(Guest article by Chantal Wendel, virtual personal assistant)
Our brain is a wonderful, magical thing. If we would process every impulse from the world around us that comes into our brains one by one, it would be a sure recipe for immediate madness. Fortunately, the brain has developed systems to handle this. For example, if you look at a building, the brain does not think about each individual stone, window and door, but it immediately sees a complete house.
This is how I call any challenging situation, any hard time in life, that brings turbulence in my inner -hard-won- balance.
I call it like that not only because it is -objectively- a difficult moment in your life. But mainly because it blows a strong wind inside your mind, it makes you feel you have no shelter to protect yourself, it thunders against all what you have believed and dreamt so far, it pours you into an emotional rollercoaster, and all this you have to fight it by yourself.
It has become something like a habit. To watch the movie "Groundhog Day" every now and then and remind myself of its life-changing message. Besides having a blast just by watching it.
For those who haven't seen it, Phil (Bill Murray) is the weatherman in a local channel and he is assigned to travel to a small town and broadcast the "Groundhog Day", a day when a groundhog "predicts" the weather for the next six weeks, tradition says. Boring, right?
Each December I find myself engaged (sometimes in a frenetic way), determining what my New Year's Resolutions will be.
The first thing I do is go back to the last year's list and tick all those that have been achieved. Most of the times the result is somewhere between "ok" and "satisfying" and if there are a few non-kept resolutions, I just convince myself that those were the "substitute" ones, the ones that would just bring some extra flavour to the year's achievement.
Second step is to figure out what I want for the following year. This December, however, making my New Year Resolution list is somewhat different. For some strange reason, I keep asking myself "If you already know where you're heading, why do you need a list"?
Defeating anxiety, stress, negative thoughts, procrastination and fears has never been easy. And it never will be. Not because there is something wrong with us, or because we are doing it the wrong way, but because it is something that indeed requires from us conscious effort, time, practice and a lot of mental energy. We are actually rewiring our brain: changing the neuron paths existing since childhood which take us a certain way, into a different path, where things happen in a different way and are linked to different thoughts.
In order to build that new path, we need to develop some specific skills. Attention: don't go into "all or nothing" thinking, saying to yourself "I don't have that skill, so I will never beat anxiety". It's not "you either have it or you don’t". We all have these skills, each and every one of us, at a different degree. And we can all work on these skills, a little bit every day, some skills more than others. There is no recipe here. No one is master in all of them - we are all trying our best.
Everyone talks about the downside of depression. But is there a good side at all? Anger and stress, for example, can help us adapt to external threat and protect ourselves. But depression? Is there any actual benefit in it?
Depression helps us build stronger relationships.
At some point in our life we experience the pain and grief associated with the loss of a loved one. We feel depressed, our life seems empty, we are stressed, and what seemed interesting in the past, now appears meaningless. This pain makes us understand how close we were to this person and how important they were to our life. it is during this depressive phase that we acknowledge how significant our relationships are to our well-being.
Once upon a time there was a man called Odysseus, the king of Ithaka who fought for a decade at the war of Troy together with his men. After the war, he started his trip back home but unfortunately he and his 12 ships were driven off course by storms. They travelled all around the Mediterranean sea, chased by angry gods, seduced by vindictive women, life-threatened and shipwrecked by humanlike landscapes. During 10 years of struggling, Odysseus lost all his men but eventually escaped and survived from all these tortures and challenges, because he was the only one believing in his return back home. And he reached there alone.
Three weeks on holidays. After an exhausting year of work, work, work. Three books chosen. (Or, let to be chosen.)
1. One from the classics: The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway. (Actually that was a re-read. I first read it during my school years. Different eras, different perspectives, totally different insights.)
2. One from my favorites authors: What I talk when I talk about running, Haruki Murakami. (Or, how a writer can blow your mind, even if he's talking about his running marathons)
3. One from a random pick (someone's suggestions, somewhere in the web): A tale for the time being, Ruth Ozeki. (It turned out to be my first book written by a Zen Buddhist priest which didn't seem at all to be written by a Zen Buddhist priest.)
A really wise insight from a 6-year-old talking about how she deals with scary thoughts, how she lets go from circumstances that are about to "close" and how she recognizes that time is necessary to heal these negative feelings and to make these thoughts go away. It's as if she has been trained in mindfulness.
Amazed, speechless and moved by this story.
Share with everybody, it's worth spreading, really!
This is a story, a pattern which comes up very frequently when talking with my (expat) clients, but also with people from my environment.
Let us consider two different people making the same decision. No one knows if it's right or wrong. Both move to a new country for an unspecified period. The first one struggles with life there: doesn't like the place, the weather, the system, the people, the traditions, the mentality. And when comparing the new life with the former one, the latter is always the winner. At the same time, he keeps asking himself: “Did I make the right decision?" In the end, he moves back to his home country with a feeling of relief, but also bitterness regarding the time “wasted” there.
On the other hand, the other person adjusts pretty well to the new place. He anticipated there would be difficulties in the beginning, but is ready to compromise and to try. And above all, never asks himself if he made the right decision.
One of the most thrilling moments of my career was when I was working with an autistic child. Actually, not much of a child, Carl(*) was 21 years old. His mental age however was closer to that of a 4-5 year old.
His mother told me that from now on he would be my teacher and would teach me how to behave towards him. The short life we would share inside his room for a few hours a week would be the mirror of the bigger life that I have "out there", Interesting concept I thought, and at least a rather challenging assignment.
To start with, one of my goals was to make eye contact with him. Taken for granted? No.
Easy? Not at all.
It seems like an overwhelming - externally imposed - new trend obsession. All we hear or read around us is "How to be happy", "10 ways to be happy", "How to avoid people that are not happy", etc. But what is actually implied between the lines is "Try to be happy, because everyone else is happy, except you, and, actually: What's wrong with you?".
Happiness is moments. Happiness is something circumstantial and is attached to external situations. Something happens, something that you have expected for a long time, or something that you have never expected and it surprises you in a positive way, and Bang! you feel happy. But you cannot make your inner peace dependent from something "unpredictable" like that. You cannot define yourself by being happy or not happy, and be labeled by such an unfair stereotype.
While most people have heard of panic attacks, those who have not experienced it may find it hard to understand how frightening it can be. A panic attack is not just an intense feeling of anxiety, but rather a blast of terror that the brain produces only for truly frightening events. Panic attacks are also often associated with intense physical reactions, which often lead those experiencing them to falsely identify them as a serious health issue. Although they are relatively common, panic attacks are often not fully understood. Many suffer unnecessarily because they are unaware that what they are experiencing is mainly psychological rather than physical and that there is an effective treatment for it.
The first and most important thing to know about panic attacks is that they are not dangerous. Panic attacks are experienced as dangerous because they activate the emergency system in our brain, which thinks us in immediate danger. A bit like placing a fire alarm near a toaster, the security system in our brain releases false alarm during panic attacks.
TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE.