I have been thinking about courage recently. How do we encourage people when they most need it and what words, thoughts and actions rouse that fighting response within us? What words could I say that would lift your spirit and cause you to realise that you can face what you are facing? As you look at big changes or a difficult situation, is there some arrangement of words that will cause you to believe that you can do this? I really feel like there is someone who needs an injection of courage today – don’t we all.
Today dear reader, if you will allow me… I’m going to change your name to Courage. Today, your very identity (the name that you will be known by), is the very word you so need in this session. Today, you ARE “the ability to control fear in the face of difficult situations”. It is who you will be today and I will join you and also be called Courage. Together we will remind ourselves that courage is in our very human nature and is fused into our DNA. If you don’t feel it right now let me call out of you, it’s a part of you and it is there. If you need to, visualise wrapping it around you like a blanket or donning it like a cape.
Dear reader-in-need, you can do this. Whatever you are facing, there is courage in you yet and with gritted teeth you will get there, one step at a time. Courage is the big breath in and the realisation that you can and will take the next step. You are courage today. I know I have written about bravery and similar topics before, but I know you need to see these words today. Heck, sometimes I need to see them hourly! So, I am on your side right now in this moment; the little cheer squad in your corner 🙂 I treasure you. I see you. Today, your name is Courage.
In my country some of the social distancing restrictions are starting to be lifted and it looks as though ‘normal life’ is on the horizon. It is not here yet, but we can see it’s coming. However, while we are still in country-wide lockdowns and focused on ‘surviving’ isolation, I have started pondering how we are going to ‘survive’ returning to a new normal. Have we given any thought on how to navigate the changed social and employment landscapes? If we don’t at least start thinking about it, we may be setting ourselves up for a harsh and emotionally draining return.
Although I want many areas of my life to function the same way they did before COVID-19, there will be changes that I have no control over and honestly, I’m not going to like some of it. However, I can minimise my frustrations by preparing myself mentally and examining my expectations. As my future mental health may be at stake here, I know it will be wise to take stock of the employment and social climate and adjusting accordingly.
Let’s take a moment to examine them together:
Our economic landscape will look vastly different as people pick up the pieces of businesses that might once have been financially viable. We are aware that some businesses will never open their doors again and most of the ones that do will have to adapt to absorb the economic downturn.
If you are fortunate enough to still have a job, you may face a workplace that has changed and you may be disappointed if it’s not what you expected. You might be faced with condensed hours, a pay-cut, location change or altered role etc. Navigating modified working conditions can be frustrating and exhausting; be prepared for some emotional reactions. To help you cope, I would recommend you ask your employer questions. If you can gain understanding, it will do a world of good towards handling this next stage well. Try to ask smart questions not emotionally loaded ones:
Do you know how long this new arrangement be in place? Are these changes temporary or long-term?
Can we review the new conditions of employment monthly?
For me to help us achieve our goals, what is the business plan moving forward?
Please help me understand the rationale behind this?
Most importantly, find out what’s happening within your industry. Understanding your current business environment is key for you to know what is appropriate in your own workplace and if you’re being taken advantage of. A bit of independent research will help you shape realistic (instead of idealistic) expectations.
How are your workers going to go when they finally return to work? I’m sure you’re aware that some modern-day employees won’t take your necessary changes well, especially if you have to alter long-standing arrangements. They will want to know the why and they will have questions. I would implore you to have constant and honest discussions with your employees, even if you don’t have the all answers. Give your employees something to get behind, let them feel like they are in this fight with you. If you leave them guessing, I can almost guarantee that they will become suspicious about the information you are giving them. Is it annoying for you? Possibly, but open communication, especially after this collective traumatic experience, will do wonders for worker morale . Remember that people are already on edge and uncertainty is our currency now. Anything you can do to alleviate workplace insecurity will foster a smoother return-to-work transition.
I anticipate there will be a rush of social events when social distancing restrictions are lifted. Extroverts will need to recharge with others and their social interactions will be pivotal for healing. However, I suspect some of them, fuelled by a desperate need to connect, might feel entitled to people’s time. The danger is having unrealistic expectations of how others will interact with us and the disappointment that will inevitably follow. Alternatively, introverts won’t need extra events and might find increased social activities draining. However, being apart of a community means they may need to step outside their comfort zone to cultivate relationships. It’s also important to be mindful of people with mental and physical struggles; their recovery and readjustment to a ‘new normal’ might take longer than we think it should. With all our different personalities there is bound to be social pressure, push-backs and misunderstandings as we muddle forward. We are all going though a season of radical change, but the way we handle it and how we recover will differ for every person. Let’s keep exchanging kindness and offer compassion to those around us.
In our desire to return to ‘normal’ we will undoubtedly require more grace and wisdom than before and I know we are already pushing our emotional limits. However, if you are aware and prepare for a bumpy return, you’ll find the road a lot easier and less disappointing. Before society starts lifting the COVID-19 restrictions, take a moment to see if you have any hidden, unrealistic expectations. Start with these three questions:
Do you have realistic expectations around return to employment and social gatherings?
Are you prepared for some disappointments?
How will you navigate this next phase?
Take stock and readjust as needed. This may very well be your most important self-care task this week. Remember, this has been a traumatic experience and everyone reacts differently, prepare yourself well and you’ll set yourself up to start strong.
Firstly, I’m sorry I didn’t notice you for so long. I really am sorry. When I started this blog back in July 2013 it was solely to connect with our family and friends whilst overseas. I honestly didn’t pay you much attention, but now almost seven years later, I hold you close to my heart.
Instead of mindlessly scrolling through social media feeds, I can step into other countries and cultures whenever I want. I can access different perspectives, expertise and expressions and it warms my heart. You are helping me grow as I experience life through your eyes.
This morning I had some time on my hands as the kids sat quietly eating breakfast, so using the App Reader I searched through posts about: joy, creativity and photography. I was amazed and inspired by you; all of us working away, investing time (and often money) to share our hearts with others. Some of you had lots of followers and others, just a few, but that really didn’t matter to me. To me, your expressions were not considered as ‘important’ depending on how many followers you had. I felt so grateful in those moments as I poured over words written in South Africa, Portugal, Australia, Brazil, India and England.
So, thank you. From me to you, strangers on the internet, thank you. I know it can be hard sometimes, anyone who has been blogging for more than 6 months knows this, but keep going. Did you know that some mornings the first thing I think about is refreshing my reader feed to see if any of you have created something new while I was sleeping?
I had this thought this week… “Maybe you’re just weak” and I had to decide what to do with it.
Do you struggle with unhelpful negative thoughts? During this season we might be confronted with more of them, or perhaps it’s that we’re more aware of them as we are forced to sit with our internal worlds. I thought I’d tell you a little story to provide an example of one of the techniques I use when dealing with unhelpful thoughts, but as you read the ‘story’ remember that life is not a competition of how ‘bad’ we have it over another person. It’s the processes/tools/skills that we learn that help us overcome things, not the size of the mountain we are facing 🙂
I had one particularly awful morning this week. I had a demanding two-year-old, a restless Prep student and a confused Year 3 student all needed my help and attention and man-oh-man I felt the pressure, especially when my son threw an attention tantrum. Bless. It was difficult and my adrenal system was pushed to the max. I’m sure many other people (regardless of family situation) could say they have had similar moments. You know those moments when everything is just so overwhelming and there is noise and there are intense physical and emotional demands and you still have to push on? Yep? It was one of those mornings.
Later in the day, as I talked to God about the morning, I heard myself think “Maybe you’re just weak”. Ouch. Super brutal right? In days gone by I probably would have agreed with that thought and wondered how everyone else seemed to be stronger than me. The spiral would start from there until I’d end up doubting my self-worth and abilites. However, I’ve grown a lot in recent years, so I quickly caught that thought and did this simple internal exchange…
Thought: Maybe you’re just weak.
Question: Jess, is this thought helpful?
Response: Ok, well thank you mind. Moving on.
(Some of you might recognise this as ACT – Acceptance Commitment Therapy)
Let me break the process down a little for you. I have a positive or negative thought which may or not be true. However, regardless of whether it’s true, I ask myself… “Is this thought helpful?”. Will it motivate, encourage, inspire, push me to growth or change? If not, then maybe it’s actually accusatory, full of judgement, guilt, shame, and draining my energy. After questioning the usefulness of a thought, I can then determine if it’s something I should discard or something I need to pay attention to.
It’s amazing how challenging my thoughts with a simple question can release me from a toxic spiral. What I love about this process is that even if the thought is unhelpful, I still thank my mind. I am not judgemental and beating myself up for having the thought, I’m simply acknowledging it and letting it go. I used to struggle so much with that. As I identified negative thoughts, I would judge myself harshly for even having them *cough perfectionist*, which would only cause me to become more and more anxious. Now, I am continually learning how to let go of thoughts that I don’t need, like dropping leaves into a river, sweep them away with the current.
Bible readers will see this same wisdom reflected in 2 Corinthians 10: 4-6 (NIV):
4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God,and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 6 And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.
I often read these words or heard sermons about it, but I was never taught what it meant to hold a thought captive or what to do with it. I fought against myself for having the thoughts because I believed that I shouldn’t have had them in the first place. I thought I needed to control them, make them obedient, pray against them – it was awful. Let me suggest that holding a thought captive might actually be about knowing which ones to let go of and which ones to keep. I’ve come to learn that when it comes to thoughts, “captive” is not about pulling it close and examining every aspect of it or desperately trying not to think about it (which only makes you think about it more). For me assessing a thought is about quickly catching it in its infancy and asking that simple question… is this helpful? What’s its source? Is this from God or is it the accuser? You don’t have to fight the thought; you are fighting if you chose to believe it or not. I know this little section is for someone particular and although I don’t know who, I’m writing it just for you to read 🙂 I hope you find peace and release if you have been struggling with how to walk this scripture out, the good news is that it’s not as difficult as we thought. It’s always Good News right?
I know this is an unusual time for us all, so don’t worry, I am fully aware that the thought I had about being weak is not true. However dear reader, don’t focus on whether or not the thought was true, because sometimes thoughts are in fact true. Don’t focus on whether or not the thought was positive or negative, because sometimes positive thoughts can keep us stagnant while negative thoughts can be the gateway for great change, innovation and motivation. Focus instead on whether or not the thought is helpful.
Toxic thoughts are everywhere:
I can’t do this.
I might fail.
I’m not important.
I have nothing to offer.
I never do anything right.
I wish I was more like (insert person’s name here)
This is never going to end.
I can’t see a way out of this right now.
Maybe I’m weak.
Yes, unhelpful thoughts will come, but maybe you just need to say “thank you mind’ and move on.
PS – If this has spoken to you in some way, I highly recommend the book The Happiness Trap by Dr. Russ Harris, it was significant in teaching me how to deal with my thought-life.
We all process moments in our lives differently and as I am eternally curious about the people around me, I wonder how you are processing the things that you are going through. How do you process your thoughts and feelings dear reader?
I find I am an interesting mix of both the internal and external processing styles; it often depends on the context. If this terminology is new to you, basically the internal processors turn inwards to examine their thoughts and look at them by themselves. External processors like to talk out loud with others to help organise the often-jumbled mess in their minds. I found this great article for you to read if you want to understand the styles more 🙂
I process in two ways and the first one is journaling. Not every day, but whenever I feel led. Needless to say, I am writing a lot more at the moment to keep my mind clean. My pages are full of thoughts and questions for God. There are quotes, song lyrics, conversations I’ve had and bible verses that I like or challenge me. There is little structure and no rules on how much ink should take up the page. For a mind prone to anxious thoughts, journaling is the easiest way for me to do to slow them down. Writing down my thoughts forces them to slow down to the pace at which I can write. It makes me focus on one idea at a time instead of having them splinter off into every direction. I find journaling is the best method to use for looking after my mental health and grow as a person. I’m relatively self-aware because I take time to examine what is going on inside my heart, soul and mind. In the quiet I reflect and understand how I am handling the things that are going on around me. I write down the heavy things on my heart and am continually learning how to leave them on the page.
Today after writing down my scattered thoughts I had a moment of peace. I sat in my outdoor area while the kids played peacefully inside by themselves. I had my earphones in listening to my favourite songs while a gentle breeze played with my hair. The butterflies were exploring the garden and the clouds made pictures in the sky. It was an intermission moment, a moment to unload, a moment for stillness and resetting. Bliss.
Apart from writing my secret thoughts onto pages, the second way I process by talking with my nearest and dearest. When I’m struggling to put thoughts together, I like to bounce them off others. I enjoy having back and forth conversations to dig deeper into my internal contemplations (my husband and close friends know this well). As I chat transparently with my friends, they hear the rough drafts of my thoughts and ideas and witness as I shape them into something more concrete.
As you can see, in one way I process by myself and in another I dialogue with people around me to understand how I feel about a certain topic. Both are equally important for me as I navigate different seasons of life and more so right now. Facing my internal world and accepting it, even if it’s uncomfortable, gives me strength to move forward. This leads me back to you dear friend. I wonder what things you do to interpret what’s happening in the world around you and the state of your heart. When your emotions burn high, how do you acknowledge or come to peace with them in a healthy way? Do you step back and process by yourself or call a friend and pass ideas back and forth? Are you even taking the time to look at them? If not, I hope you have the courage to do so this week, because it really helps. Please know that I’m thinking of you.
How are we meant to find purpose in a season like this? Many of our ‘Grand Plans’ are just not achievable. It’s not that we don’t want to do them, we are literally not allowed or perhaps we can’t afford to anymore. Heck, even baking at home now requires me to do a budget check. Everything is on hold, but it feels kind of different to other seasons of being ‘on hold’ doesn’t it? There’s not much negotiation here – everything is paused. The danger is that we punish ourselves for it and end up feeling helpless and hopeless. Remember, you may still may need to let go and hold on multiple times a week. I absolutely adore the quote below which showed up on Instagram. I’ve been slightly disturbed at the heavy criticism we are aiming at ourselves and others, because now is not the time for judgement, it’s the time for grace and gentleness.
Like many of you, I’m without work and am at home all day with the kids. Finances are stretched and people’s emotions ebb and flow, crashing into each other as we share the same space. Some days I’m full of energy, vision and hope, while other days, I don’t want to see one more positive quote or see someone else’s gratitude post. I find myself wondering how to endure something like this when we don’t know how long it will last. Apart from leaning into God for reminders of my self-worth and identity, I still long to add value to the world and contribute something more than daily domestic chores.
I would suggest that if a lack of vision or purpose is getting us down, we could move from ‘grand plans’ to ‘gentle plans’. Grand plans often require long-term vision, access to services and funds, prolonged motivation and clear goals. Gentle plans are short-term, simple and achievable right now, but idealy still bring you joy or a sense of accomplishment. Gentle plans can change daily because what was working yesterday, may not work today. Gentle plans are less likely to be time dependant, but they can still be something you can work towards. They may not be Grand or life-changing for others, but in this season they may just be the life-line we need.
Here are some examples of gentle plans (not all mine):
Clean out the hallway cupboard
Cook something new or an old favourite
Intentionally connect with someone (gotta love technology)
Write a list of things to study when you can and find out where you can do it
Find a place to volunteer your time/skills
Fix that fly screen that’s been bothering at you for a while
Start looking at your resume
Exercise for 30 minutes
Do something creative
Watch that movie classic you’ve never watched
Plan your next local holiday for when ISO is lifted.
Do you have any gentle plans? If you are feeling lost, it might be worthwhile writing some down. Whatever plans you think of, some days they will feel achievable and easy while on other days, they will drain the life out of you, so remember to hold them gently. If today you just can’t, that’s totally fine and honestly it’s to be expected at a time like this. You’ll be pleased to know I spent almost an entire day in bed binge watching a show on Netflix and I didn’t feel guilty at all. I recognised that that’s what was going to happen that day, that’s all I had; I needed to switch off and do nothing for myself.
I write these words as a reminder just as much to myself as to you dear readers. Right now, some of us won’t have Grand plans, some of us will simply have daily, getting us through, finding our way plans. We’ll probably get back to the Grand plans one day, but for now, Stay Healthy.
Love Jess xxoo
PS – Somethings are too beautiful not to share and this new song release Otago by Brett Anthony Shaw is absolutely breathtaking. I feel like all manner of dances, art works, writings and reflective creations should be produced and enjoyed while listening to it. It feels like a healing balm on a blistered soul. I hope you enjoy it as much as I am; I have it on repeat on Spotify.
Oh man, I don’t know about you but this forced iso is hard when you have children. Yes, it is necessary to fight this virus by staying at home, but it is still hard. I have heard from countless Mums recently, all sharing about moments when they have desperately hide from their family members. I am one of them, because sometimes it’s one question too many. Sometimes it’s one screaming, annoying, angry, defiant, bored, emotional, messy, face too many. Sometimes you have given everything you had to give and you still have to keep giving.
So Honey, hide from your family when you must. You cry if you want. Give the finger to your cat (a personal favourite of mine) if that helps release the tension. This is hard, it’s not just you. That shame or Mum-guilt you are carrying doesn’t belong there; many of us are feeling bat-crap-crazy at the moment. You do not have to be perfect in this moment. You can’t meet all their needs. You are not letting them down. I guarantee, if you are even worried about your kids in this moment, you are loving your kids as best as you can.
My girlfriends and I have been more connected recently because we need to hear the “Oh me too, today was horrible” or the “You did so well” or a “I’m so happy you had a great day today”. We send each other funny memes or encouraging posts, because this is hard. It’s not a competition over who has it worse… it’s hard for us all in our own ways. Sweetheart, now is not a time for comparision. We are processing everything that’s going on, as well as other stresses like joblessness, cancelled plans, feelings of unrest and so on whilst raising children. It is incredibly hard some days. But hey… We are doing the best we can. Let’s give ourselves a break.
You are not alone – this is actually hard. I hope by hearing that you feel less alone, less like a failure and that tonight after the kids have gone to bed you can realise how hard you have been working. Well done Babe, you are amazing.
Love Jess xxoo
PS – Yes there are also many Dads who are in the same boat, but this one is for Mums because I am one 😉
I have no idea anymore. Yeah, I honestly have no idea what’s going on or what’s going to happen next; I would say that none of us do. But you know what… that is Ok, I am at peace with it because it is outside of my control. If there is a choice between stress or peace, I’m going to choose peace every time. I’ve also read that Jesus is the Prince of Peace, so naturally I will choose Him any day of the week. Before this all started, I was reading my way through a book in the Bible called Proverbs. It’s filled with short phrases full of wisdom and I am always up for getting some extra wisdom in my life. I would encourage you even if you don’t like the Bible or Christianity that these words are still good – it’s worth a look 🙂
There is one line that is standing out for me at lot at the moment; you can see shadows of its influence in my previous post.
Today I am holding onto kindness for my fellow man. I have no idea any more, but I will still be kind. I may cry, I may feel sad, I may feel uncertain, but I will still be kind. When people are scared they react in all sorts of ways, but I can still choose to be kind. I am determined to carry myself with kindness and be like ‘honey’ for those I engage with. May people walk away (more accurately ‘turn off their phones’) from their interactions with me soothed and stronger.
Today I am holding onto kindness for myself. When the kids are driving me crazy, when I feel weak and weighed down… I will be kind. I will give myself space to feel and move through the emotions. I will allow for growth in its many stages and forms. I will make self-compassion my companion.
I will share kind words to sweeten souls and give health to bodies – This is my resolve today. What is yours?
As countries continue to go into lockdown and people’s livelihoods are disappearing, it is a season of uncertainty for us all. I was speaking with a friend in the USA this weekend (via Instagram) and he said he was “trying to hold on and let go at the same time”. What wise words for us all to apply to our lives.
All of us will have things that we need to let go of at the moment and some of them are so very, very hard to do. They might be wedding plans, long awaited holidays, jobs and careers, personal dreams, new businesses, studying, fitness plans, financial goals… I honestly can’t name them all. There are so many ‘things’ that COVID-19 has impacted and we have all been impacted in one way or another. So today, why don’t you give yourself permission to mourn the things you need to let go of – mourn the things that can no longer be.
I suggest you allocate 20-30 minutes to write down the dreams/goals/plans in your life that are not longer possible and really be honest with how you feeling. Allow yourself to actually feel disappointed, angry, frustrated, depressed, sad or whatever. After that timing however, let’s do some letting go. If we are going to keep going, it’ll be easier if we aren’t holding onto things that are no longer a reality. The world has changed for the foreseeable future and it’s time for us to be resilient. You can do this; you can rise and rise again. You can let go of those hopes and dream and put others in their place. I will be doing the same. Our new dreams may look very different and not as ‘glamorous’ for a while, but having dreams/plans to look forward to is important for us all. Take a moment… let go with me. It is hard and almost unbelievable, but we are in this together. You are not alone; everyone will be faced with changes. Let them go dear friend. Even if you have tears in your eyes, take a moment to mourn and let them go.
As we are doing our ‘letting go’ now is also a time to ‘hold on’ more than ever before. Hold on to relationships, hold onto hope, hold onto self-compassion and hold on faith or beliefs. Hold on to the idea that you will survive this. Hold on dear heart. I will be honest and say that I have moments during the day when I think ‘Is this really happening?’ I feel sadness as I look at the lives lost, the virus spreading, people without work, nations shutting down – it is the reality of what is happening. But I don’t stay in that place. Instead I hold onto my faith in God and my belief in the extraordinary ingenuity and endurance of the human race.
Today I am holding onto the people I love, messaging them words of hope or sending them funny memes to lighten their day. I am being more intentional about my connections, not necessarily in quantity but in quality. I am also treasuring and being mindful of the the moments I find joy and sharing them with others. Today I am holding onto hope, hope for a cure, hope for a breakthrough and good news. Today I am holding onto self-compassion and realising that sometimes I will feel strong, while other times weak and that is ok. Lastly, I am holding onto my personal faith. Faith in a God who cares for us, who hears us, who has empowered us and loves us without measure.
What are you holding onto today? Just like our letting go exercise, why don’t you write them down and spend some time focusing on the things that are your strength today? When you feel down, remind yourself of what you are holding onto.
As things around the world continue to unfold, we will be letting go and holding on at the same time. Both are equally important particularly in moments of such rapid of change. Take a breath, take a moment, you are doing so well.
Love Jess xxoo
PS – I’ve been spending time on a live dance party on Instagram by DJ dnice (click on his name for link to his profile). Although I know nothing about him, he plays great music and it’s honestly a lot of fun having a virtual party with about 100k people. Things really go off when he does a hat change 🙂