When You Need a Bit of Uplifting
Dr. Nadine’s Thoughts:
I was listening to a talk show on the radio recently. I tuned into the show already in progress, and heard the caller telling the story of her difficult domestic situation. It was fraught with descriptions of emotional abuse, and she described feeling like a prisoner and a victim. She related having post-trauma symptoms and, through tears, described working to move herself through the difficulties. Her reason for calling into the show was to express thanks for the encouragement it offered her, and for the help it gave in motivating her to make the critical and dramatic changes she needed in her life. I was so moved as I listened to her, and I was struck by the power of the positive message that she was receiving by being a regular listener to the show.
For a while now, I’ve been actively working to encourage myself. It’s not always easy to find examples and experiences which uplift my heart and feed my soul. My daily round more often brings with it problems, dilemmas and conundrums that I’m obligated to figure out and to fix. I’m generally an optimist, a “glass half-full” kind of person, with the ultimate belief that things work out the way they’re meant to. And yet, my emotional resources run pretty low after a spell of chronic troubles. And that’s complicated by the natural tendency we have as humans to focus on the negative. There’s a lot of research confirming that people hold on tightly to the negative messages they receive, even in the face of a preponderance of positive ones. For example, if I teach a class that touched my students, and they tell me how much it meant to them, I’ll still linger over the one thing I forgot to tell them.
So, as I contemplated the power that encouragement has on us, I asked myself what ways I’ve found to lift my spirits and motivate me. The truth is that I can use anything to cheer myself—if I’m in the right headspace. But when I need encouragement, I usually am NOT in a good space (ironic, isn’t it?) Thus, it’s really important to have MANY ways available, because not everything works all the time.
So, what works? My general rule is to start with my physical senses. I love being in nature, because it engages all of them. In fact, as I’m writing, I’m sitting on my deck. It’s a wee bit chilly, so my sense of touch is engaged. I’m feeling the cool breeze on my skin as I have a blanket and a warm kitty snoozing on my lap. I see the lush spring greenery popping out on the trees and on the ground surrounding my chair. In the distance, I hear horses neighing, birds chirping, woodpeckers drumming, and my new neighbor, a peacock, singing loudly. (Trust me, if you’ve never heard a peacock’s call before, it’s worth checking out on YouTube!) The scent of the spring blooms is subtle, but is gently carried to my nose on the breeze. As for taste, I don’t know if this counts as “nature”, but I’m sipping a tasty beverage. It certainly adds to my experience.
There are other options that we can tailor to our specific tastes. Music always helps, and sometimes for me it must be rock and roll! Other times I need the contemplative strains of Gregorian chants; often jazz calls to me, and occasionally does the lull of music played at 432 Hz. Always, the music of my Dear One comforts and encourages me. Now let’s add inspirational materials to read or to listen to. I find the wisdom of others inspiring, and I’m happy to learn from them, or putting it another way, to “stand on the shoulders of giants.”
Of all these things, the one thing that never fails to encourage, motivate and inspire me is to be with a good friend. The gift of friendship for me is the ultimate way to build myself back up. Today, before I began this blog, I had a coffee with a new friend and her daughter, Chris and Juli. The genuine and caring connection we shared boosted my mood, and reminded me of the goodness in people. But if that doesn’t appeal to you, then remind yourself of the relationship you have with yourself. Show yourself the mindful self-compassion that you would offer a loved one. Imagine someone telling you exactly what you need to hear to feel empowered, encouraged and inspired.
Now go out and offer that to someone else. When you encourage another person, you’ll find that you actually become the recipient of that same thing. So sow the seed of what you need. Then reap the harvest!
Dr. Zan’s Reflections:
As human beings we certainly share the need to be uplifted at times, just as Dr. Nadine described, most particularly during those times when our challenges seem to persist with no definable end in sight. Suffering changes people--sometimes creating more distance from loved ones, sometimes creating new bonds that strengthen with intensifying challenge, sometimes shifting connections in unexpected ways--yet, the transformations are inevitable and often unpredictable. When we are offered the privilege of walking beside someone we care about as they encounter and manage difficulty, we can embrace that opportunity as one that allows us to express our compassion and live the fullness of human experience together. In other words, providing support to someone who is struggling is an honor because helping each other out when we need it brings depth and meaning to life. Sharing the difficult times allows for the enhanced experience of triumph as it too emerges. And triumph does occur, if only in small or momentary doses. That’s why we need to be on the lookout for it.
Exactly what it looks like to walk with someone who is struggling will appear a bit differently for each of us, given the uniqueness of personal and relational qualities. Yet, anything we are able to offer in genuineness and generosity is likely to be received in that manner. And we can rest in the certainty that suffering observed and experienced serves to expand our capacity for compassion.
Perhaps it is no accident that I am thinking of those who suffer and that May is the month to raise awareness of Mental Health issues. It is not unusual for those who choose the field of psychology as a career to have witnessed loved ones who struggled with mental health, and I am no exception. Certainly, my personal and professional experiences have taught me that there is no quick fix or one size fits all solution for mental health concerns. Managing difficult emotions, whether they be in the realm of daily life or rise to the level of debilitating disorders, is part of being human. While we all know some folks who would like to portray themselves as being impervious to emotional difficulty, doing so simply manages to create separation from the very people who could offer help.
In recognition of Mental Health Awareness month, I’d like to offer a few ideas that have been percolating for me and that I hope can help others to approach this topic and people impacted by it with open arms:
There is no honor in the pretense of having it all together. Nobody does, not really. Stop wasting your energy here.
There is no shame in needing help. That “fierce individualism” on which our country was founded turns out to be an illusion most of the time and kind of a crummy idea the rest of the time. We function best in connection.
Try not to get overly excited about labels. In truth, most of us could legitimately carry a mental health diagnosis at some point in our lives. Diagnosis is a system of describing symptoms--a means of organizing one’s experience and trying to standardize it. People are people; diagnoses are simply tools for better describing and understanding observations. Diagnosis is one tool to facilitate help.
Human behavior is difficult to predict accurately and consistently ahead of time, but it is much easier and more reliable to see how patterns emerged after a significant event occurs. Time spent in blaming and finger pointing is not useful. Learning to be more responsive to those who are struggling with mental illness and providing access to treatment is key.
Life is worth the struggle. Connection is healing. You are worthy just because you are you.
Without a doubt, reach out. If someone crosses your mind, let them know. We can become lost in our busy lives, and we need to be intentional about letting one another know that we matter and are deserving of a little extra effort. Be the uplifter that you will undoubtedly need at some point.