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How to actually "Keep Calm and Carry On"

After my father died, I had a deep longing to live more like he did - with kindness and gentleness.  One day I was processing some of this with my therapist (any good therapist attends to her own sh%#) and she said to me, "what if you tried to be kind and gentle... to yourself?".  The breaks in my mind came to a screeching halt.  I teach and study strengths of resilience and somehow I had forgotten about an incredible heartfelt inner resource and completely stepped over myself in my desire for health and healing.  I was reminded in a very profound way, the impact self-compassion has on our well-being.  It is a game changer.

Be Kind to Yourself
Most of us place high value on being compassionate and caring for others.  However, we often ignore a giant part of the equation - Self-compassion.  Self-compassion is the root of compassion.  It is a strength of resilience that says, "I am deserving and worthy of love and kindness".  Self-compassion is not selfishness, it is a practice of be-friending oneself and extending grace to yourself just as you would someone else.  It is much easier said than done.  It requires boldness and vulnerability to push past and through personal negative core beliefs and societal messages.  But when cultivated, the benefit to yourself and others is life changing.  Many of us are experiencing life change and loss like we never have before.  Maybe you can't sleep because you know your 5k student is safer at school with you than at home.  Maybe the thought of your doctor spouse being exposed to the virus sends you into a panic.  Maybe you're turned inside out by not being allowed at your grandma's bedside.  Or maybe you have worked your whole life to make a business dream a reality and you are now watching it vanish before your eyes and without your doing.  I wish those were factitious stories, but they are not.  It is 100% ok to feel like a total mess, to feel numb to it all and/or to not know how to feel.  Remind yourself that no one deserves this suffering and everyone deserves love and kindness, including you.  Here are a few practices to help you care for yourself and strengthen this much needed resource of resilience.

  • Catch your critical thoughts. Notice when you are beating yourself up.  The world is giving you enough to deal with.  Practice being on your own side with this Loving-Kindness Meditation and listen to some tips from pioneering self-compassion researcher Dr. Kristin Neff. 
  •  Allow yourself to feel your feelings. Emotional Agility is a strength of resilience.  When you identify your feelings you are much more likely to be able to cope with them. We usually avoid unpleasant feelings.  However, often, it is when we lean into discomfort that we find relief and clarity.  In the Interpersonal Neuorbiology world we call it, "Name it to tame it"
  • Research shows that having a Mindfulness practice (present moment awareness) has exponential positive benefits on our well-being and can be cultivated in many ways.  Click here for a very helpful description of mindfulness, it's benefits, and ways to cultivate this valuable skill.  If you don't already practice mindfulness, start now.  I cannot emphasize this one enough.  A great place to start is with the practice of Notice-Shift-Rewire.
  • Engage in activities that activate a sense of calm.  Our nervous systems are being pushed into the red zone of Flight/Fight/Freeze daily.  Find and create opportunities to activate your "rest and digest" Parasympathetic Nervous System.  Breathing exercises tend to be the fastest and most reliable way to calm our nervous systems, try Box Breathing to help tone your vagus nerve. 
  • Manage your anxiety, instead of it managing you.  Engage in intentional activities that will help you cope with stress and connect with joy.  My go-tos include Moving my body, getting outside, mental re-framing, praying, and meditation.  Meditation for me has become what John Kabat-Zinn calls a "radical act of sanity".  It is an invaluable mental exercise that deepens awareness and integration. There are a plethora of helpful apps to support you in this practice.  Here are some to try - Ten Percent Happier, Headspace, Healthy Minds, Hallow, and Calm.

Thank you for welcoming me into your inbox and taking the time to attend to your well-being.  It is my hope and prayer that you found some helpful practices to incorporate into your current life experiences.  My goal as an educator and clinician is to help others cultivate strengths of resilience to help them flourish in life with joy, hope, and meaning.  If you found these suggestions valuable, please subscribe to this newsletter to stay updated on Wellness classes I offer (like this) and other Adventures in Well-Being topics. 

In Loving Kindness,
Jennifer Van Rossum, MA, LPC

"Faith turns on a light which changes all of life from a gamble in the dark to an adventure in the light" 
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