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When Kashi friend and licensed psychologist Heather Twedell, PsyD (who we know as Dr “T”) offered to write an article to help our readers through these unusual times, we jumped at the chance. Read on for some great actionable tips from our friendly pro.
Life can be filled with moments of highs and lows, joys and suffering, and everything in between. But when life starts to feel like a series of negative events, the constant exposure to stress can take a toll, both psychologically and physiologically. So if 2020 has you feeling not your usual self, congratulations -- you’re normal. As humans, it is crucial that we are aware of how our minds and bodies are responding and equip ourselves with the tools to navigate all of it, especially the suffering, so that we feel capable, grounded, and self-sufficient.
The relationship between your mind and body is a powerful one. The impact of one negative thought can release a cascade of biochemicals, which is the body’s effort to keep you safe. The more negative the thoughts, the more the body is left in defense mode, the more likely you are to find yourself in emotional conflict and physical burnout. While navigating hard times, it is imperative to start with a healthy mind to promote the healthy life you deserve.
Give Grace. First and foremost, remember that life can sometimes be hard; really hard. Before heading straight for what you can do better, give yourself some grace by acknowledging what you’ve already done given what’s on your plate. Constantly criticizing yourself is not likely to motivate you, but rather make you feel worse during an already challenging time.
Thought Checking. Your thoughts are not always factual; and with so many of them every day it’s essential you slow it down and actually take a look at how you’re talking to yourself. If you find yourself revisiting a specific negative thought, ask yourself: Is this thought fair, helpful, or grounded in reality? What’s the evidence? Is there anything in my control I can do to change this? If the answers are no, throw that thought out. It is not serving you or your body a purpose.
Thought Reframes. Now try reframing a thought. (Let’s be clear that this is not sugarcoating or telling yourself to think happy thoughts; because honestly both are neither helpful or easy to do during suffering times). Instead, reframing can be the difference between “things will never get better” and “this is really hard, but I’ve overcome hard times before. I can do this.” Or the difference between “I have failed, I’m worthless” and “It hasn’t turned out the way I hoped; it’s time I make some healthy changes.” In both examples the first statement can create a stuck feeling while the second still acknowledges the dynamic, but then shifts to a more solution-focused approach. Stay focused on what is in your control and take action.
Attitude of Gratitude. List three things that you are grateful for in this moment. Go ahead; think about it. You feel that? That balance is vital, because the last thing you want is your brain to get so good at scanning its environment to identify what is wrong that it stops acknowledging what is right.- Find out why they are special to them
Now that you’ve become more mindful of the inner dialogue, let’s make sure that your behaviors compliment these helpful changes.
Care to Share. Sharing your feelings with those you trust may not only validate your experience, but can open the door to learn how others tolerate stress. And just a friendly reminder: Asking for help is not weak, it’s resourceful.
Set Intentions. List one thing you want to do today and one thing you need to do today (be realistic). Start with the need and end with the want to increase motivation. This skill is also great in relationships; asking “What do you need from me?” instead of “What’s wrong with you?” can help you dodge an argument while staying connected and supportive.
The Big Five. We take in life’s experiences through our five senses. As much as possible, be intentional in feeding your senses with information that soothes the system. So turn off the TV and set down your phone. Turn on some music, sit outside and feel the breeze, light a candle, drink some hot tea, or get your hands out in that garden. When the senses are pleased, the system is regulated, and physiologically you’re in a much better state.
The Basics. You have one body. Are you taking care of it? Drink water. Get your heart rate up with movement. Limit agents that impact the nervous system (i.e., alcohol and caffeine). Have a consistent bedtime routine and try waking up around the same time each morning (your system craves structure). Be mindful of how you fuel your body; foods with nutrient-containing ingredients are ideal (hello Kashi!) And don’t forget to take a nice, slow deep breath every once in a while. Your body will thank you for it.
Connect. We’re wired for connection, not isolation. So make a phone call, send a letter, wave at a neighbor, and smile at a stranger (even if it is under a mask.) During stressful times, we can become reactive and say things we don’t mean and/or become complacent with our positivity. If you’ve made a mistake, take ownership and apologize. If you’re appreciative, say thank you. If you’re feeling loving or loved, share and show it. These small moments can have big impacts on you and others.
There is often profound growth that occurs when we navigate hard times. It can shape us for the better if we allow it to teach us. My hope for you is that you can find reassurance in the fact that you’ve already persevered through so much, and that you’ll be able to apply at least one of these new skills starting today. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. If you feel that learning additional skills would be helpful, seek out a professional who can help you further navigate life’s obstacles. You are deserving. And you’ve got this.
All the best,