Dani here. The first blog of the year. Something tells me 2017 is going to be a very memorable one! For me this year is definitely about building hope. While Ivan writes most of the Happy Ground blogs/newsletters, I wanted to share why hope is so important to me. Hope you find it useful. We love hearing your thoughts.
There are certainly a lot of disturbing things happening in the world at present and if we constantly worry about them, it can have a negative impact on our mood, increase our fears and erode our sense of safety. There are also the stressors we face on a daily basis, the frenetic pace of life; the constant high demands at work and all of the expectations in our private lives (what we should be eating, wearing, earning, driving etc.). We are constantly juggling commitments to try and spend quality time with friends and family. In short, many of us feel time poor, stressed, anxious and disconnected from the community around us. And the bottom line is, this is making many of us ill.*
I got to a stage at one point where I was so consumed with fear and worry that I became stuck – I felt useless, helpless, unhappy and permanently anxious. And the future was not looking any brighter. I realised that this couldn’t continue. I needed to make a change to my state of mind otherwise life would flash by and I’d look back wondering why I had spent so much time worrying, not enjoying life and savouring every moment.
I know this seems strange given my involvement with Happy Ground Wellbeing. Our programs are having a big impact on people’s happiness and are something Ivan and I are very passionate about, but as people will testify once you learn the techniques the next challenge is to apply them to your life and to keep applying them. We are learning and challenging ourselves all of the time.
So I decided to start making some changes. I made a list of what was important to me, my goals in life and what was preventing me from achieving them i.e. negative self-talk. Next I spent some time reflecting on the things I could control in life (i.e. how I behaved, how I was involved with my community) and the things I had no control over (i.e. war, what people thought of me). This helped me to become aware and put into perspective any unproductive, unhelpful thinking.
Then I gradually started to make changes. I can honestly say today I feel much happier, more positive, and more hopeful as a result and here are some of the steps I took.
- Cut down lists and complete one thing at a time
I decided to start with tackling the feeling that I was on always on a hamster wheel. I’m great at lists but I always seemed to have an endless one (several in different notebooks too!). I didn’t prioritise well and in the end I would get overwhelmed, stressed and not achieve much.
So I cut down my lists and instead gave myself only 1-3 tasks to do each day. This was to keep me focused and my stress down. Obviously other things would creep on to the list but I made sure I always got the 3 things done. My lists over the week included three types of things:
- Everyday tasks like getting tax done, visiting the dentist or going to the bank.
- ‘Life’ goals such as building a veggie patch, breaking them down into smaller steps and working on only one each week.
- Really pleasurable things like writing to a friend or meeting someone for coffee.
I found that by keeping my lists small and achievable, I got to the end of each week feeling like I had actually achieved something and was moving forward. More importantly, I felt I had some power and control over my life. I also like to keep these lists so that I can look over the year and see the great things I have achieved, sometimes against adversity. This has also helped me to improve my mindset, and believe that I am capable.
- Use your phone less (Nooooooo!)
In addition to reducing the expectations on myself and tackling one thing at a time, I also needed to create more time to achieve what I wanted to each day. And it was then I realised how much time I was wasting on my phone, social media – time I could have been spending with friends, playing with my dog, walking in nature or actually making the items I’d been pinning on my pinterest boards!
We now know that phones and social media can become an addiction and have the potential to cause a range of health issues such as stress, sleeping disorders and depression**. To cut down, for many of us we need to withdraw slowly, letting friends know we won’t have our phones on all of the time (make arrangements like the old days!) and giving ourselves a few rules, such as only checking Facebook twice a day. I have also made a policy of only following optimistic, positive or funny people, as it helps me feel better by seeing the great things that are happening and the wonderful people in Tassie and around the world.
- Become more present
Over the years I have been an occasional meditator, reaching for my meditation recordings in moments of great stress. Meditation has many benefits such as reduced stress and anxiety, and increased happiness, optimism and compassion.
While I am yet to develop a daily meditation practice, what has changed in recent times is that I am more mindful in daily life – I try to keep myself in the present moment, resisting the urge to get too far ahead of myself or allowing my mind to dwell on things negative and largely beyond my control. I have found that simply becoming mindful for short moments (i.e. walking the dog) have had a big impact, by slowing the world down, reducing my stress, and allowing me to enjoy each moment much more than I had in the past.
- Turn up the love
With fewer expectations on myself, more time, and greater presence, I was feeling good, but I also wanted to feel better about others, my relationship with them, and do something to help. After years of beating myself up for my lack of big life-changing humanitarian achievements, I realised I can actually show more love and kindness to people around me and in my community. Even if it is just a friendly smile and ‘hello’, helping someone with their shopping or checking in on a elderly neighbour. I know this sounds twee but it is something that can be done instantly, and it has been great for me and hopefully those I interact with. Research has found that when you help someone or are kind to another, your brain releases serotonin, which has an anti-depressant effect and also reduces stress. So everyone is a winner!
- Talk to strangers
I’m ashamed to say I hardly know my neighbours. But as part of my new regime, I decided to try and get to know more people in my community better. The friendly lady I meet at the bus stop each morning. The man I’d pass each night when walking the dog. I think getting to know people better is the first step to challenging our assumptions and breaking down prejudices. And it’s nice to know that Mrs Smith at Number 42 knows who I am now when I knock on her door at midnight to see if my dog has escaped into her garden again!
So that was some of the things I have done to increase the hope and positivity in my life. I know there are still a lot of problems in the world, and everybody will face challenging times in their lives – this is unfortunately, the way of things. But in order to get beyond these concerns, remain a functioning human being and gain some enjoyment out of life we must build and maintain HOPE. Hope in our own power, potential, and ability to cope, and hope in the goodness of other people. It can take a while, but these steps aren’t complicated or expensive. I’m not saying I’m perfect, the odd irrational fear still raises its head and there are days when I struggle. But if I go to bed at night knowing I’ve made someone’s day a bit better and I’ve ticked something off my list then I go to sleep happy.
*Stress is one of the leading causes of disease and illness in the modern world, contributing to between 75% and 90% of illness. * Paul J. Rosch, ‘Job Stress: America’s Leading Health Problem’, USA Magazine, May 1991.
**Eddie Wren, ‘Can’t tear yourself away from the computer? Too much time online can lead to stress, sleeping disorders and depression’, www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2175230