Five Things I Am Grateful For Today

It is October 26th, and this morning we got our first snow. This is NOT one of the things I am grateful for, mind you, but as I look out my window at the gray, cold wetness that is today, I realize that the only way through this very long upcoming winter is going to be by being grateful, today and and everyday, for whatever I can find to appreciate.

In some ways 2020 has flown by. I for one, cannot believe that it is nearly November when I still feel like I am waiting for summer to happen. And yet, at the same time, I have felt each and every day of this strange year. The angst caused by the pandemic, the anxiety of the upcoming election, fears from job loss or tightening finances, and just the overwhelming uncertainty of not being able to plan or look forward to much of anything – these stresses have gotten to all of us.

I have often ended my day by thinking of five things that I am grateful for and writing them in a small notebook that I use as a Gratitude Journal. But today I am going to do a mid-day gratitude check just to readjust my thoughts on this somewhat miserable gray day. Here are five things that happened today for which I am grateful:

  1. This morning as the snow first started to stick to the grass, leaves, and flowers in my yard, I looked out the window and saw the most beautiful red fox run through my neighbor’s yard. Every so often I see this fox, but it usually in the evening or early morning, and never in broad daylight. But this little guy seemed to be having fun, running through the snowflakes, his thick bushy tail flopping behind him. His coat was beautiful, in fact, and was what caught my eye as he ran by.
  2. Like the fox, I am having a good hair day. This does not happen often, especially when it is wet outside, but there it is. My hair is soft and smooth and making me wish I had a date or something special to do with someone who would appreciate the rarity of this occurrence. But since I don’t, my Book Club will have to be the beneficiaries of my good-looking head of hair today!
  3. I have Book Club tonight – and I have actually read the book. In a rare show of initiative, I am completely prepared to discuss the characters, the plot line, and my overall impressions of the story (Writers and Lovers by Lily King). What’s more, since I have been on my own the whole day, I am really looking forward to meeting my friends via Zoom for a little bit of company and a great discussion.
  4. We have access to technology like Zoom (and Google Hangouts, and numerous other options) so that even now, in the midst of a pandemic, I can visit “in person” with my friends, my daughters and my grandson. At work, I can keep up with meetings and discuss difficult topics face-to-face rather than just exchanging emails. Imagine how hard these last nine months would have been if not for the wonders of this technology!
  5. Full disclosure, this happened yesterday, but I am still remembering it with so much gratitude. For the very first time, my little grandson said clear as a bell to me, “Hi, Gigi.” That made my day, both yesterday and today – and probably tomorrow, too!

So as you can see, once you start thinking of things to be grateful for, even on a cold, wet, miserable, gray day like today, one special thought will always lead to another, and before you know it, you are smiling. At least, I am! Happy Monday!

Five Ways to Release Anxiety and Imagine Better Outcomes

Cairn with a sunset in the background

“The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety.” –Deepak Chopra

It’s our third week of social distancing and shelter at home. On family group chats, we joke about changing from our day sweatpants to our night sweatpants and how many jigsaw puzzles we’ve done. Yet while we laugh at our imposed laziness, there is a sense of malaise that cannot be ignored. These are scary times.

Anxiety and Imagination

For better or worse, we humans are blessed with imagination. We can create elaborate realities that pass the time as pleasant daydreams, but just as easily we can imagine scenarios that leave us breathless with fear and anxiety.

As the news about coronavirus becomes more grim, and as we realize the ramifications of no work, few face-to-face social interactions, and the possibility of serious illness, it is easy to see why so many imagine the worst and become anxious these days.

Imagine a Better Outcome

But we don’t have to do this. Imagination used in its best form can create a reality that is much more hopeful and optimistic. Here are five ways to release the anxiety and tap into a more positive use of imagination:

  1. Breathe slowly and deeply when anxiety hits. Focus on feeling your breath entering and nourishing your body and spirit. If you can’t control your breathing, try using a breathing or meditation app to help you visually regulate inhaling and exhaling. Practice it regularly, and use this time to imagine the feeling of being safe and loved. When I was young and feeling anxious, I used to imagine myself sleeping in the palm of God’s hand – totally cared for and safe. That image is one that stays with me now.
  2. Take stock of what you have and be grateful. Whenever I feel anxious about money or my future, I remind myself that the universe is an abundant place with plenty for everyone. I have a roof over my head, clothes to wear, and food to eat. For today, I have everything I need (and most of what I want). Acknowledging this, and being grateful for it, relaxes my mind and allows me to imagine abundance rather than lack.
  3. Put things in order. An anxious mind is is cluttered with scary images and fears, and this disorder is often reflected in the space around you. To regain control of your mind, take back control of your space. Make the bed, put something back where it belongs, clean out a small drawer, or organize a shelf. These small acts of physical order can help put a mind at ease and free up mental space for positive imagination to work.
  4. Go outside. Set aside an hour to walk or go for a run in nature. Work in the garden, rake up dead grass (the order thing again), or plant a garden. Fresh air and activity do wonders to clear negative energy and help you imagine new possibilities. It is hard to feel anxious when the sun is on your face and birds are singing around you.
  5. Create a vision board. Once you have calmed your mind, creating a vision board is a fun way to use your imagination to design a better outcome to whatever the situation. Use old magazines and a notebook or one of the vision board apps that are available and collect images of the outcomes you desire. The pictures should reflect not just the things you want, but the feelings that are invoked when you think of your ideal outcome. Keep it fluid and update it often to start using your imagination more productively.

Imagination is a wonderful tool to help us create and escape the everyday. But when we imagine the worst that can happen, anxiety is the result. These days of isolation and uncertainty are scary. By harnessing the imagination, we can release our anxiety and create new possibilities for the future.

Cultivating Hope (and Attitude)

With the recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, and reports of an over 30% increase in suicides nationwide, much has been written in recent days about who may be at risk for suicide, the symptoms, and ways in which we can all be more aware of and ready to help those who have reached such deep levels of desperation or depression. Social media has been full of posts asking everyone to remember that we are all fighting a battle and to be more compassionate with each other, which is all good advice, of course.

Today in one such post, I read these words of the Dalai Lama and this really stuck with me. “It is important to cultivate an attitude that allows you to maintain hope.” Two facets of this idea are intriguing to me. First, that our attitudes have such a powerful impact on how hopeful we feel and second, that a more hopeful attitude can be cultivated.

Neither of these ideas is new or earth-shattering. We’ve all heard about the significant role that attitude plays in our day-to-day happiness, but few think of someone who is feeling hopeless as having an attitude problem. And it seems too harsh to accuse a person who is already feeling down of having a bad attitude, doesn’t it?

But listen to the phrasing the Dalai Lama uses… “it is important to cultivate an attitude that allows you to maintain hope.” The attitude has to be cultivated first, and then the ability to maintain hope will be present. Maybe the very fabric of hope is woven from our attitudes about life.

The last few days I have been feeling really down. There are practical and imagined reasons for this, I suppose, but when and where did my attitude go so far south that I was unable to see or feel any hope? And how does one cultivate the sort of attitude that’s needed for hope to grow and more importantly, to stick around through life’s many difficulties?

Maybe the key is just to recognize that life is uncertain. Period. A resilient attitude, one that encourages us to count the highs and learn from the lows every day, is bound to result in a more resilient spirit, a more hopeful spirit, over the course of a lifetime.

And when you have already begun to go down the rabbit hole of self-doubt, fear, longing or sadness? My mother often said, “This, too, shall pass.” Such a simple thought, and so true. Can you remember happier times and how you got there? Can you know that those happy times will return? Can you rest in that knowledge just for today and be at peace with it? Maybe one day at a time is how one cultivates a more hopeful attitude, despite whatever is happening in life.

The Dalai Lama had one other thing to say, “Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.” And so it does.