When faced with a difficult situation, such as the one we are in at this time, think and act—don’t react. Action backed up by intention, as opposed to a knee-jerk reflex, is what social scientists call “agency.” Action with intention is your way out of helplessness.
Keep in mind that you have the ability to act as an agent for yourself and take many courses of action.
There are three kinds of agency:
Personal agency, where you take intentional action to help yourself.
Proxy agency,where another person acts on your behalf. An example of this would be an attorney who represents your interests in a workplace issue.
Collective agency, where you work with others toward a common goal. For instance, you and your neighbors gather signatures to get a city ordinance passed.
The more you respond with thoughtful actions, rather than just reacting to events around you, the better you will feel about yourself and the world.
Although it might sound frivolous to intentionally relax, it is in fact a physical and emotional necessity. This has always been the case, but is even more relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When you are in high gear, you must relax and refresh to be at your best. However, the rational side of your mind might want to talk you out of relaxation because it feels indulgent, especially in the face of a mountain of responsibilities.
One of the most important things that you can do to help yourself at this time is to take time to unwind regularly. Your body will thank you and your performance will be sharper. Regular rest and relaxation are not luxuries but necessities for your mind and body.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
To help you relax, try tensing your muscles for a few seconds and then releasing them. You can do this in a systematic way by tensing your feet first and letting go, then tensing your legs and letting go, and working all the way up to your arms, your shoulders, and the muscles of your face. This is “progressive muscle relaxation.”
If you have the time to do the full routine, that’s great. However, in your time-starved life, sometimes taking a moment for a deep breath is about all you can manage. When crunched for time, try a micro-relaxation and focus only on one or two parts of your body.
Here’s a suggestion for a micro-relaxation. You can adapt it to meet your needs, whether you are at work or at home.
Straighten your arms; gently make your hands into a fist and hold them tightly, but not so tightly that you hurt. Hold the tension for a few seconds and notice the feeling. Then take a deep breath and slowly breathe out as you uncurl your fingers and let them rest on your lap.
Now, feel the contrast between tension and relaxation and appreciate the difference. Your hands might feel warm, heavy, or floppy like a Raggedy Ann doll. If you are at your desk, you can also try this with your feet.
If you are pressed for time, choose only your hands or feet and do this exercise for thirty seconds. It’s just enough time to nudge your mind out of the cycle of escalating tension, even when you are juggling your way through a hectic day.
Mindfulness is an ancient practice that is helpful in stress reduction and coping with difficult circumstances. It is also backed up by research in the psychology of health and wellbeing and will improve your quality of life, even if you are unable to change a lot of things at this time.
If you would like to participate in an interactive learning experience that is practical and immediately applicable to your daily life, please consider registering for my forthcoming webinar on May 20th at 7 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. You can register here: Access Your Inner Calm – Mindfulness Made Accessible to All.
In this webinar you will experience my unique way of teaching mindfulness, such that you can immediately apply it in your life and benefit from it.
If you have never attempted mindfulness practice, or if your previous attempts at mindfulness have been unsuccessful, I encourage you to give this a try.
My teaching method enables people to immediately apply the learnings even if they lead busy lives and don’t have much time to dedicate to a traditional mindfulness practice.
Since 1996, I have taught mindfulness in universities, hospitals, professional settings, religious organizations, adult education and businesses in the United States, Canada, Switzerland, Italy, Hong Kong and Thailand.
My focus is on practical steps you can take to integrate mindfulness into your daily life, such that it supports clarity when making decisions under stress. In this webinar you will learn how to maintain calm and a feeling of peace, even in difficult situations.
The proceeds from this workshop will support this website and blog. As the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected our financial situation, I would be grateful if you might consider supporting our work, and sharing this information with others who may also find the webinar useful.
Difficult situations can overshadow what is going well in your life, and the COVID-19 pandemic is like a giant shadow over all of our lives. There are many difficulties and challenges we are forced to accept. So many things are beyond our control and simple activities like visiting a friend or relative have become impossible.
As you work thorough the challenges, it is important to recognize and cultivate the good that is present in your life.
What are some of the good things, right in front of you, that you might be overlooking?
You may have to stretch your mind to notice the positive elements in your life. Try noticing the good, however small it might seem in the moment. Such things can be a source of joy and offer an uplift.
You don’t have to jump up and down clapping your hands. Noticing what is good in your life can be as simple as appreciating subtle things, such as the color of the sky, or listening to comedy or your favourite music on YouTube.
Mindfulness, practiced in its simplest form, for instance only sixty-seconds of focused attention, can nevertheless enable you to become aware of things that you may otherwise miss. If you like, you can just watch your belly rise and fall as you breathe and appreciate the intricacy of the human body.
What small things give you joy? Is it the smile of your child or grandchild? Might it be a joke that a friend shared with you in the course of a phone call? I’d love to hear about the simple joys in your life and invite you to share them below.
For Your Information: On May 20th at 7 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, I will be doing a webinar through Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix, Arizona. It is is open to the public and all proceeds will support the bookstore and our work during this difficult time.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected our financial situation negatively. Thus I would be grateful if you might consider supporting our work and sharing this information with others who may also find the webinar useful.
Excerpted from my book The Time-Starved Woman’s Guide to Emotional Wellbeing.
Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that this information is solely for educational purposes. It is not a substitute for help from a licensed mental health professional or other medical professional.
Your ability to clarify your thoughts can help you untangle yourself from negative emotions. When you act with intention to reduce the number of negative thoughts you have, you are taking deliberate steps toward the healthy side of The Spectrum of Wellbeing.
If you feel your negative emotions careening out of control, visualize a stop sign. Stop the swarm of thoughts in your mind. Then step back, and take a deep breath. Disengage from the situation and return to it when you calm down. It’s that simple—but it works.
When your mind is filled with too many negative thoughts, worries, or self-sabotaging remarks, stop thinking. Silence the chatter. Clear your mind and let it go blank. Then start over fresh and define what is most important in the moment, commit to it, and pursue your priority.
To get rid of negative words and thoughts, try picturing the reset button on a computer and envision yourself pushing it. Then let your thoughts fall away and restart with what is most important.
Words and thoughts are important. But in excess, they can literally be “too much” and block your flow and feed into distress. Having an onslaught of excessive thoughts is like having too many computer files—text, images, music, and presentations—open at the same time; when they run in parallel, they slow down your computer and frustrate you.
When you hit your Reset Button, clear your mind and open only the most important file! Then, with a focused mind, identify your goal, commit to what needs to get done, and do it.
You can vary the Reset Button metaphor to suit your preference. To get you started, here are a couple of variations on the theme:
Picture a chalkboard in a classroom, so full of words and diagrams that the amount of information makes you feel tense. Erase the board. Then write only what is most important. Commit to that and go forward.
Alternatively, you might find the image of a toilet handle helpful. It is graphic but effective. When you feel overwhelmed by negative thoughts and emotions, do a “flush and focus”—flush the handle, let the excess of words and thoughts flow away, then focus on what’s important.
This tool, created by Marsha Linehan, a professor and researcher at the University of Washington, has you picturing your upsetting thoughts on a non-stick pan and then letting them slide off, the way eggs or pancakes do. Use this image any time someone upsets you. Tell yourself immediately to do a Teflon Mind so the distress doesn’t stay with you like stuck-on batter. Instead, take deep breaths and let your upsets slide away, and go on with your day.
When you find yourself in a tense situation, take a Time Out to get some space and gather your thoughts. This tool allows you to put the brakes on your runaway emotions and keeps you from making potentially damaging or embarrassing remarks.
An ancient Sanskrit proverb says that the spoken word is like an arrow. Once released, you can’t take it back. No matter how you release it, whether in person, by voicemail, or by e-mail, what is said is said, and what is sent is sent—there is no retrieving it.
The next time you feel yourself spiraling into a heated argument, take a Time Out before you say something you’ll regret. Do something to help you disengage from the upsetting situation so you’re more in control of yourself and not flooded with anger or other negative emotions.
Tell the other person you need some space before you can continue the discussion. Go into another room and take deep breaths. Get a drink of water. Go surf the Internet for a few minutes. The point is to do something neutral—anything—to shift your focus and reduce your tension. Then come back to the discussion when you are more grounded.
Caution! Don’t use a Time Out to avoid an issue. Let the other person know that you plan to return to the topic when you are calmer. Time Outs save you lots of heartache and regret.
At first glance, daily hassles might not look like a big issue. Maybe you are even brushing them off, especially in light of the COVID-19-related suffering and deaths. However, when small stressors pile up they can exert a significant burden on your psyche.
Checking in regularly on the Spectrum of Wellbeing will enable you to keep track of your emotional health. This way you can take constructive action before the stressors become too much to bear.
If you find yourself on the left side of the spectrum, chances are that you might benefit from prescriptions such as the daily practice of brushing your mind. Doing so will help maintain your emotions in the zone of wellbeing.
If you find yourself in the middle of the spectrum for too long, or if you feel yourself sliding to the right side of the spectrum, please seek help from a mental health professional. If you do not have someone you can turn to, please do a Google search under the term “crisis line” in combination with your postal code. Your physician or other primary health care provider can also be of help in such situations.
The PDF below is excerpted from my book, The Time-Starved Woman’s Guide to Emotional Wellbeing. In this section you will find insights about taking charge of what you can control, even when much of life is out of control, as it is now. Next week, I will share more tools from the first chapter. Please note: The information is applicable to everyone, not only women.
Thank you for subscribing to my blog. I hope that you are doing as well as possible, given the current conditions.
Do you have specific questions or topics you would like covered in this blog? I am planning a section called “Answer Bank” where I will answer questions related to emotional health and wellbeing and will share my responses in a dedicated page on this site.
Chances are, if you have a question, someone else also shares the same concerns. That is why I felt the Answer Bank could grow into a useful resource. And of course I will keep your identity anonymous when I post the question and answer there.
Behind the Scenes at Prescriptions for Hope
Currently, I am in discussion with two child psychologists and two professional singers (one is a formally trained chanting teacher and the other is classically trained.)
My goal is to increase resources for parents and children, and to offer live chanting sessions via the Internet, because chanting offers psychological benefits and is something everyone can do.
Prior to posting on the blog, everything I publish is reviewed by colleagues in mental health and public health. This is to ensure quality and readability. I also have non-psychologists read as much as possible, to ensure clarity for general audiences.
If you are a mental health professional and would like to volunteer as a reviewer, I would welcome that.
Helping Medical Personnel Procure Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
You might have heard about the shortage of protective gear among frontline medical personnel in the United States. Doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and others are forced to work with highly infectious patients and are not provided adequate PPE such as masks that protect against COVID-19.
Already, this has resulted in deaths of medical personnel. There have also been instances, where they requested proper equipment, and the workers were either terminated from their jobs or reprimanded. This situation makes the pandemic even more challenging when our medical professionals are unnecessarily risking their health and lives while helping the public.
Upon discovering by chance that medical clinics near me were lacking masks, protective gowns and sanitizer, I got involved in helping them procure supplies. In the course of my advocacy endeavors, I happened to learn about severe shortages not only in the greater Phoenix area, but also in the northern part of Arizona.
After a lot of intensive outreach and search for resources, I’m pleased to share with you that in addition to local clinics, I was able to help a large rural hospital as well as its related satellite clinics that serve some of the hardest hit areas of the state.
As a result of my helping with PPE procurement, my videos and other Prescriptions for Hope were slowed down. However, in the next days, I will be releasing more prescriptions.
Book on Emotional Wellbeing
Currently I am preparing PDF files of some of the chapters from my book, The Time-Starved Woman’s Guide to Emotional Wellbeing: tools and strategies for balance. My goal is to make these available to you here at no cost. These chapters contain research-based tools to promote emotional health and the content is relevant for men and women.
While revisions were underway, the original publisher was bought by another company thereby delaying everything and hampering access to online orders. The planned revisions don’t affect the usefulness of the content.
If you are interested, I have a limited number of copies that I had purchased from the publisher and can sell to you. All proceeds would go toward the operating costs of this website and blog.
Please let me know if you would like me to present a webinar for a group or organization that you are a member of.
Later this month, I will be doing a webinar, Mindfulness Meditation: a multi-faceted tool for turbulent times, for the Columbia University Alumni Association, Northern California Chapter.
In May, I will be doing a webinar, Access Your Inner Calm – mindfulness made accessible to all, via Changing Hands Bookstore in the Phoenix area. This webinar is open to the public and as soon as I have the sign up information, I will share it with you.
An Uplifting Way to Start Off Your Pandemic Mornings
Morning Dance by Spyrogyra is energizing and uplifting. You may like to start your day with it. You can indeed dance to it, solo or with a loved one…or just tap your toes to the music while heating your water for coffee or tea.
We are all in this pandemic together, and you can be sure, where ever you are in the world, that as you listen and/or dance to this, I am with you in spirit and am doing the same. I use this music like a tea bag to infuse myself with positive feelings to help me face challenges. I’m sharing this with you in the hopes that it will add an uplifting moment to your day.
Along those lines, if you have a favorite piece of music that you start your day with, I’d love to hear it! And if enough of you share your personal favorites of uplifting music, we could even have a dedicated page on this site with our collective playlist.
Mindfulness helps you to manage stress and increase your awareness of joy and gratitude in your life. It can also help to enrich your relationships with loved ones.
You don’t have to sit on a cushion for hours. Instead, you can simply turn everyday activities such as walking, eating, washing dishes, chopping vegetables and singing into mindfulness meditation.
Below is an excerpt from my book, The Time-Starved Woman’s Guide to Emotional Wellbeing: tools and strategies for balance, which offers you a brief overview of mindfulness. Of course this information is not for women only. I’ve been teaching mindfulness since 1996 to women, men and children in a variety of settings, including at the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland.
You might consider chocolate mediation. It’s something everyone tells me they like and I will be sharing more on chocolate meditation in forthcoming posts.
Mindfulness—Going from Automatic to Aware
Mindfulness is a non-religious activity that promotes health and is supported by modern-day brain and physiology research. It is a widely-used tool in health psychology.
Mindfulness is about going from automatic to aware and being focused on the here and now. It is one of the simplest and most effective ways to appreciate what is good in your life. You can also use it to become aware, in a non-judgmental way, of negative thoughts that automatically pop up in your mind.
Picture your mind as the pendulum of a clock, moving back and forth, from the past into the future. The mid-point of the pendulum swing is the here and now. When your thoughts are on autopilot and drift off into worries about the future or criticism about your past actions—or any negative thoughts, for that matter—bring yourself from automatic to aware.
Notice where your thoughts are straying. Are your automatic thoughts steering you toward feeling bad? Take note of what registers for you and steer yourself toward neutral or positive thoughts.
To get started with Mindfulness, breathe slowly and focus on your breath. Use your awareness of your breath as an anchor to keep your thoughts from drifting in unwanted directions. In moments when you catch your thoughts going in directions you don’t want or don’t like, gently bring your attention back to your breath. You can look at your belly rising and falling as you breathe. Or you can notice the air going in and out of your nose as you inhale and exhale.
Your breath is your doorway to “stillness on demand.” It is available to you any time and any place, no matter the circumstances, whether it is during a medical procedure, at a performance review, or if you are about to erupt in frustration at your spouse or child.
Cultivating Mindfulness is easy and within everyone’s reach. It is not necessary to sit on a cushion or go on a retreat. If you’re too wound up—or just don’t have time—to sit quietly and focus on your breathing, you can focus on whatever you are doing, whether it is walking, eating, drinking, or working in the kitchen. You can even use everyday sounds in your environment, like the chirping of a bird or the ticking of clock, to keep you “aware” and keep your mind from drifting to automatic or negative thoughts.
Dance is not only fun, it is a good way to exercise. Its benefits for your mind and body are backed up by research. Hope this video inspires you to dance, regardless of whether you are confined with family or alone.
by Dr. SD Shanti, April 5, 2020. For translation and further details on how to use this tool, please scroll below.
What is Inside of You: Your thoughts, emotions, feelings, and motivations.
What You Do: Your actions and behaviors, including your interactions with other people.
The World Around You: Your environment, which includes the people around you, the culture in which you live, the physical structures of your home, aspects of your neighborhood, and the political and economic climate in which you live and work. The elements of your environment surround you in an array of concentric circles.
Use this three-part tool whenever you feel overloaded or stuck. You can also use it if you simply want to find a new way of looking at an old problem.
How to Use this Three-Part Tool
Whenever you are stuck or stressed, ask yourself these questions:
How can I think differently?
Can I view this situation from a different perspective?
What can I do differently?
Who can help me?
What can I change in my environment?
It might take some effort on your part to answer these questions. Allow yourself to be creative and go beyond conventional limits when seeking answers. Even if you cannot answer all of these questions, try answering one or two. The answers will give you clues for solving your problem.
Do not feel that you must use all three corners of the cartoon at once. Just begin with one corner, even if you cannot address all of them. Because the three corners are inter-connected in a two-way manner, any change you take in place can potentially have a positive impact on another corner.Remember – you always have options—and the questions above will help you find clues to solutions.
In forthcoming posts, I will share with you how people use this guide to solve situations and address challenges, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
By the way, this is my translation of science into practice, such that large numbers of people can use it in their daily lives. It is based on a landmark paper, The Self-System in Reciprocal Determinism(1978), by Professor Albert Bandura at Stanford University. And just in case you are wondering, yes he has seen it and approved it.