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Relational Reflections: Yes, another blog, and this one’s from Dr. Nadine and Dr. Zan at True Heights

Aware of Spring's Beauty and Stress

Dr. Nadine’s Thoughts:

For me, April is the month of resurrection.

It’s the first full month of spring. The vernal equinox has passed, formally ushering in the new season. We’ve meteorologically said adieu to winter, and psychologically said bon voyage to its dark, quiet blanket that has shrouded our psyches. We moved our clocks ahead for Daylight Savings time, and now are welcoming the longer days, driving home from work or running errands in full light. (I don’t know about you, but my body is still adjusting to the time change. I’d finally gotten used to waking up early, and now I’m waking up an hour too late!) I am starting to hear the full concert of bird calls and songs, along with the drumming of the woodpeckers as they begin their mating rituals. For the first time yesterday I heard the “peepers” – those little tree frogs that sing nighttime lullabies as we drift off to sleep. It’s also not a surprise that it is the month that holds Easter for those who celebrate the Christian tradition, signifying the death followed by the resurrection of Christ.

It seems then, for most people, spring holds the promise of renewal and refreshment, as the winter cold and the brown earth disappear in favor of warmer temperatures and tiny green buds and flower bulbs beginning to sprout. With this comes new inspiration and hope for what lies ahead in life.

For others, though, the advent of spring can bring with it the unexpected awareness that life doesn’t come with a reset button. That is, the struggles and difficulties, concerns and disappointments that we experience don’t just melt away with the winter snow. We carry our worries into what we want to be a time of promise and potential. We hold the hope that we will be renewed, that our difficulties will disappear, and that our spirits will be lifted. But we soon realize that doesn’t often happen. So we become disillusioned and distressed that we’re still left to struggle with our darkness in the face of dazzling spring sunshine and warmer temperatures. Is it any wonder that this is the month that we psychologists find that our work increases? For some individuals, depression creeps in like a fog, surrounding them, cutting off the springtime daylight and enveloping them back into darkness again. This may be you, or it may be someone you know.

Take heart. It’s important to remember that 1) this is NOT inevitable, and 2) this is NOT permanent. There are a multitude of ways to alleviate the melancholy that may set in when spring doesn’t escort the expected improvements you hope for. I would encourage you to take inventory of those tried-and-true efforts that you know are effective as supports and comforts for you. Write them down, gather them to yourself, and enlist others to help you so you’re not isolated. As part of her Mindful Self- Compassion class and practice, Dr. Zan can offer more suggestions for you as well. Let us know what you need!

As for me, I decided I needed a little self-care on this particular day. So I’m writing to you from a quaint little inn, surrounded by charming décor and energetic people. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I always feel better if I have a steaming cup of coffee in a cozy setting! So here I am. I’d invite you to celebrate the springtime and the month of April in whatever way best suits you. If you’re in great spirits, keep it going. If you need an uplift, some comforts and Mindful Self-Compassion go a long way.

Dr. Zan’s Reflections:

Ah yes, over the weekend, it was glorious to experience a hint of spring, tease though it may have been, as Dr. Nadine so eloquently described in her references to the sights and sounds of nature emerging from its wintry repose. During the couple of years that I was able to reside in the Washington D.C. area, I thrilled to the emergence of the the iconic cherry blossoms as a first and breathtakingly beautiful sign of the season. Spring can indeed uplift and bring a sense of hope, but sometimes it is the very contrast between the external light and any lurking internal darkness that creates angst. We are supposed to feel upbeat and happy when the sun is out and the blooms are promising to open. And yet, often we do not. It is this very common human experience of believing that our lives or moments should be something other than what they actually are that creates discontent, suffering, stress. This is a fundamental teaching of Mindful Self-Compassion. The juxtaposition of what we believe “should be” and what “is”--therein lies the rub. Perhaps then, it is not really so surprising that April has been dubbed Stress Awareness Month, given that we are quite likely to be aware of our stresses at this time of the year.

Yet, if I may presume to counter my own point that we are more aware of stress in the midst of spring’s beauty and promise, I must also admit that most people I encounter are sufficiently well-connected to their stress on a daily basis. This attunement to stress is a cultural phenomenon. I am quite certain that I did not use the word “stress” in a sentence referencing myself until well into my adulthood. And yet, I routinely hear young children and teens joining the adult population in talking about being “stressed out.” It seems to me that we value and embrace our busy, frenetically paced lives--almost wearing evidence of our exhaustion and exasperation as a badge of honor. Certainly, I have heard from friends and clients alike who have observed that their calm demeanor in the workplace was often mistaken for a lack of effort or care about the role they filled. One friend literally said to me, “If I wasn’t constantly running around like a chicken with my head cut off, everybody thought I was lazy.” What a comment on workplace culture! (Sometimes I do think that we mistake stress-induced flurries of activity for efficiency and productivity.) Certainly bringing our attention and recognition to this cultural tendency toward the glorification of being stressed out and overwhelmed is a first step to dismantling the structures that support unhealthy life strategies.

Dr. Nadine suggested that I might want to use my Mindful Self-Compassion insights to offer more specific suggestions, and what a great resource it is! Certainly, guidance abounds throughout the self-help arena for what we should do to make ourselves happier or more content. However, I would encourage focus not only on doing but on a manner of being. A beautiful description of being that I recently encountered once again from the Mindful Self-Compassion curriculum involves openness to emotional experience as it occurs, bringing curiosity instead of judgment. Specifically, we can “incline gradually toward emotional discomfort.” So, in essence, we don’t need to force it or to be impatient and tough on ourselves. We do need to be where we are, feel what we feel, see what we can see (literally and metaphorically)--all the while bringing kindness to ourselves and trusting that we are right where we need to be, for now.

So simple, yet so profound, is the power of this very moment blended with a healthy dose of love. If you’re lucky, that love might include an appreciation and an affection for what you are doing, but if not, please don’t despair. The most important love in the moment is that which you bring to yourself, despite the activity or the requirement or even the emotional state. If being loving to yourself feels like too tall an order, then think of the dearest friend, child, or pet who makes you smile. Then try turning that smile inward. Of course, as Dr. Nadine indicated, it never hurts to do so with a hot cup of delight in your hand!

#trueheightsconsulting #mindfulself-compassion #stressawarenessmonth #spring


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