A guest blog submission by Karen Schlaegel.
At the time of writing, the world is going through a pandemic. The Corona virus is dominating the news worldwide. It’s something we have never experienced and it is affecting every single one of us (without a doubt, some more than others).
And while the pandemic is unprecedented in this form, we all know and have experienced that life can be tough. We have all faced challenges of varying degrees. And when I say “challenges”, I also mean heart-breaking pain that at times seems all-consuming and which we feel we’ll never recover from. So, is it cynical to talk about staying positive in times of crisis? Is it even feasible?
While I agree that even during our darkest moments, we can take away a life lesson, a positive mindset to me doesn’t mean that we should push away feelings of pain and simply plaster over them with “positive feelings”. Cultivating a positive attitude does not equal denial of everything else nor does it mean forcing ourselves to look for the positives in everything.
So, what does a positive mindset look like then? And is it something we can maintain during our darkest moments or do we need to accept that it becomes useless during crisis times like these? I personally believe a positive mindset makes a huge difference to how we live our lives and how we cope with shitstorms. But it really mustn’t be mistaken for being happy all the time.
Here are the elements that I consider crucial in cultivating a positive mindset and the combination of which helps me personally to navigate life’s “challenges” (aka shitstorms).
- Feel it all.
This can be tough. Much tougher than it sounds. I certainly have the tendency of wanting to avoid painful emotions. We sometimes feel that if we let ourselves feel the pain fully, we’ll never recover. We feel it’s too much to endure. But trying to suppress them just means that they’ll resurface again. And again. Try to sit with all feelings. Cry and scream if you feel like it. Breathe mindfully to get yourself through the storm of emotions raging inside.
- Acceptance and self-compassion
We often exacerbate our feelings by getting frustrated with ourselves. When the whole Corona crisis kicked off, I had a few very heavy days. I felt very scared. At the same time, I also felt shame and guilt to even feel that way, when others were putting their lives at risks every single day – while I was sat safely at home. You are most likely always going to find somebody who is worse off than you – but that doesn’t take away your pain and it doesn’t make your feelings any less valid. It can certainly help to put things into perspective, but it does not help to condemn ourselves for feeling them in the first place (by the way, this also applies to judging other people’s feelings 😉). We need to accept our feelings as they are. And just as you would with a friend: show yourself compassion instead of judgement.
- Step back and observe
Become an observer of yourself and the situation you find yourself in: as an observer who views the situation from a safe distance: what can you see? It’s actually quite tricky to focus only on what you can observe as we are conditioned to go into judgement mode. We interpret situations and on the one hand that of course makes a lot of sense. But on the other hand, we are relying on past experiences to guide our present life. We attach meaning to things which we then believe to be “true”. Instead, try to take a step back and look at the situation with fresh and neutral eyes. What is it that you can actually see now? Stripping back any subjective interpretation or “mindreading”.
- Opening your perspective
Especially when we are in fight or flight mode, our vision narrows down significantly and we zoom in on one aspect at the expense of the bigger picture. How else can you see the situation? What have you been missing? What other options are available to you? And what else? No matter how hopeless a situation is, you always have options. Let that sink in. And even if you cannot believe that at times, what if you – just for a moment – pretended that to be true? If we believe there is no way out, we are very unlikely to find a way out. But if we believe that we have options, even when we cannot identify them right this moment, we will be finding them eventually.
- This too shall pass
One of my favourite affirmations. So simple, so true and it immediately relaxes me (sometimes just a tiny bit but that can make all the difference). Look back at your life and appreciate all that you have overcome. When we are in the thick of it, it often seems to be never-ending. The only constant is change though. We don’t necessarily know when and how things will change and they might not change the way we wish for them to change – but change they will. Nothing is permanent in life.
There is so much research out there that supports the various claims how gratitude benefits our lives – mentally as well as physically. Feel free to read up on it but even more importantly, I invite you to find out for yourself. As many people, I started out with the classic tool of a daily gratitude journal. I still remember wondering how I could possibly find anything to be grateful for on a shitty day. Trust me, you’d be surprised! Supposedly we need 21 days to create a habit – how about committing to this for 21 days and see for yourself what changes. I don’t have a physical gratitude journal anymore these days, as gratitude has become an integral part of me. Whatever I am going through, I have a deep sense of gratitude for the small and big things in my life. And not because I am forcing myself to see the positives, but because my view of the world has been honed in a way, that I see the positives without having to “make me” notice them.
You are stronger than you give yourself credit for. This is not the same as me telling you “to be strong” (which I personally hate…). This is me telling you to believe in yourself. To believe in your strengths, the strengths that are there, even if you cannot feel them. This has nothing to do with having to even DO anything. It’s not about fighting back but about a deep inner knowing. Similarly, to finding alternative options, it’s something I invite you to make yourself believe, even only momentarily. What if you KNEW you were resilient and that you got this? Even when you feel the exact opposite. It also doesn’t mean that you have to do it all alone. Reach out, ask for support – those are also signs of strengths and resilience. Why would you do it all by yourself if you don’t have to? You are not getting a medal for making it extra hard on yourself.
The above is not meant as a step by step process. Dealing with things can be a very messy affair. And even when we feel we’ve felt it all and thought we moved on, feelings can return. We often go through various iterations and cycles. I do believe though that gratitude, a belief in your resilience are always available to you, every step of the way. Nobody says it’s going to be easy. But that’s just life.
I hope this or some of it resonates with you. I’d be interested to hear about your experience of dealing with this or any other crisis. Feel free to drop me an email.
Sending lots of love for whatever you are experiencing right now.
As a Life Coach, Karen supports people in activating their strengths, identifying their goals, working toward them, and generally moving through life with more ease, happiness, and fun. Karen is passionate about 1:1 coaching and strongly believes in its transformative powers. She offers coaching online and in person in Rosenheim/Germany. Aside from her directness, the most German thing about Karen is probably the fact that she saw David Hasselhoff in concert. In her defense, she was only 12 and her friend had free tickets… But she NEVER wears socks in sandals. Phew!
Creativity plays an important role in her life. Karen loves to write and her work has been published on Tiny Buddha, Having Time and Elephant Journal. Sign up to her monthly newsletter to get access to her monthly blogpost and musings and find out more about her coaching. And follow her on Instagram for (almost) daily inspiration posts.