Sitting outside for the first time this year, soaking up the sunshine and smelling the fresh scent of the grass, I embrace the feeling of calm.
The last few weeks have been really, really stressful and there have been some huge alterations in my life. Dealing with these has meant I’ve been away from home, my routine has been massively disturbed, and I’ve been unable to study or work. It isn’t just the logistical changes that have been hard – there’s a lot of emotion to process, too.
For someone who strives working under a routine and doesn’t adapt to change very well, this has been a lot to deal with. I hate feeling as though I’m not in control, am always anxious, and often stressed. My life strategy is to stay ahead in everything I can.
Having life throw you a few curveballs tosses all of this out the window.
Past curve-ball experiences have led me back to some very unhealthy coping mechanisms. This time around though, it’s different. As challenging as the past few weeks have been, I can be proud of the fact that over the last year, something in me changed for the better. I’ve learned that going through difficulties that are out of my control isn’t something I should punish myself for. In fact, it’s the time I should be showing myself the most forgiveness and self-love.
This is me taking steps forward in the face of adversity, not backwards.
So, how have I done this? My first steps were brought about by the down-time lockdown forced upon us (read my blog post on how I believe lockdown brought brought us closer together here). It took away the hundred-miles-per-hour pace I was going at before, the pace I believed was necessary to succeed. I still had huge anxiety about the safety of our family, our friends, our jobs – but there was also enough down-time to start training myself to think logically, rather than letting the immediate every-bad-thing-you-think-will-happen-is-going-to-happen thoughts take over.
First, we had nowhere to go, no friends to socialise with, no obligations at all. So, I started doing things that made me happy, and learned more about myself in the process. I started this blog, started reading more, started jigsaw puzzles, colouring and walking. I had time to think about what I wanted to spend my time doing. This got me thinking: what can I do to make life easier for others around me?
That led to step two: I started developing more active compassion for myself and for others. I was doing things that made me happier, but I could still act in ways that helped other people. I started to understand that my words have meaning. It’s a work in progress… but I try to think twice before speaking: will what I say help someone, or bring them down? Can I compliment rather than complain? Can I thank rather than apologise? Can I stay optimistic rather than pessimistic? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a way to go to nail this one (especially after a couple glasses of wine) but I’m working on it.
The response I saw from this was great, and helped to change my own internal monologue (again, huge work in progress…). I’m learning to counteract a negative or anxious thought with a positive one and recognise how either of these make me feel. This has helped me to understand that failure is okay, not being perfect is okay, asking for help and letting people help is okay – and owning this can be pretty liberating in itself.
All this accidental soul-searching ramped up a few gears at the beginning of the year. I started yoga as a last-ditch attempt to move my stiff, non-flexible body once a week whilst it was too cold and dark to even think about leaving the house to go for walks. I’m fortunate to have a friend in Devon who conducts some amazing Zoom yoga classes (find her here) so I logged on one evening, expecting a few stretches and to giggle to myself through the meditation parts.
HOW WRONG WAS I?
For probably the first time ever, I actually stayed PRESENT and IN THE MOMENT and didn’t stress about ANYTHING for a full 60 minutes. I felt energised, warm, full of serotonin, and grateful (and pleasantly surprised) at what my body had achieved.
Nearly three months later and I’m still doing yoga every single day. My stretches are getting easier and I feel *slightly* stronger, but most importantly I’ve recognised the change in my mental health. I’m focusing more on staying in the present, not letting my mind wander too much in the past or too far ahead into the future. I’m remembering to show gratitude for what I have now, and feel (more) comfortable in letting go of things that are outside of my control. I’ve asked for help, and gratefully received it, and understand that it’s okay to pass responsibility to others when you’re not capable of holding it all on your own.
I’m glad I started developing these brain-tweaks long before I needed them, because now, in a time of difficulty, I have a small box of healthy coping mechanisms that make each day slightly easier. I’ve slowed down. I’m not trying to make everyone around me better or happier or have less to worry about: I’m doing those things for me, first, so I can help others afterwards.
Here’s some helpful links for anyone who’s curious in exploring yoga/mindfulness for themselves:
Yoga Journal – Gives you all you need to know about yoga
Sjana Elise – Amazing yoga/wellness instagram account
Yoga with Adriene – Hundreds of step-by-step yoga sessions for all abilities
Downdog – my daily yoga buddy.