This may be the most surreal holiday season ever. Around the world, COVID is forcing us to refactor celebrations and traditions. Feelings of despair, overwhelm, frustration, anxiety and rage are palpable in the news, on social media, and in conversations with friends and family. So what is a person to do? While there are no easy answers, and our emotional rollercoasters are bumpier than ever, perhaps we can find some inspiration to see our world a little differently. By choosing to shift our lens we may in fact even feel different. Anne Frank once wrote, “Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”
Here are some ideas that might help you defy and define the darkness you feel:
Pause daily for quiet reflection. Whether you pray, meditate, or spend time with inspiring texts, making a habit of connecting with a sense of awe or faith can bring a different perspective that opens you to new possibilities. People with a reflection practice that I’ve spoken with find it most useful to start their day this way. In the quiet of the early morning hours, they find that their minds are quiet and hearts more open. To get started, set your alarm 10 minutes early and find a quiet place to sit. You may want to bring Mala or Rosary beads, an inspiring or spiritual text, or a timer, depending on your focus. Look for apps or websites that offer guided meditations if you need additional support. Here is a Loving Kindness meditation that you might enjoy to get you started.
Start a gratitude list. Mine lives in my daily planner. Even on the days when I’m not feeling particularly magnanimous, I can always find something for which I’m grateful. Maybe it’s the fact that my furnace works on a cold day, or that I have enough food to feed myself and my family. I can be grateful for the people in my life, qualities I possess, and even for the ideas I glean from books or teachers. Focusing on gratitude is a proven way to shift yourself away from intensely unpleasant emotions like fear and anxiety and towards your values. Write down three things every day for which you are grateful - and pay attention to how your mood shifts when you finish. Here’s an article that might increase your motivation to do this daily.
Reconnect with a friend. Sometimes when we’re feeling blue, it’s easy to believe that we are all alone. To counteract this narrative, I encourage you to reach out and connect with people you find dear. Perhaps there’s a friendship that has gone quiet or a kind-hearted colleague you no longer see. Perhaps they are suffering too. Your phone call, card or text might be the emotional boost that they needed. As Leo Tolstoy wrote; “Just as one candle lights another and can light thousands of other candles, so one heart illuminates another heart and can illuminate thousands of other hearts.”
Pay it forward. Planning and executing anonymous acts of kindness is a proven way to lift your spirits. Whether you pay for the person behind you in line at the coffee shop, play ‘Secret Santa’ for a lonely neighbor or organize a food drive, you can’t help but be lifted up by surprising and delighting others. If you need ideas, check out this Neighborhood Kindness Challenge.
Do something you love. During this season of giving, we often forget to recharge our own batteries. When was the last time you indulged in a hobby or activity that you thoroughly enjoy? A client recently shared that the only way he’s able to navigate the overwhelming stress of his work right now is to make sure he has time for his hobbies. Whether you like to hike, cook, dance, fly radio-controlled airplanes or play your guitar, spending some time engaged in activities like these is a way to boost your energy and improve your mood. It’s not selfish to spend time on the things that bring you pleasure - it’s a necessary strategy to pull you out of the darkness.
If you are feeling discouraged or anxious, sad or frustrated, taking even the smallest step can help you shift emotionally and improve your mental health. To state the obvious, it’s important that you take care of yourself. This can be hard to remember if you’re feeling low, but it’s important to act on. The ever-practical Eleanor Roosevelt said, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” Figure out how to light your “candle” and you’ll be on the road to feeling better.
If you'd like more ideas and strategies, watch the recording of our recent Holidays + COVID = ? webinar. Marc Brackett and Robin Stern offer useful perspectives and additional strategies that will help you take good care.
Co-Founder and Chief Learning Officer, Oji Life Lab