Over the next few weeks, I hope to help myself and others construct something of their own rocket to help them fly to a safer place of optimism and balance. Before diving into the nuts and bolts of some technical things and how neglect and my ignorance of them has contributed to my revisitng of Stage One of trauma recovery, I thought I'd hit on some positive, practical, basic, and concrete things that I have found to be very helpful in the past.
Self Care to Start
Perhaps the most important and effective thing that a person can do to boost their spirits flows from self care. I'd reinjured an old back injury a few months ago, and the pain was so terrible that I neglected myself. A friend of mine asked me when I'd last bathed after I was able to walk a bit better, and I couldn't remember. She made me promise that I would take a bath, and she said it was the first step towards feeling better. I found that she was quite right, but I'd spent a good chunk of time ignoring my body because of physical pain. My first step forward out of that blue fog came through basic efforts to care for myself. I was amazed at how much better I felt afterwards and how nice it felt to indulge myself in a leisurely bath instead of my sickbed.
Some people need to be reminded to slow down, and some need to be urged to be more active, depending on their patterns of responding to stress. In my case, I needed to be inspired to be active. I'd retreated from the pain through inactivity, but I also retreated from my friends. My neglect of self points to the importance of staying connected to others instead of retreating in isolation. I remember an acquaintance of mine who often admitted that “isolation was his drug.” When we're in pain, we tend to avoid social contact. Do it anyway! It will help if you surround yourself and stay in contact with people who encourage you to be healthy and optimistic. They can loan their optimism to you if you're lacking your own from time to time.
Another way of nurturing positive thoughts can come through setting simple goals. If we think of ourselves as ineffective, pursing a measurable goal and tracking our work as well as our progress can show us that we do have choice which gives us a sense of accomplishment. There's that old joke about how one goes about eating an elephant. We do it a bite at a time, and all we need to do sometimes involves planning realistic steps which allow us to tackle something that seems to great for us to fathom.
If we have a bank of bad experiences, setting manageable goals and achieving them gives us evidence to the contrary. We tend to believe that we are powerless when we're overwhelmed, but setting goals helps ground us in reality and lets us see more objectively that we are not as powerless as we feel. Tracking our achievement also can serve to help us be accountable to ourselves which is always easier and less uncomfortable than having others impose it on us.
Visualization as an Adjunct to Goal Setting
Psychology Today recently published an article about the “Best Possible Self” visualization as a means of significantly boosting optimism. The more often that we engage in the practice, the more benefit we will glean, but even just following through with it once can yield much help to us in the short term. I am reminded of how certain therapies take advantage of the part of the mind that can't distinguish what is real from what is imagined, so it does not surprise me that research supports the effectiveness of this mental exercise which nurtures the soul.
From the article entitled A Simple Exercise to Boost Optimism (And Improve Health):
When you have at least 10 minutes of free time or more, envision yourself in a future that has turned out to be the rosiest that is possible (and feasible). It may help to pick a particular time-point in the future, say 10 years from now.
In this future, you have reached all the goals you had set for yourself, you have climbed the pinnacle of your dream career, you have found the soul-mate and love of your life, you are in peak physical shape, you have friends who are trustworthy and caring, and so on. You get the picture. Visualize what such a future will be like and feel like to you in as much detail as possible.
This practice differs from mediation because it is guided and purposeful, where as meditation aims at calming the self and the mind. While the best possible self visualization exercise might draw on similar skills, it draws on creativity and problem solving and goal setting skills. Mediation also focuses on the present moment, and this kind of visualization focuses entirely on a bright future. The article cites several research studies that demonstrate the many desirable benefits of the exercise on mood, outlook and even on pain tolerance. And optimism brings many subtle but powerful health benefits.
Until the next post, don't give up! Don't let the dream squashers get the best of you! They don't deserve the satisfaction.
For further reading until the next post:
- Robert Cialdini's Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
- Judith Herman's Trauma and Recovery
- Bessel Van der Kolk's The Body Keeps Score
Past Your Past