“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our freedom.” Viktor Frankl
3. Find Your Flow
In psychology, flow, also known as being in the zone, is the mental state where a person is fully immersed in the moment. Flow often occurs during sports and creative activities such as writing, painting, and teaching. In this state, people often report enhanced well-being, focus, and joy.
4. Commune with Nature
“Nature has the capacity of making us become one with the universe. Look at a tree, a flower, a plant. How still they are, how deeply rooted in just being. When you look at a tree and perceive its stillness, you become still yourself.” Eckhart Tolle
5. Practice Loving Kindness
“Be kind to yourself. And let your kindness flood the world.” Pema Chödrön
Sometimes we need a quick, fun, and easy way to elevate our mood. Suggestion: Angel Cards A simple, soulful practice that takes a (bite sized) moment. Now my friends ask me to bring angel cards to all our coffee talks. Even if we’re sitting 8 feet apart! These light-hearted cards guarantee a shift UP in conversation. From the mundane to the magical.
Specifically, each time you criticize an area of your life (or something about yourself personally), write down three positive aspects about the very thing you condemned. Hence, the 3 to 1 positivity ratio.
For example, each time you get down on yourself for not working during the COVID-19 pandemic, write down three benefits of sheltering in place. (E.g., more time for fitness, the space to try out new hobbies, meaningful conversations with family members). This daily practice helps to dampen the adverse impact of negativity bias, a type of cognitive distortion, common to all of us.
Likewise, stop comparing your lowlights to other people’s highlights. You never know what’s happening behind the scenes in another person’s life. Good or bad. FOMO is “a story” fabricated in the mind based on snippets of observable behaviour (video below).
How has COVID-19 eased (or increased) the pressure you put on yourself and the people around you?
What does acceptance “feel” like physically in your body versus fighting “what is”?
What have you surrendered lately? Let go?
You Can’t Add More to Your Life Without First Letting Go
Every time we take a long deep breath, we are telling our bodies that we are safe.
Each breath connecting
our mind, body, and heart.
Bringing us back to present time.
Breathing Techniques To Try
Follow Your Breath Become aware of each inhalation and exhalation. Focus on the sensations you feel as air passes through your nose and throat. When you feel your thoughts drift, gently redirect your attention back to your breath.
Stand Up Straight Posture is especially important for breathing. Being upright enhances the rhythmic movement between the diaphragm and ribs. Hold yourself straight. Shoulders back. Feel the power of your breath.
Think Reassuring Thoughts While Breathing With each breath, think soothing thoughts (“I am inhaling calm”). With each exhalation, imagine that you are expelling your fears and worries (“I am exhaling worry”).
Abdominal Breathing Breathe through your stomach. Start by inflating your belly by inhaling, as if to fill it with air, then swell your chest; as you exhale, first “empty” your stomach, then your chest.
Balanced Breathing At the end of each inhalation, pause briefly while slowly counting “1, 2, 3”. Hold the air in. Then slowly exhale counting “1, 2, 3”.
When we feel a painful emotion, our first instinct is to pull away. To numb the pain. To hide from the intensity.
This was the case for Sarah and Jack, two unique individuals with vastly different circumstances. But they each experienced the same emotion: loneliness. An emotion that is heightened during the holidays.
Sarah was a 42-year-old recently divorced woman who was about to face her first holiday season alone. Living in a new town, miles away from friends and family, she was waiting to begin a new job in January. Hours felt like days.
Days felt like months. Sarah had tried everything to fill the void inside. The mistake she made was running away from the one thing that would help get her to the other side: loneliness itself.
Knowledge is power
1. Understand the emotion
We need to first understand an emotion before we jump to the conclusion that it’s either good or bad, because in reality, emotions are almost entirely physiological in nature.
This theory of emotion explains why two people can experience the exact same event and have completely different emotional reactions to it.
What matters most is the person’s interpretation of an event, not the event itself. After all, as they say, one person’s glass-half-full is another one’s glass-half-empty.
In Sarah’s situation, she interpreted her physiological response to idle time as loneliness, while another person might label it as much-needed relaxation. Ultimately, Sarah has a choice. One interpretation debilitates; the other empowers.
2. Witness the emotion
Now that Sarah understands the interpretative power she holds over her environmental triggers, the next step is to witness loneliness in a neutral, curious state rather than fighting it at every turn.
In doing so, Sarah neutralizes the intensity of her emotions, allowing them to flow through her, rather than getting stuck in a repetitive loop of pain.
Here are four simple ways to create space between triggers and responses:
Taken one step further, each time that Sarah experiences a challenging emotion during the holidays, rather than running from it she needs to lean in and ask that emotion, “What are you trying to teach me?”
3. Reframe the emotion
The final step for Sarah is to learn how to reframe the situations that trigger her loneliness, and understand why sometimes she overreacts, while other times she lets go without a second thought.
Solitude is perceived as isolation by one person and freedom by another.
Identify a situation that triggers loneliness.
Imagine the best-case scenario: “This situation is temporary.”
Look for evidence of the best-case scenario: “The longest I’ve been single is two years.”
Describe the worst-case scenario: “I will be alone forever.”
Name the benefits of the worst-case scenario: “I am free to do what I want.”
Finally, ask for help in reframing triggers, especially when feeling overwhelmed.
Once Sarah learns how to change the story “behind” the story, her instinctive loneliness lessens. And her ability to choose a higher thought improves.
At 55 years of age, Jack was also feeling the pangs of loneliness. His wife of 25 years died suddenly of a heart attack two years ago.
Unexpected was an understatement. They had run in three marathons together and had spent their weekends sampling new vegan restaurants in their local community. Ever since his wife had died, Jack struggled to face the holidays alone.
Jack’s story is as much about him as it is about the family around him. His family and friends’ automatic response was to feel sorry for him, a response that compounded his feelings of disconnectedness and misunderstanding.
Jack did not want people to feel sorry for him. He was a proud man who was ready to move on.
Get out of your own head
1. Meet with “experienced” widowers
As much as Jack missed his wife, he also missed his ability to connect authentically with friends and family. Having been treated with kid gloves since his wife died, Jack longed to be seen as a victor rather than a victim
As such, I encourage Jack to connect with like-minded individuals who had been through a similar situation: widows and widowers. Specifically, ones who had been on their own for several years.
The benefits are twofold. One, Jack would learn new ways of relating to friends and family. And two, he’d be given the green light to grow and acclimate to his new circumstances.
2. Connect with others in unexpected, low-pressure ways
The other component missing in Jack’s life was fun. Simple, cheerful, good-time fun. Everything had become so serious since his wife died, with almost every conversation beginning or ending with his wife’s death.
There was no doubt that he missed her with all his heart. But equally, he longed for moments where he could be free of the loneliness and pain.
I recommend that Jack reintroduce sports into his life. Something non-competitive that would get him out of the house on a Wednesday night. Better yet, if it involved people that he had never met, it would allow him to continue his journey of reinvention and rediscovery.
Equally therapeutic for Jack would be joining a cinema group or regular euchre meetup—both would offer him a chance to be in the moment and enjoy the simple pleasures in life.
3. Honour the old, create the new
Finally, I advise Jack to examine the memories and traditions that he wanted to keep alive during the holidays—and, equally, the ones of which he was ready to let go.
Jack took the practice one step further. Declaring December a month of renewal and reinvention, he revived a strength and peace inside that radiated out to his entire family.
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
Jack and Sarah have a lot to teach us about loneliness and how important it is to honour the unique ways in which we process adversity.
One size does not fit all. Fellowship and fun were vital for Jack’s growth and recovery, while Sarah needed a more analytical approach to processing difficulty.
Lean into loneliness
Approach it with openness and curiosity
Make space for the lessons beneath the suffering
Video of Post
How do you cope with difficult emotions during the holidays?
What strategies do you use to make peace with the heightened pressures of the Christmas season?
What are your unique traditions and one-of-a-kind celebrations?
Disclaimer: This post and article are for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. To protect the privacy of individuals, names and identifying details have been changed.
What brings you joy on a Saturday morning, Friday night, or Tuesday afternoon?
From my experience, it’s never the time, the day, or the month that brings good vibes.It’s how we feel on the inside.So why wait another minute for happy hour. Create the life you want wherever you are. 😊😊
My husband and I met 17 years ago today on June 1, 2002. And I couldn’t imagine a better way to celebrate our happy hours together than with this little blog post. May your month of June overflow with love and joy too!
Even though we often have little control over the “outside forces” in our lives, we can always make a positive difference – from the inside out.
Start here. Right here. Right now. Be still. Breathe in gratitude. Be thankful for this very moment. Start small. Notice your passing thoughts. Let go.
Notice the exact time it is right now. Say today’s date out loud. Look up at the sky. Wink at the clouds. Stomp your feet on the floor. Smile with gusto.
Slowly bring yourself back to this moment.
Grab onto the coffee mug you are holding. Inhale the rich scent of the sumatra you are drinking. Feel the warmth of each passing breath.
Feel the texture of the clothes you’re wearing. Wake up to the sound of your voice. Whisper. Sing. Shout it out!
Dance a little dance. Stand up tall. Anything and everything that shifts you from outer space to inner spirit. Fromnot enough to overflowing.
Positive change begins within.
Come back to yourself. Back to the grace of your magnificent spirit. Into the beauty of your incredible form. Feel the rhythm of your beating heart. Sense the pulse of life itself.
Everything you need to transform yourself and the world already exists within you. You matter. You truly matter. But you have to believe it to see it. Feel it to know it. One gentle, uplifting thought at a time.
Nature is a beautiful way to stop the monkey mind in its’ tracks.
What is the monkey mind? 🐒 🧠
“Buddha described the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys, jumping around, screeching, chattering, carrying on endlessly. Fear is an especially loud monkey – screaming out all the things that could go wrong.” Source: HuffPost
When we’re caught in a loop of anxious thoughts, our amygdala goes into overdrive. Causing us to get stuck in the basement of our brains (the limbic system) where our stressful thoughts go around and around. With no end to the downward spiral in sight.
The impact of nature on the human spirit is so profound that a hallmark study in 1984 showed that patients who had a room with a view healed faster than patients without a view. A mere glimpse of nature was enough to enhance their resilience.
Nature shifts our thoughts. Expands our awareness. Gives us hope. Lifts us up from the basement of our brains (amygdala) to the penthouse (cerebral cortex) where all solutions are possible.
“And into the forest I go to lose my mind and find my soul.”
But truth be told, I have always longed for something more. To write a psychology advice column for a magazine and eventually a book about psychology in everyday life.
Psychology for the people.
My intention is to make psychology accessible, engaging, and easy to apply. Integrate all of the stories, life lessons, and adversities I have witnessed over the years as a former school psychologist and now professor.
Empower the readers to find the strength inside.
Which is why I am thrilled to share an excerpt from the December PSYCH DRIVE column for The DRIVE Magazine.
When we feel a painful emotion, our first instinct is to pull away. To numb the pain. To hide from the intensity.
This was the case for Sarah and Jack, two unique individuals with vastly different circumstances. But they each experienced the same emotion: loneliness.
An emotion that is heightened during the holidays.
Knowledge is power
1. Understand the emotion
We need to first understand an emotion before we jump to the conclusion that it’s either good or bad, because in reality, emotions are almost entirely physiological in nature. There’s not a negative or positive to them. It’s in our mind that we make it one or the other. This concept is supported by Schachter-Singer’s theory of emotion..
This post was inspired by a stressful situation that I couldn’t let go of, long beyond its solution. No matter how hard I tried. Day in day out. The worry would reappear. Then someone close to me suggested “I shed the stress”. And a lightbulb went off. Each time the repetitive thought appeared, I imagined a tree shedding its leaves. A golden leaf for every anxious thought. This visualization process made all the difference. And so did writing about it. 📝🍂
If you had a magic wand, what would you ask to disappear in your life right now?
What would you say good-bye to?
Once and for all.
It could be an emotion. Or a thought.
A relationship. Or a job.
A place or a thing.
Stress management is a shedding process ℘ Not an acquisition project
It’s time to let go of what drains you.
Let go of what holds you back.
Let go of what keeps you down.
It could be a mindset. Or a memory.
A situation. Or an attitude.
Write it down. Shout it out.
Stress management is a shedding process ℘Not a holding pattern
It’s time to let go of what weighs you down.
Release it to the universe.
Declare your freedom.
Vow to move on and beyond.
Once and for all.
Stress management is a shedding process ℘ Not an endurance test
Sometimes it’s the smallest things that have the greatest impact on our happiness.
Something so close, so within reach, we often forget it was there in the first place. The good night’s sleep we’re yearning for; waiting patiently at the end of each day. The connection to nature we’re searching for; available 24/7 just beyond our front door. That extra deep breath; we frequently forget to take.
You possess a power so magnificent, so liberating, right under your nose.
Breathing is one of the few physiological functions that can be controlled both consciously and unconsciously.
When everything feels out of control, breathing is the one thing that will always be within our control. The times we’re under the most amount of stress is the exact time we need to expand our breathing – not restrict it.
We must become conscious of breath.
The next time you’re under any kind of pressure. Stuck in traffic. Rushing from class to class. Dealing with a difficult customer at work. Desperately trying to recall answers on a final exam. Wake up to the formidable power that exists within you. Right here. Right now. Right under your nose.
Time is in such short supply. The sooner we appreciate its value, the better life becomes.
When I was a kid my mom set the egg timer for almost everything we did; whether it was how long we spent doing our homework, weeding the garden, watching television, or complaining about life’s challenges.
It helped us to understand that nothing lasts forever – good or bad.
This was especially important when we felt helpless over things we did not have control over, including chores we did not want to do.
Setting time limits also taught us to respect how our words and actions impact ourselves and others.
Full disclosure: My mom is a psychologist too.
Your time. Your life.
To this day I set a timer on the stove.
A simple, yet effective way to motivate myself through tedious tasks and become more mindful of time itself.
The timer principle can also be applied to how often we are negative vs. positive throughout the course of a day.
Negativity is the easy (automatic) route. So we need to be conscious of where our mind flows.
Venting feels good in the moment, but when it goes on too long, the costs outweigh the benefits.
Joy needs room to breathe.
Too often we complain about stressors for hours beyond the momentary challenge has passed. Leaving little time in the day for appreciation, wonder, and gratitude.
Then one day we wake up and realize that life is too short to be all negative, all the time. Even (especially) when life gets tough.
Balance is key.
Negativity is to be expected. It’s part of the human experience.
The question is – how long will you stay there.
Share your challenges. Share your obstacles. Share your difficulties.