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How to actually "Keep Calm and Carry On"

I love adventure.  Like I LOOOOVE it.  Whether it's in my backyard or on a mountain top, there's something about exploring places, people and culture that validates my core belief that 1. life is hard, but good, and 2. it's worth living to the full.  I affectionately call this life journey we are all on, the Human Expedition. Our exploration of our inner and external world is an adventure like no other.  It's a gift full of twists and turns, peaks and valleys, darkness and light.  And like any good expedition it transforms you and delivers you to a place in which the only way to get to, was through

The practices and suggestions in this newsletter are intended to help you with the "throughness" of life.  We cannot control our circumstances, but we are in control of how we manage and attend to our experience of the circumstance.  And like any other challenge, "you will get through this".  But how is largely up to you.  This week I will introduce three different beneficial strategies and helpful practices to help you skillfully and intentionally attend to yourself and others. 
PS: These suggestions are valuable to your well-being COVID19 or not.
PPS. Take these practices in stride.  Maybe chose one or two to try each day or week.

Conserve Your Mental Energy
Our brains are designed to have a negativity bias - we are more likely to scan, store and remember what is going wrong than what is going right.  During times of uncertainty we are likely to experience a great deal of anxiety which feeds the brain's evolutionary negative default setting.  Thoughts often spiral to dreadful places and we can get lost in the maze of "what could happen".  This takes up precious mental energy that lowers our resilience to stress, interferes with logic, and narrows our vision for what's happening right now. Try to be mindful of what thoughts are occupying your mind.  Are you spending a great deal of time with worried thoughts?  Do you find yourself wondering "what if" often?  Are you having a hard time seeing the good?  Here are some practices to help you re-engage with realistic thinking that will help you conserve your mental energy for an actual threat or, more likely, for all of the positive experiences that are deserving of your attention.

  • Remind yourself "I'm alright right now" - Either as a mantra or in meditation here with Dr. Rick Hansen of the Greater Good Science Center. 
  • Practice gratitude - Name 3 specific things that you are thankful for that have happened in the last 24 hrs.  Daily. Gratitude is a surefire practice to shift your mind from a scarcity mindset ("there will never be enough") to an abundance mindset ("there is enough").
  • Make a list of what you are in control of (attitude and actions).  Write it down.  It seems elementary, but it helps.  There are many intentional actions you can take.  Focus your attention on those.  This is what we call a sense of agency, and it is vital to your well-being right now. 
  • Track where your attention is in the present moment.  Literally.  Create reminders on your phone to randomly go off throughout the day.  Each time you get the reminder gently ask yourself, "where's my attention right now?". Notice where your attention is and if it not where you want it to be, shift your focus to a more beneficial and present moment awareness.  This practice is called Notice-Shift-Rewire. Remember - where attention goes, energy flows.
  • Practice thought stopping  - When you notice an intrusive negative thought, say to yourself "STOP", move on, and distract yourself with a sensory experience.  Take a drink of cold water, step outside to feel the wind, turn the music up.  You may have to do this 100 times for the same thought.  Do it.  Repeated practice makes a difference.
  • Believe that good is permanent and bad is temporary.  You're mom is right, this too shall pass.  Just like learned helplessness is a real thing, so is Learned Optimism.  When we personalize negative experiences as permanent and pervasive, it not only drains our mental energy, it sucks the life right out of us.  You don't want less life, you want more.

In Kindness,
Jennifer Van Rossum, MA, LPC

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