The rich array of autumnal colours remind us of the cycles of life, the delight of colour, and the shift from the expansiveness of summer, to our inner world as we head closer into winter. With so much of our focus caught up in busy-ness and the 'doing' of life, this post invites reflection on presence, connection and transformation through creating the safety and space for our inner worlds, through music, art, embodiment and relaxed states.
7 tips to navigate uncertainty and change.
The only constant in life is change.
It’s been a long 18 months of fear, uncertainty, change and shifting goalposts. Whether you’re in lockdown or not, it is a strange and difficult time.
How can we navigate these times? See below for seven tips to help us all through.
Honour your experience
We are all going through a huge mix of emotions, challenges and restrictions. And it’s ok to let yourself just be with it …
- listen to your body
- let your feelings be
- connect with your feelings
- find a way to express your experience (move, talk, draw, rest)
- sit with them
- take care
- reach out
Know where you are in your nervous system
Knowing how to tune in to your nervous system AND the the information it gives you can be a huge resource, particularly at this time of high stress and uncertainty.
Our bodies give us the key to knowing if we are
- feeling calm, relaxed, engaged
- feeling anxious, stressed, on high alert
- looking for a fight, wanting to blame someone / something
- feeling helpless, overwhelmed and wanting to hide
- feeling like we want to run away
- needing connection with others
How can you tune in to notice the physical sensations associated with these states?
It can be different for everyone, but here are some things to consider:
- What is happening with your breathing? Are you holding your breath? Are you breathing fast / slow?
- Do you feel heavy / light / tense / relaxed?
- Do you need to move in some way? What would support you right now?
- Do you need to change positions?
- Does your body / brain need to rest / replenish?
When we connect into our experience, we can tune in to what we need and respond with care.
What are micro-breaks?
Micro-breaks are any short breaks (30 seconds - 5 mins) that you take in the day away from work or study.
Micro-breaks might include:
- standing up to stretch
- going for a walk around the block
- going to make a cup of tea
- chatting to someone
- looking at a tree outside
- playing with your pet
- listening to a piece of music
- having some food
- closing your eyes for 5 minutes
- 5 minutes of mindfulness however you like
Research shows that micro-breaks help with focus, staying on task, productivity and general wellbeing
Compassionate people have very clear boundaries, that they insist are respected. They are very clear about what's OK and not OK; and they are very clear about that with the people in their lives.
How do you define healthy boundaries?
What will you accept or not accept from others?
How do you meet your own needs?
Do you find it difficult to say no to others?
According to research undertaken by Brené Brown, the most compassionate people are also those with strong and healthy boundaries. That is, people who will say no when they need to.
Need tips for how to put boundaries in place:
- Make your own mantra (ie "I can say no" or "I choose discomfort over resentment")
- Keep a resentment journal (this will highlight to you when you haven't held a boundary when you needed to)
- Practise different ways of responding that support you to hold a boundary
Routine / rituals
Our bodies and brains crave familiarity, predictability and repetition - they are some of the best ways that we help ourselves to feel safe.
This is a challenge, particularly in lockdown, when work, school and home life merge.
What might help?
- Creating routines and rituals to mark the beginning and end of certain activities
- Creating a timetable that works for you
- Finding regular ways to connect with family and friends
Chronic stress is exhausting. And, whilst holidays and long sleep-ins are the best, the good news is there are plenty of other ways to find rest.
The key is to do what you enjoy, what works best for you, and, importantly, what restores you. This might include:
- Being active
- Taking a nap
- Being in nature
- Going for a run
- Reading a book
- Watching your favourite show
- Listening to music
- Allowing yourself to take a break from screens
- Mindfulness practice
- Chatting with a friend or colleague
Reach out & connect
This is a tricky one for many at the moment.
We are wired for connection and really do need each other - in good times and in times of stress. This Tempo article, 'Why collective care is essential for self care' is a good summary if you're interested.
Connecting with friends and family for fun is easy. What is not so easy is reaching out when we are having a hard time. Do you someone that you can message, call or see (whether in real life or online) when things are tough.
In his book on loneliness, 'Together: the power of connection in a sometimes lonely world', Dr Vivek Murthy talks about the risks of loneliness, but also the immense power of true connection for only 15 minutes at a time.
Who can you connect with? And if you can't right now, please reach out to a service like Lifeline.
Kindness to others, and importantly ourselves is so important right now.
- Self kindness: A way of relating to ourselves kindly, embracing ourselves as we are.
- Wishing ourselves to be free of suffering, and acknowledging the common humanity in suffering.
- Mindfulness: acknowledging our own suffering without judgement. 'To have tenderness to our own plight, to hold our pain tenderly without dismissing it or denigrating it'.
How can you sit kindly with yourself today?
Painful feelings are, by their very nature, temporary. They will weaken over time as long as we don’t prolong or amplify them through resistance or avoidance. The only way to eventually free ourselves from debilitating pain, therefore, is to be with it as it is. The only way out is through.
The concept of compassion fatigue has been around for twenty five years. Often closely linked (and at times incorrectly used interchangeably with) burnout, compassion fatigue has been a focus for researchers interested in mitigating the risks workers face with prolonged exposure to the suffering of others. Leading experts are calling for a change in terminology, suggesting that ‘empathic strain’ is a more accurate term due to the differing neural networks involved in empathy and compassion. See below for a brief overview of the discussion.
The body is our home. But what happens when we become disconnected from this home, unable to feel it, or to notice when it needs a break or nourishment? What happens when we tune out from it, turn away and ignore the vital messages it is sharing with us? See below as we explore the role of being aware of, and connecting with the body and its sensations for embodied health and wellbeing - for yourself and the wellbeing of those in your care.
We don’t leave ourselves behind when we go to work, we take our whole selves in. Some days it is easy to keep ourselves separate. But when we are tired, have a special connection to a client or patient, have difficulties of our own, or are touched by the moment, it is not always possible, or appropriate, to maintain a separation. We feel their joy and we feel their pain. And sometimes it touches ours.
Post-traumatic growth is a familiar concept to many. But what about other positive impacts that workers can experience? Vicarious resilience and compassion satisfaction help us to understand the ways that workers in helping or caring roles can be positively impacted, or even transformed, by witnessing the strength and resilience of others. Holding an awareness of both ends of the spectrum - the joy and the pain in the work - may hold the key for a healthy, successful and durable career.
Within the helping professions we often focus on the more challenging end of the joy - pain spectrum in this work: exhaustion, compassion fatigue, secondary stress and vicarious trauma. This blog series seeks to rectify that, with Part 1 focusing on vicarious resilience, Part 2 unpacking compassion satisfaction, and Part 3 addressing the importance of, and risks associated with, connecting with others. Cultivating awareness of both ends of the joy - pain spectrum in the helping professions is essential in supporting worker wellbeing.
Header image: Jake Ingle