.

It is difficult to know when to give up sometimes; when to call things a day when something isn’t working or to accept that there are some things that you can’t change. Some things cannot be forced and some things cannot be kept. When you try to keep water in your cupped hands you cannot, not matter how hard you try.

There is a difference between finding courage to keep going in certain situations when you know you need to and when your heart is telling you you are doing the right thing, and finding the strength to walk away when a sitauation isn’t working and isn’t beneficial to you. Mostly, we have an inner knowing if we stop and recognise it  – we know when something is going to work and when it isn’t. Yet we sometimes do not know how to stop, or maybe we can’t find it in ourselves to let go of a situation. The more we force our selves into a situation the harder it becomes. It often takes more courage to give up on something than to keep going. To let go of something that isn’t working is not necessarily failure, it is just a result.

When a plan doesn’t work out it is very hard to find a reason – but when you feel stressed or upset ask yourself if it will really matter that much in years to come. Time helps us look back on situations and see them for what they really were. Some things just cannot be explained until you look at them retrospectively. Trust that even if you don’t have an understanding of a situation now, you will in time. So many times we can be thankful that we were saved from making a bad mistake when we look back. Perhaps you were sad when a relationship didn’t work out but would you have met the person of your dreams further down the line – your soul mate who was waiting in the wings?

It has been very busy at Dove Lane this week; I have been working hard on a project and haven’t always taken enough rest. Why do I keep going when I know I should pause, take a break and regroup? I know what I should do and yet I don’t follow my own rules! I hear the birds singing outside and hear the breeze calling me in the early hours – my mind is active yet I should take time to notice the small things – the things that matter – and remember that quality time is precious.

When the  door you want to enter won’t open for you, don’t keep pushing against it. It the door won’t open it can’t be your door.

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Ways of Coping with Stress.

We have to remind ourselves that we need to keep a positive self-image….

Do you have days when worries creep up on you and you just can’t shake them off? Yesterday was okay, you had a good day and felt content and optimistic but today you woke up knowing the old ‘worry monster was lurking in the shadowy corner of the bedroom?

Perhaps the cause of the worry monster’s reappearance should be addressed which isn’t that easy I know. Sometimes, you’d rather get up and try and get on with the day even though you know it won’t be perfect. But perhaps the cause of what’s worrying you should be identified and scrutinised; sometimes a change in attitudes could resolve the problem. Adapting to stress can bring about changes which are often all to the good. Other stresses, particularly those that aren’t of our making, could be eased by taking definite steps such as changing jobs or moving house.

Sometimes, there is only one solution and that is to come to terms with unpleasant realities that may be there to stay for whatever reason. Occasionally there are things we just cannot change. Accepting that once and for all can actually take the pressure off and lessen the impact.

We have to remind ourselves at times that we need to keep a positive self-image.  We can train ourselves not to indulge in self-fulfilling negative prophecies with a bit of practise, and not indulge the worry monster. When you attempt a new way of coping with stress and whether you succeed or not, do a kind of de-briefing afterwards. Ask yourself what went well and maybe what went wrong; how you could have done things differently; think about it and tell yourself all the positive and useful aspects of what you did. Don’t forget, you can learn from anything – good or bad.

It is important but often difficult to pinpoint the relevant triggers of stress – sometimes we spend too much time trying to work on one thing when really we need to turn the spotlight elsewhere. It’s good but sometimes painful to be really honest with yourself. That is why the wretched worry monster reappears with monotonous regularity if you are not careful to really look at what is bothering you.

Stress in one circumstance may spill over and influence another situation. For example, if you are feeling stressed about your work you may get irritable about other things that really aren’t the main problem. Factors can interact and stress builds up in all areas, so it helps if you can really identify the main problem so that you can tackle it.

As far as stress is concerned, how we see ourselves is often more important than the reality of our situation and can be the main factor as to whether we can cope or not. Isn’t that an interesting point? How important is image to us and why do we worry about how we appear to other people? If we can find a way to accept ourselves as we are we are on the way to becoming more self assured and comfortable with ourselves. Stress responses are largely determined by, for instance, the perceived threat to emotional security or to self-esteem. Changing the perception of the stress – how one views it and views oneself  – can mitigate the effect of anxiety and sometimes neutralise it more or less completely.

So this week, if the worry monster lurks nearby maybe you could just turn your back on him and go about your business. He has a big ego so just watch him shrink when you don’t look his way!

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