The WAY we think affects what we think and although that may be a statement of the obvious, it is important to understand the process because how we learn to address problems or challenges at any time, not just now, is important. It will determine our personal future and maybe that of others. This particular situation of curfews and restrictions is new to us and uncomfortable and a challenge to handle over the long haul, but the fact is, life throws unexpected curves at us as individuals and communities all the time. We need to learn the skills, if we don’t already have them, that will help us overcome the negative thinking which often arises in what we perceive to be threatening circumstances. When those situations arise the first thought must be: “am I going to sink or swim?” None of us want to drown so to extend the analogy further, if we haven’t yet learned how to swim, we must start. It won’t matter whether we become proficient enough to challenge Michael Phelps or can only manage the dog-paddle, we will stay afloat and that’s the goal.
It’s not complicated to learn how to swim – or in this instance, learn new ways to adjust to a stressful situation. There are “tricks” as I call them, although really they are habits, which help us overcome and understand our anxieties and fears, all of which are perfectly normal responses to difficult times. I just read an article in Thrive Global in which readers were asked how they overcome negative thinking. I am going to summarize one or two of them, some of which correspond to things I have learned to do in my life and which I have found to be really useful. As a young teenager with a difficult home life, which sometimes felt overwhelming like being caught up in a tangled ball of string, I first figured out that I had to learn how to untangle my particular circumstances. Even today, I sometimes still need to get a grip on my thoughts. I do this by literally saying ‘Stop’ out loud (luckily I live alone) and giving myself a pep talk or if you’re used to computer language hit the ‘delete’ button to banish the thought. I have written other pieces on how important positive self-talk is and how helpful it can be in getting us to a better place in our heads.We can tell ourselves that panicking won’t help change anything – all it does is make us feel unhappy, frightened or out of control; but trying to become calm, taking deep breaths and taking a step back will help us think and see things differently. We can tell ourselves that we have survived other poor situations and yet are still here to tell the story. We can alter our expectations by not assuming that there is one solution or a magic bullet that will be the instant resolution by adjusting our thinking to solving the puzzle one piece at a time. We can pace ourselves, take a break from whatever is bothering us and do something completely different to distract us from our thoughts – it can be physical: go for a walk, exercise, clean the house, do the laundry – or it can mean taking time to watch a silly movie, cook a meal, to laugh, to message friends – any distraction will work to settle us.
We can focus on the other positive things we can still do or see; talking with family or friends whom we think can be supportive although it’s important to have the mindset that we are looking for a solution or a way out and not just to wallow in a ‘poor me’ attitude. We are all ‘poor me’s’ at some stage or other in our lives and deserving of help and sympathy, but then we have to think our way forward. Our mental and emotional health affects our physical health. The mind/body connection is real and if we have learned anything from this coronavirus challenge it is that our basic state of wellness is the key to how we fight off this virus or illness of any kind. Prevention is actually the ‘cure’ we should all be looking for and it is mostly within our own capabilities to achieve that. We control our own lifestyle, what we do or don’t eat or drink; how we manage our time so that we are not on the run as if life is controlling us and not the other way round, which means taking time out to relax, whether alone or with someone. None of this is selfish, this is developing healthy and helpful habits. I don’t want you to sink, so grab your water-wings and let’s go swimming.