Rx 22 The Antidote to Helplessness: Action with Intention

By Dr. S.D. Shanti, ©2020 Adapted from my book The Time-Starved Woman’s Guide to Emotional Wellbeing: tools and strategies for balance.

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: 

  1. Personal agency, where you take intentional action to help yourself. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 

For maximum effect, try a “Dual Dose of Antidotes.” Take intentional action and back it up with belief in your ability to manage challenges that come your way. The combination of the two antidotes makes you unstoppable.

Rx 21 The How of Lasting Change: Take the Mister Rogers Pledge

By Dr. S.D. Shanti, ©2020, Photo by  Mariana Carvalho  on  Scopio

Rx 20 discussed what are some of the things that must be done to correct structural inequalities. Yet, how can we come together to create change when people are polarized? This video offers a way for how people can come together and create lasting change: Take the Mister Rogers Pledge.

Although I created this video in 2018 on the 90th birthday of Mr. Fred Rogers, the message is still relevant today. Mr. Rogers was an American television personality who achieved iconic status. He was the producer and host of the much-loved, long-running children’s television show Mister Rogers Neighborhood, which was widely viewed by children of all backgrounds in the United States.

Note: This video has been reviewed by Mr. Joe Negri, who played played Handy Man Negri on the show and by Professor Albert Bandura at Stanford, who is also featured in the video in connection with his landmark work on how children learn aggression and violence through observation of others. Mr. Rogers was motivated to create a show for children because of the educational potential of television, and because he was unhappy about the extent of violence on television already present in the 1950’s.

Rx 19 Intentional Relaxation

By Dr. S.D. Shanti, ©2020 Adapted from my book The Time-Starved Woman’s Guide to Emotional Wellbeing: tools and strategies for balance.

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.

Rx 18 Move More, Sit Less: this video explains how and why

By Dr. S.D. Shanti, ©2020

Millions of people are suddenly dependent on computers for work-related video calls. Then, they transition into video calls with family and friends. Finally they relax with movies streamed via the Internet. All of this adds up to increased amounts of sitting.

Therefore, Risk Factor Mama, Epidemiologist and Expert in All Manner of Deadly Threats to Life, decided to speak out on this topic.

Please reuse and repurpose this video to dance at your desk.

Mindfulness Webinar Open to the Public, May 20, 2020

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.

Rx 17 Notice the Small Things in Your Life That are Sources of Joy and Meaning

By Dr. S.D. Shanti ©2020, Adapted from my book The Time-Starved Woman’s Guide to Emotional Wellbeing: tools and strategies for balance.

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.

Rx 16 Five Tools for Handling Painful and Runaway Emotions

By Dr. S.D. Shanti Copyright ©2020

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.

1. Stop Sign—Putting the Brakes on Runaway Emotions

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.

2. Hit Your Reset Button—Clearing Your Mind and Committing to Your Priority

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.

3. Teflon Mind—Letting Upsets Slide Away

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.

4. Time Out—Getting Some Space to Gather Your Thoughts

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.

5. Calming Visualizations—Accessing Peace in Stressful Situations

Let your imagination support you in feeling calm. By visualizing calm scenes, you can access peace in stressful situations.

Close your eyes and picture an image or a place that gives you a peaceful feeling. Breathe gently and slowly as you let yourself become fully absorbed in your imagination.

Exhale and let your body relax. Conjure up this pleasant image whenever you are feeling stressed or you are about to enter a situation that is outside your comfort zone.

Rx 15 Check In Regularly on the Spectrum of Wellbeing

By Dr. S.D. Shanti

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.

© Dr. S.D. Shanti, 2020

Rx 14 Mindfulness Meditation: no cushion or monastery needed

Dr. S.D. Shanti, April 17, 2020

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.

If all of this seems like a lot of work, just take a piece of chocolate, put it in your mouth, and savor it with your full attention. Close your eyes. Let the chocolate melt and enjoy the richness. Breathing is a good anchor for calm, but as you know, sometimes chocolate can come in a close second. And when you eat chocolate mindfully, you are more likely to be satisfied with less (so you can enjoy your chocolate and not feel guilty about eating it).
© 2020, Dr. S.D. Shanti

Image by Jacqueline Macou from Pixabay