With the arrival of Freedom day here in England, the worries that come hand in hand with this are well and truly under way. Like with any sudden change, we have been thrown out of our comfort zones and pulled into the unknown again. I’m sure there was a time when we looked forward to the day when masks weren't mandatory, nightclubs were open and social distancing was a distant memory. But right now for most of us, it all just seems like too much, too soon.
Change is daunting, especially with a pandemic in mind. So what can we do to help ourselves during this change?
1. Accept what is - When anxious feelings come up over the restrictions being removed, it’s important not to suppress them. By trying to resist the feelings we don't want to feel, they often just get worse. Feelings of worry and concern at this time are completely natural. Instead of suppressing them, try to accept what you feel in this very moment and let it be there.
2. Journal your thoughts - Write down the ways you feel right now without judgement. Once you see your thoughts on paper, ask yourself ‘are the thoughts causing my worry based on reality, or am I caught up in anticipation of worst-case scenarios?’ You could write a counter statement to yourself where you list the ways you can think about the situations differently.
3. Take small steps - Ease yourself back into ‘normal’ life at your own pace. Exposing yourself to the thing you are concerned about in small steps can be helpful. Avoidance behaviours are common for those experiencing anxious feelings, so it’s important to slowly face that which concerns you. You could do this with a trusted friend or family member.
However, also choose what you are happy to do (i.e. you don’t have to go to a nightclub, even though everyone else is going. If it’s not for you right now, that’s okay.) It’s important not to live in isolation, so it’s all about getting the balance right between making plans and doing what feels good for you.
4. Proceed with caution - Just because the rules aren’t in place anymore, doesn’t mean we shouldn't use our common sense as we move through this new change.
Although the rules have lifted, it still feels like we have a long way to go until we truly have ‘freedom day’. While we can choose to focus on this, it’s also helpful to focus on how far we've come.
Choosing to see the positives while still accepting, understanding and recognising the negatives is just what Gratitude is.
What happened when our normal lives were swept from under us during the first lockdown? We realised all that we had once taken for granted. This realisation led many people to gratitude. It wasn’t about denying the fact that many unsettling things were happening around us, it was about beginning to see the things we do have to be grateful for, rather than only ever focusing on what we don’t. It was out of pure desperation that people realised in a dark time, gratitude can truly help.
Gratitude is something that can have so many benefits for your overall mental wellbeing, whether it's during a worldwide pandemic or not. To tap into gratitude and recognise what we have to be thankful for requires presence, and when many of us are not present, we are often caught up in the negative stream of thoughts going on within our minds.
When we are so caught up with these negative thoughts and conditioned patterns, we glide through life in auto-pilot and miss out on many of the moments that make up life. By choosing to practice gratitude, you will begin to see beautiful things that were once clouded by negative thoughts, things that have always been there.
If we constantly focus on the negative, our minds and bodies will be under tremendous stress leaving us more unable to cope with what life throws our way.
Practicing gratitude is about being present, accepting what is, recognising the good and bad, and choosing to move forward in a more compassionate way. I truly believe when you begin to input gratitude into your life you will see more beauty around you, and within you. When you build gratitude into your life, the more often you will be able to see the positives to a situation, the good in a person, and generally cope better with negative events.
This isn’t about blaming yourself for seeing the negative side to things more often than not, it’s not your fault. Tending to dwell on the negative is actually part of our genes, and its something we call Negativity Bias. Research on this suggests that this is part of our evolution, and it was a way to keep us safe from danger in early human history. Our minds are wired to focus on the negative rather than the positive, but we don’t have to let it be that way. We have to take it into our own hands to work on overcoming negative thought patterns.
That’s not to say that we should downplay bad times, or suppress and deny negative thoughts and emotions. Negative thoughts and emotions need to be dealt with and processed, and gratitude is not about seeing every single thing through a positive lens. It’s about becoming aware of ourselves and what's around us with gratitude and through this, we can begin to cope better with tougher times.
How can you input gratitude into your life?
Practicing gratitude is not about simply listing things that you are thankful for without presence or intention behind it. If you aren't truly present and you're carrying out this task as a means to an end, you won’t reap the benefits of it. It goes deeper than this. You need to become present and truly observe. Perhaps you’ve tried this before and you haven’t noticed much difference after listing 3 things you are grateful for. Well go a little deeper, what made you smile when you needed it most today? What gave you butterflies in your stomach recently? How did it feel when the clouds burst with rain after weeks of sunshine? Can you find happiness within small moments? Can you tune into the small little moments, and continue to recognise and appreciate them?
Gratitude is about choosing to see what you have to be grateful for every day, including things you do for yourself. (Don’t forget this part, showing yourself thanks will build upon your own self esteem too!)
It’s about reassessing each situation that comes your way through that lens, what positives can I take from this? What can I do about the negatives? If there is nothing I can do, what do I have to be grateful for, albeit there are negatives too?
While it may seem like a far fetched concept.. When you begin to tune into gratitude and all that you have within you, more and more will come your way. When your mind is open to the present moment, you appreciate the beauty of thing that to others seem mundane. Life is made up of all of those moments, it's not all about milestones.
Benefits of gratitude
We become more present to whats around us
Contributes to positive mental health and wellbeing
Increases resilience to negative events or situations, thoughts and emotions
We see the good in others more often, meaning we often carry out more kindness and compassion
We see the good in ourselves, reducing comparison and building upon self esteem
Gratitude teaches us to stop resisting what is, the present moment, and through that you are on the way to inner peace. In this very moment, what do you have to be grateful for?