Monthly Archives: November 2015

Resilience – This too will pass

These dark clouds will pass. And the sun will shine again. Image courtesy of morguefile.com

These dark clouds will pass. And the sun will shine again.
Image courtesy of morguefile.com

 

I value resilience. Let’s be honest; shit happens. That’s actually one of my meditation mantras, because it reminds me that adversity is part of life. Life is messy and complicated, and sometimes it just plain sucks. But it never stays that way. So far I’ve been pretty bad at realizing this and getting through the tough times knowing that eventually they’ll end. Truthfully, I’ve given up, albeit unsuccessfully, a few times already. (Note to readers: do not treat a temporary problem with a permanent solution. Truly, all problems are temporary.) But, I’m working really hard to learn to experience feelings without letting them overwhelm me. I’m learning to accept that shit happens, but it doesn’t last forever.

I wrote the paragraph above in my post about trying to live with integrity. Resilience is one of my values, and I wanted to work on developing this value, because so far in life I pretty much sucked at dealing with difficulty.

Getting divorced. Losing an important friendship. Losing a job. Suffering the death of a loved one. Being diagnosed with a serious illness. This stuff happens. To all of us. But what do you do when it happens to you? You can be overwhelmed and give up (my pattern for over 40 years). Or you can stay strong and carry on as best you can (work in progress). This is resilience.

Being resilient doesn’t make you immune to adversity. And it doesn’t mean you no longer experience the sadness, anger, or the other emotions that occur when you are going through something catastrophic. It just means that you can deal with the stress. You can weather the storm and come out of it intact.

According to psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, resilient people employ emotional coping strategies such as monitoring emotions and calling up positive ones to use advantageously. Psychiatrist Frederic Flach maintained that resilient people are able to develop novel perspectives when facing negative life events. Resilience means adapting and giving the negative event some meaning. In effect, resilient people use positive emotions as a buffer against the negative ones, and they are able to persevere as a result.

This is all great, but if, like me, you didn’t grow up with these emotional coping strategies, then you must develop them. Looking at the research (see the references below), I’ve boiled down the expert’s advice to three main things you can do to develop resilience: cultivate relationships, adjust your outlook, and nurture yourself.

Cultivate relationships. When you are part of a loving, supportive community, you are connected. Having a tribe – as I call it – gives you someone to talk to, someone to give advice from a more objective (not in the middle of the crisis like you) place. It’s important to maintain your relationships rather than withdraw from them during crises. Even if you feel like getting in the fetal position under the covers all by yourself, send someone an email or a text saying that’s how you feel. Allow yourself to be cared for when you need it.

Adjust your outlook. Sometimes, life is up and sometimes it’s down. And while you can’t change the fact that bad shit happens, you can change how you approach it when you’re in the midst of it. Know that during the down times problems are not insurmountable. Know that the down times are merely part of a cycle. Good then bad then good. Sun then clouds then sun. This (bad shit), too, will pass. And this too. And that also (because sometimes it seems to go on and on and on).

Take care of yourself. Sleep well. Eat well. Exercise. Practice stress-relieving activities (yoga, meditation, walks in nature, petting your dog, whatever works for you). Prioritize self-care because unless you pay someone else to do it (personal chef, personal trainer, masseuse, life coach – all on my list when I when the lottery), it’s not going to happen. Writer Pico Iyer calls this going to the mental health gym. Psychologist Guy Winch refers to it as practicing emotional hygiene. It’s work that you have to do in order to replenish your stores and develop your whole self – body, mind, and spirit.

Remember what Maya Angelou said and take it to heart. “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. Your difficulties do not define you. They simply strengthen your ability to overcome.”

Work on resilience, because, this too will pass.

 

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3132556/pdf/nihms90226.pdf

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4185134/pdf/EJPT-5-25338.pdf

http://www.meaning.ca/archives/presidents_columns/pdfs/pres_col_feb_2006.pdf

http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx

http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/resilience-training/in-depth/resilience/art-20046311

 

 

 

Thanks and Giving

Let your thanks and giving be perpetual.

Let your thanks and giving be perpetual.

Thanks.

Here’s the truth. On average (meaning the overwhelming majority of the time), I am not grateful for the amazing gifts in my life. There are the obvious modern conveniences of 1st world living, which so many people don’t have – on demand electricity and clean (and hot) running water, unlimited access to food (all kinds, out of season and/or grown on another continent), and physical safety. And there are the small things I (also) gloss over as I go about my life – a sunny day, a tree dusted with snow, a helpful gesture from a stranger, a moment of silence in an otherwise chaotic day – things that bring me happiness if I’d only stop for 10 seconds to acknowledge them.

Giving.

I have a good job. I have my health, mental (for now anyway) and physical (ditto). I have family and friends who love and support me. I have more things than I need. I have activities I enjoy doing in my spare time. When I appreciate my good fortune, the abundance in my life, all the “I have” statements I just wrote, well it seems stingy to keep such abundance to myself. Being generous, giving what I have (certainly money but lots of other things)  brings me happiness, much like giving thanks does.

Thanks and Giving.

I believe that gratitude and generosity are mental health practices. The more you do them, the happier and the healthier you become. I’m not being Pollyanna; research has my back on this. Your mental and physical health improve and your sense of social connection grows when do more thanks and giving.

Let’s challenge ourselves to do just that.

Thanks. Every day, give thanks. Take the focus off yourself. My job sucks! I don’t have enough time to (fill in the blank)! I need (fill in the blank) to be happier! Whatever your complaints, they are likely fairly minor in the grand scheme of things. I’m not saying you don’t deserve to bitch and moan on occasion. We all need to vent, but, let’s not waste all our precious energy on ourselves and our problems. Let’s use more of that energy to be grateful instead.

Giving. Every day, share what you have. It doesn’t have to be money (which doesn’t grow on trees, it turns out, so there is a finite supply of it). Give a smile or a kind word to someone who is down. Give your time or your talent to help someone who needs it. Give what it is that you have to give, what is abundant in your life. Someone can and will benefit from your gift, whatever it is.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Here’s to more Thanks and Giving in our lives.

 

The Science of Gratitude and Generosity

http://www.sott.net/article/304378-The-neuroscience-of-gratitude-Small-acts-of-generosity

https://newrepublic.com/article/119477/science-generosity-why-giving-makes-you-happy

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/5_ways_giving_is_good_for_you

http://www.medicaldaily.com/science-gratitude-it-really-little-things-310468

Don’t Hit The Gas. Don’t Slam on the Brakes.

Note: This analogy only applies to driving cars with automatic transmissions. Coasting in neutral with a stick shift is not advisable. Apparently.

 

If you leave Austin and take 290 West until it dead ends at I-10 and then take I-10, continuing west, there’s basically nothing for 8 and a half hours. West Texas is flat for hundreds of miles and filled with nothing. There are no people, no towns, and no gas stations. There’s not even scenery, except for the long stretch of highway before you. And then you get to El Paso and, at that point, you’re leaving Texas.

Imagine you are driving this stretch of nothingness and then suddenly something appears in the highway before you. Is it the Chupacabra or your Aunt Gladys? It’s hard to tell from this distance but you are driving straight at it, at 80 miles an hour.

What do you do? Do you hit the gas or do you slam on the brakes? Either one will call attention to you. Both will send a clear message. If you hit the gas, you accelerate and throw yourself at Auntie Chupacabra, telling her, “I’m ready to rumble. Bring it on!” And if you slam on the brakes, you do the complete opposite. She knows that you’re terrified and want to avoid the interaction.

Image courtesy of morguefile.com

Image courtesy of morguefile.com

What if, still not knowing exactly what lies ahead, what getting involved with whatever this is might entail, you simply remove your foot from the gas pedal and you don’t make a decision based on bravado (hit the gas!) or anxiety (slam on the brakes!).

What? Yeah. What if you coast instead?

Okay, I know this is hard because your gut reaction is just that…a reaction, something that happens automatically. But, in daily life, when we find ourselves in a situation where our reaction is to throw caution to the wind  (hit the gas!) or to retreat at all costs (slam on the brakes!), it’s important to remember – yes, in the heat of the moment – that there is, in fact, another option. Easing up and not reacting in the moment is an option. Allowing some time to breathe, pause, and even sit with the discomfort, instead of lashing out immediately and wildly, might, in fact, be the best course of action.

Think of this as a traffic-calming device. Or psychological-calming advice.

Image courtesy of morguefile.com

Image courtesy of morguefile.com

Coast a little. Give yourself mental space and ask yourself, “Is what I’m about to say or do necessary? Is it useful? Is it kind (to myself or someone else)?”

If the answer is a resounding NO, then don’t hit the gas, which will result in immediate and possibly regrettable action. Don’t slam on the brakes, which will result in stuffing down feelings and avoiding the issue altogether. Either option typically gets you enmeshed in something you may not want to get enmeshed in. Either option has the potential to start the cycle of thoughts and actions that turn a small, possibly nothing something into a huge, ugly, nasty something.

So ease up and coast for a little while. If you do, as you slowly approach what’s looming ahead or even as you face what’s right in front of you, you can prevent tumbling into the huge, ugly, nasty something.

Don’t hit the gas. Don’t slam on the brakes. If you coast, you may come to realize that it’s not actually Auntie Chupacabra on the road. It’s just the West Texas heat hitting the blacktop and making some crazy, wavy pattern. It’s nothing at all.

 

 

 

 

It’s a Rant. Just Listen.

I sometimes have difficult work interactions, and I am shit for filtering my big mouth (even when 100% sober), so I’ve been known to respond to an email (read: overreact right this second!) and then once I’ve calmed down, I have to apologize. Usually to my boss. This is both embarrassing and not very professional.

I’m getting better though, and now I send eye rolling emails to my husband or heated texts to my girlfriends venting about what a jerk so and so is.

I did this last week, and over the weekend, my husband mentioned it. He said he wanted to discuss it.

“What?” I said. This was days later after all. “No. There’s nothing to discuss. I just wanted to vent.”

“Well,” he said, “I want to give you some advice.”

“But I don’t want advice.”

“Well I am giving you some anyway.”

And then he did.

(Note to reader: When someone explicitly says they do not want your advice, that they just want to rant, let me give you some advice. Shut up. You’re wasting your breath. When I say I don’t want advice it means that I’m not emotionally/intellectually capable of receiving advice right now. And your talking results in a Silke shut down. I can’t hear what you’re saying, because of all the steam coming out of my ears, because you’re giving me the unsolicited advice I didn’t want.)

By the time my husband finished “advising” me, I was crying, because (I’m overly emotional and) he basically sided with the enemy. And by that I mean not me.

 

So maybe I need a 3rd party to vent to. Done. Turns out I can vent to someone other than my husband or a friend, both of whom might want to offer more than just an ear. (Believe me. I just want your ear. Not your mouth. Keep that shut, please, because I’m the one doing all the talking here. That’s what a rant is.) Multiple websites exist for ranting to strangers. You can try blah therapy where a rant is free, but for $25 you can consult with a psychic (not really sure what the connection is there, but I am intrigued). Muttr offers anonymous vent sessions on any topic. And then there are all these sites (go here for a compiled list) where you can post highly specific rants. There’s a site (surely more than one) to complain about your boss, another site (ditto) to complain about your spouse, and on and on.

Wow. Who knew, right?

So maybe that’s what I’ll do next time. The next time I need to vent, I’ll go on line. I’ll figure out the exact site that meets my immediate bitch-fest need (boss site, husband site, customer service site, Walmart site, whatever). I’ll create a funny but accurate pseudonym (I’m not posting using my real name for crying out loud!). Then I’ll register with the site (you can’t just post, you know, you have to give them your information resulting in their filling your email inbox with spam and providing you YET another reason to utilize their website to rant). Then,  I’ll finally start composing my rant.

I imagine by this time, the anger energy has dissipated, and I’ll be over it. I won’t want to rant anymore.

Which just goes to show. A short pause may be the best way to diffuse anger and put things into perspective.

Maybe.

 

 

 

Belief Systems

I am totally inspired by the new Oprah/Deepak meditation experience, Become What You Believe. It’s my 3rd or 4th Oprah/Deepak meditation experience and by far my favorite. Every day, I feel like I am learning something valuable that I can use to transform myself. In this post, I’m going to share some of what I’m learning.

I believe that my belief systems shape my reality.

I believe that my belief systems shape my reality.

What do you believe to be true about yourself? Do you believe you are entitled to love and happiness or that you are undeserving of these? Do you believe that things will work in your favor or that everything is against you?

In the real world, every single day, what messages are you sending yourself? Whatever they are, they are shaping your reality. I’ve written it before. You are what you believe. What you think – about yourself, about others, about the world at large – undoubtedly manifests itself in your life. And your belief system impacts your emotional state, the way you speak, and, certainly, your actions.

I know this to be true, because for most of the time I’ve lived in Germany, I’ve been angry, bitter, and depressed. That was the energy I put out, and, guess what? That’s exactly what I got back. Choosing to accept that I would never be happy living here, that I would never make any friends living here, those beliefs became my reality. That’s what I thought, and that’s what I got.

Why oh why did I expend so much energy on being negative? Because I was clueless. I didn’t know that my happiness depended on me, that my self-worth depended on me. I honestly thought external circumstances were responsible for my  happiness, and I allowed them to guide my behavior.

Apparently I am a slow learner. But I caught on, and now I’m working on changing my core belief systems, and it’s honest to goddess work. It takes effort to form the habit of cultivating positivity, especially if your history, your experiences growing up, led you to believe that you were unlovable or unworthy. When that’s your default setting, you react mindlessly from this place. And those mindless reactions, those negative interactions, feed your beliefs about yourself.

It’s a shitty, vicious cycle that’s neither healthy nor productive. And you know I’m all about transforming unhealthy patterns. But how? How do you transition from angry, bitter, depressed to happy, peaceful, and emotionally strong? How do you change your belief systems to be life-affirming instead of life-destroying? Three things: develop awareness; know your values; practice self-reflection.

Develop awareness. If you aren’t aware of the messages your tell yourself about who you are, then you will never grow or transform yourself. Over the course of a week or two, throughout each day, note your internal dialog. What do you tell yourself when you get frustrated by someone, when things don’t work out your way, when something bad happens? In order to change negativity and self-sabotaging behavior, you first have to be aware that you engage in belief systems that manifest in negativity and self-sabotaging behavior. Once you have this knowledge, try to catch yourself in the moment when you are about to say or do something negative or limiting. Stop and take a mental step back. Choose not to react.

Know your values. What really matters to you? Make a list of your values. Then, over the course of a week or two, throughout each day, note whether your thoughts, words, and actions reflect those values. For example, if generosity is something you truly believe is important, then what are you actually thinking, saying, and doing to manifest this value on a daily basis? And what are you thinking, saying, and doing that opposes the manifestation of this value? Take an honest inventory, because this will inform change in the same way that developing awareness of your belief systems will. You can catch yourself in the moment of action (or reaction), take a mental step back, and choose to uphold your values rather than ignore them.

Practice self-reflection. This process of change involves continual self-evaluation, about your belief systems and how they influence your behavior. If you want to evolve as an individual, then you must take time to self-reflect. When you do, you learn which of your thoughts and behaviors impede your development and which of your thoughts and behaviors promote your development. When you understand yourself, you can more easily focus your energy where you want it to go. You can become whoever it is you want to become – more fulfilled, more grateful, calmer. You won’t be that person if you remain ignorant and limited. Choose to grow and expand. Be everything you are capable of being. Be your best self and believe the best things for yourself.

Believe that with your feelings and your work you are taking part in the greatest; the more strongly you cultivate this belief, the more will reality and the world go forth from it.

Rainer Maria Rilke

 

 

Stop Limiting Yourself

There is no "one way" for life to work out, and when you think there is, you limit yourself. Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

There is no “one way” for life to work out, and when you think there is, you limit yourself. Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

 

I don’t have any options.

I can’t do that, because I don’t have the time (or money or whatever).

I am powerless to change the situation.

Have you ever said anything like this? I have. And the times when I uttered those sentences, I truly believed I had no options. I was stuck. I couldn’t do what I wanted. Things were either going to be shitty or shittier. In other words, life sucked and there was no getting around it.

But the truth of the matter is that life is not a one way road. There are always options and while you may not be able to change a situation, you certainly have the power to change how you view a situation. You can choose to be defeated by your circumstances, in which case you make yourself powerless). Or you can choose to reframe what’s happening.

If you reframe then you recognize that there are options. There is more than one way. Possibilities exist beyond just what you wanted or how you expected things to go. When you aren’t tied to a single, specific outcome, you stop limiting yourself, and you open yourself up to having, doing, and receiving more.

People who limit themselves to one way often block opportunity, because they’re so narrowly focused on that one (and only) way that things should be. Just because you haven’t considered another way does not mean it isn’t possible or that you wouldn’t be just as happy, if not happier, if things worked out that way.

Stop limiting yourself. Stop telling yourself that life sucks, that everything’s going to hell, if things don’t go that one way. For most of us, the journey of life is not a direct path from A to Z. It’s full of tangents and unexpected detours, and sometimes those are the exact routes that show us something wonderful, something that we never imagined was possible, something profound about ourselves or life.

I choose to trust in myself and trust in the Universe that life will work out. Things will work themselves out whatever way they go, up, down, sideways, backwards. No, they may not work out the way I want them to or on the timeline I have set for them, but they will work out.

I’m not giving up on the infinite possibilities that come from choosing the life I want to live.