Take back control
It’s now been 16 months since the first Lockdown was announced. At that point, we were led to believe that by the end of spring 2020 life would go back to normal. Sadly that wasn’t the case and as time progressed further assurances were made and then reneged. When a way out (by way of the vaccine) came to light at the end of last year it seemed there was finally light at the end of the tunnel. Yet the proposed ‘Freedom Day’ of the 21st June 2021, which many have relied on as the day to finally start rebuilding our lives and come out of pandemic hibernation, was sadly taken away from us on Monday evening.
This is one of the many broken promises we have had to navigate, such as being told Christmas is safe, to then being cancelled only a few days before the festivities were due to begin. This has resulted in many of us experiencing the negative mental/emotional impact of the rollercoaster we find ourselves on. We have lost so much, and this latest setback could be more than some are able to bear. We have lost all sense of certainty of what the future holds.
I myself have struggled and the last few days have been very tough. I have worked in this field for almost twenty years, and I have never experienced anything like this. The collective trauma we are experiencing may take a generation or more to heal. I can only hear so many stories of people that have suffered, lost so much (in some cases everything), suffered from mental illness or breakdown, or sadly have chosen to take their own life. The trauma I am witnessing being inflicted on children who have had a year and a half of their childhood robbed from them troubles me deeply, and I am kept awake at night by the many stories of young people that have decided to end their own lives. I am willing to admit that Monday’s announcement was too much for me to bear – even though I knew it was coming.
Knowing and doing are two totally different things
Like many I have found recent events challenging, at first I rallied and embodied the ‘spirit of the blitz’ to get through this. Understanding my responsibility as a thought leader and role model to empower and inspire people to increase their resilience in the face of growing challenges I ignored my own struggles with all that was unfolding so I could focus on everything I needed to do to help and support all that relied on me.
Because of my professional expertise in wellbeing and mental health people often mistakenly believe that I am always zen and never get stressed. This would be like saying to a mechanic I bet your car never breaks down or saying to a Doctor I bet you never get ill. Of course, a mechanic will experience a problem with their vehicle and the Doctor is inevitably going to get ill at some point. They can recognise the nature of the challenge and hopefully know how to fix it. I would describe myself in the same way – I experience stress just like everyone else, however, I am able to tell when I am in a state that is not serving me and know how to take action. Well, usually I am, however in recent months I have found the pressure and demands increasing and less and less time to practice ‘self-care. I am writing this today as a reminder to myself, that ‘knowing’ and ‘doing’ are two different things. I’d go as far as saying, that ‘I know that’, in my opinion, could be the most dangerous phrase in the English language.
“What you think, you become.” – Buddha
This lack of certainty we are experiencing due to the constantly shifting goalposts is not something we have control over. What we have absolute control over is the way we feel, think, and behave. And as Buddha stated, “What you think, you become”. What is it that we are becoming? Remember ‘thoughts become things’. I am writing this as a self-intervention, if I don’t stop this train of thought I am likely to become despondent, angry and overwhelmed. My default state is positive and optimistic – I haven’t felt that way this week! Our thoughts are so powerful that they shape our lives. What kind of life are your thoughts creating?
From birth, our first experiences have an impact on brain development and can have a long-term effect on our wellbeing. Our life experiences have a direct impact on our mental, physical, emotional, social, and spiritual wellness.
I have found recent experiences lead to a change in my outlook. My normally optimistic, positive, upbeat nature has had heavy grey clouds draw over it. Throughout our lives, we create belief patterns that are reinforced by thought processes and through life experience, and in turn, we find evidence to justify those beliefs. Our belief patterns will also influence our decision-making processes and behaviours. How have I got stuck in a thought loop triggered by recent experiences that have impacted my beliefs, thoughts and behaviours? It is actually hard not to, unless we stop, take stock and then take action to break the thought loop.
We have the power (which literally mean ‘the ability to do or act’) to shift our mindset from a negative, despondent one to a more positive, optimistic one. A state of mind that will serve us to live the life we desire, free from prolonged stress, anxiety, setbacks, and heartbreaks.
A simple strategy to master your mind
Notice- Shift – Rewire
The concept of Notice- Shift – Rewire is based on Donald Hebb’s (psychologist) insight that: “neurons that fire together, wire together”. This simple strategy requires three steps:
First, notice your thoughts, and allow yourself to observe, before jumping into action. Just take a moment to notice your thoughts in any given situation.
Second, shift those thoughts. Your brain is naturally programmed to go into a ‘negativity bias’, because of our evolution and fight for survival. Therefore, negative thought patterns occur much more easily. Reframe the negative thoughts into more positive one’s. Rather than saying to yourself, this is a disaster, ask yourself how you can grow and learn from this experience.
Finally, the rewiring. This is where the neurons in our brain (after enough practice) start creating new neural pathways. They wire with new neurons and we start creating new habits and behaviours. As a result of our new thought processes and beliefs, we enjoy different life experiences.
Our brains are not static, they are dynamic and our neural landscape is forever changing. We are not passengers – we are captains of our own ship, and architects of our life experiences.
Integrating the practice of Notice – Shift – Rewire
Notice your thought pattern.
Negativity bias is the notion that things of a more negative nature have a greater effect on our psychological state compared to neutral or positive experiences. Recent events and particularly the announcement of the extension of what should have been the end of all restrictions had a significant impact on my psychological state.
The first step was for me was to bring awareness to this. As soon as my mind goes into self-doubt, anxiety, or fear, I must stop and evaluate. Notice which direction my mind is leading me in and why. The racing, panicky, anxious thoughts trigger unpleasant emotions like fear, anger, anxiety that create further negative thoughts and I get stuck in a thought loop. Being an observer of this interplay between my thoughts and emotions helps me gain clarity on my mental processes. As I step back and look at what’s happening objectively I can detach myself and consider ways to reframe my thoughts and feelings.
Shift to the moment of appreciation
Shifting creates a more productive focus of attention that enables me to strengthen the new neural pathways. When the negativity bias is active, after acknowledging it, I can shift my mindset by focusing on something I am grateful for. I refer to my daily scribblings in my gratitude journal, my gratitude for my family and friends, my team, my health, my lovely home, my dog. This becomes an effective and powerful tool to shift and reset my mind. In the world, we find ourselves it’s easy to find things to be angry, upset and downbeat about – even though we have so much to be grateful for.
Rewire your brain
According to research, only 15 seconds of staying in my new mindset will help create the new neural pathways. The new encoding in my brain happens when I reframe my thoughts from negative to positive. It sounds all too easy, however, this helps me to build stronger associations with the good things in my life and help to shift some of these grey clouds above me. And when I have shifted my mindset I am clearer about ‘my reason for being’. The sense of personal responsibility I feel to contribute and lending my voice to creating a better future.
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Wishing you all the best at this difficult and challenging time,
Love life and smile,
Neil Shah and the entire International Wellbeing Insights and The Stress Management Society Team.
Post solely for the use of stress.org.uk by Anja Predojevic