For those of you who've read my blogs before, you know that I love scientific facts. I'm constantly doing research to find answers, backed by science, for all my pressing questions and problems. So, as with everything else, I consulted the Google Guru in search of the best ways to bounce back from adversity. Here are my top five:
1. Change the narrative. When bad things happen, we tend rehash them over and over again in our minds. This is called rumination; a psychotherapist might call it a "cognitive spinning of the wheels." Reliving the pain, anger, embarrassment (etc) won't help us move forward. We remain stagnant and stuck in the past. The practice of expressive writing (and you gotta know I'm all for that!) can help move us in a better direction by giving us gain new insights on the challenges we face. Expressive writing calls for 20 minutes of continuous free writing on the problem at hand; exploring your deepest thoughts and feelings around it. The goal is to get something down on paper, not to try and write the next great literary masterpiece. After exploring the dark side of the issue, you might want to contemplate some of the "upsides." You may not think your problem has any upside but, if you look hard enough, you can always find a glimmer of a silver lining. A 2014 study showed that people who used this practice daily for three weeks became more engaged with life and it decreased their pessimistic beliefs over time.
2. Face your fears. This practice is designed to help us overcome those debilitating fears that we face in the here and now; public speaking, flying, riding the elevator, etc. The first step is to slowly, and repeatedly, expose yourself to whatever it is that scares you...in very small doses. Over time, you can desensitize yourself to your fear. You may not ever become truly comfortable with it, but you can gain the ability to move beyond those knee-shaking episodes you've come to know so well. This process is a kind of "exposure therapy" that's been proven to be very effective by changing our association with a particular stimuli.
3. Practice self-compassion. Fears and adversities can make us feel alone. We think we're the only ones who feel this way and what EXACTLY is wrong with us anyway? In these situations, learning to practice self-compassion, and recognizing that everyone suffers, can be a much gentler and effective (and shorter) road to healing. Self-compassion involves confronting our own suffering with an attitude of warmth and kindness, and without judgement. In one study, a group of participants practiced mindful self-compassion for eight weeks. Later, they reported having greater satisfaction with their life, less depression and anxiety, and lower stress levels than those who did not participate. The Self Compassion Break is something anyone can do and consists of 3 simple steps: A. Be mindful. Without judgement, pay attention to what you're feeling then say, "This is a moment of suffering" or "This hurts" or "This is stress." B. Remember that you're not alone. Everyone suffers from time-to-time and it's helpful to remember that; the Universe isn't simply "picking on" you. C. Be kind to yourself. Put your hand over your heart, or give yourself a hug. Give yourself permission to hurt. Treat yourself as you would an old an dear friend who's come to you in a moment of crises looking for comfort.
4. Meditate. Most painful thoughts come from incidents in the past. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teaches participants ways to cope with challenges through various mediation practices. If this interests you, and you want to know more, please consult Google (et al) for for detailed information. (It's definitely worth your consideration if you haven't tried it.) Meditation brings us into the present moment so that we are no longer focused on the pair, fear, anger, hurts that happened in our past.
5. Cultivate forgiveness. I talk about forgiveness a lot. It's important. Hanging on to things will, somewhere down the line, cause us physical and emotional pain. It's best to let it go now. Holding a grudge can hold us back. Research shows that forgiveness cultivates both better mental and physical health. If you have a little trouble with forgiveness, as I sometimes do, try taking five minutes and jotting down feelings of compassion towards your offender. Remember, too, that they are human (or a frog) and have faults just like the rest of us. They make mistakes and are capable of growth. Be aware of your thoughts as you write. Notice any resistance and do your best to try and work through that resistance. But, remember to be compassionate towards yourself, too. Change doesn't happen instantly.
Stress and struggle come in many forms; adversity, fear, anger, trauma, shame, distrust, and betrayal. Keep these few, simple exercises in your toolbox. With a little time and practice, you can learn to become the master of your emotions. And isn't that better than letting them boss you around all the time?
Moving forward is difficult. But with love, patience, and compassion we can work together to help one another through difficult times...whatever they may be. There's strength in numbers and we're better together than we are alone.
See you all tomorrow. Peace.