COVID-19 Survival Guide: The Power of the Pause

Ann StrombergAnn Stromberg, Emotional Wellness Counselor

After spending so much time in self-quarantine and having downtime it may seem redundant to think about taking time to pause. Have you taken the time to pause and allow your mind to take a break? Spending time and allowing the mind to take some time off from our daily chatter creates a respite from the stressors in our current world. The chatter, Buddhists refer to this as the “monkey mind”, drives our mood usually without our conscious understanding. Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love describes it as “My mind swings wildly through time, touching on dozens of ideas a minute, unharnessed and undisciplined”. Living in uncertain times allows for an increase in distractions and decreases our ability to focus.  

Pausing is taking time to tune out and be still. It is in this time when we slow down and listen to our thoughts that we gain insight into our deepest feelings and beliefs. So much of our belief system stems from our unconscious thought patterns often learned while we were young. The beliefs we internalized long ago are reinforced daily in our thoughts. Pausing is a simple strategy to connect to our deepest beliefs. Begin by setting aside a time to be present with your thoughts. Find a quiet space to be without distractions and interruptions. It may help to set a timer and always begin with a short time, just a few minutes. 

You will be able to extend the time as your comfort level grows. Allow your thoughts to surface and try to listen without reaction. No matter the thought or its validity, just acknowledge it without reaction. After your time is up, assess and reflect on the thoughts that were present. Is there a trend? Are the thoughts valid? Is there something to be learned from these thoughts? 

Continue to use your time to pause to evaluate your thoughts. Our evaluation of thoughts may identify some irrational thought patterns. We can use the information to determine if we are on the right track or if there may be some changes that are needed. The benefit of self-assessment is our ability to learn from our experiences through reflection. We can use our internal dialog to help us dispel incorrect thought patterns or to build on our positive experiences. As we grow in our ability to pause and reflect, our ability to resist judging ourselves will grow. We will be able to have a clear perspective of our thought patterns. Don Miguel Ruiz discusses in The Four Agreements the power of our words can lead us to happiness or misery. 

The power of our self-dialog is strong. Using the power of the pause will help to alleviate anxiety and stress as well. As we feel anxious or stressed, take time to stop and listen to the thoughts driving the emotions. Begin to assess these thoughts and ask “is this thought valid” and “can it be changed”. This strategy will help take control of anxiety and lessen our reaction. We can’t eliminate stress or anxiety but we can change our reaction to negative feelings by recognizing the source. If it is valid, we can take steps to correct and if it is not valid we can take steps to eliminate it. Every time we pause and reflect we build more control over where our thoughts lead us. Our efforts and energy go where our attention goes and creating a path towards our best life begin with a pause.

COVID-19 Survival Guide: Moving out of Quarantine

Ann StrombergAnn Stromberg, Emotional Wellness Counselor

Are you feeling ready to get back out into the workforce and soar or are you feeling less excited about the future? This new practice of working from home has left so many of us feeling isolated and out of touch with the world. For some, our old work position may have changed permanently, being furloughed or working a reduced schedule and this can create very stress-filled feelings. All the change and uncertainty we face may have started to erode our confidence in the future. The key to maintaining or boosting our self-esteem is to limit our negative self-talk and we have to become our own cheerleader!  We often limit ourselves by limiting our vision and we become exactly what we envision for ourselves. We understand the power of our thoughts on our mood and wellbeing, but often forget the power of our unconscious thoughts that drive us without our knowledge.  It is hard to outperform our self-image. Honestly, sometimes the biggest factor limiting our success is our inability to see our future as bright.

The possibilities are endless when we shift our thinking over to a positive self-image. If you are thinking that you have a positive vision of your potential: that is a great place to start. We can all take time to assess the level of our positive vision for our future. Allow yourself to take some time to sit down and assess your self-worth; it may take some time to determine your authentic beliefs. Write it down and really think about the language that you have chosen. Does it resonate with what you want or how you imagine your future? Remember, we often limit ourselves by our own beliefs. It doesn’t matter if your vision is spot on or not what you want, you can begin to shift the vision by completing a few simple exercises. We can begin by creating a list of our good qualities. This sounds so simple, but often really challenging when we are honest. The list may begin small, maybe one word but take time and let it grow. Start with one or two qualities and then try to build to ten, twenty, fifty, or as far as you can go!

This can be an ongoing process and updated as often as needed. Take time to examine what you have to offer, what qualities give you value as a person. What qualities make you valuable to an employer and add those to your list.  Then review your list frequently. If you are in the process of a job search, think about how these qualities can be translated into what you can offer an employer. Speak the words out loud. Stating what we believe really helps to embed it into our thought process. Begin to notice the language you are using in your mind, notice the tone your self-talk. If at anytime the negative or self-doubt starts to creep in, change that language immediately and replace it with something from your list. Again, state it out loud. Hearing the words will really help us to believe it! This process may have to be repeated frequently until you can truly embrace what you have to offer.

Regardless of where these past few months in quarantine have taken us, we can always take some time and examine our positive and negative behaviors. Gaining a confidence boost or just gaining clarity about our self-image and our vision for our future will benefit each of us. Take the positive self- growth journey and let all the possibilities unfold.

COVID-19 Survival Guide: Habits

Ann Stromberg

Ann Stromberg, Emotional Wellness Counselor

The biggest challenge most of us have faced during the pandemic is spending so much time at home. Being home has changed the way we work, the way we communicate, and the way we manage our lives. We are overloaded with information about the way COVID-19 is impacting us and that the impact is negative. It is time to make a shift and begin to boost our mood and create some good habits for  our own wellbeing. It takes approximately 21 days to create a habit and now we have the time.

Habits increase the speed and efficiency of ordinary tasks that we perform every day. For example, we can brush our teeth or drive to work with ease because it is a habit. If we didn’t have these habits we would be relearning simple tasks every time we needed to do them. Good habits help us through the day by making some necessary tasks automatic. The neuroplasticity of the brain makes it possible to train the brain just like we train our bodies with exercise. We can change our behavior by redirecting our attention to what we need. Creating a good habit can be just that simple, but it does require some effort. What steps could be implemented to increase our mindfulness, create habits of wellbeing, and increase our happiness?

Wellbeing is defined as a state of being comfortable, healthy, and happy. We all want to be less stressed, less rushed, and feel happier. We see strategies for a quick fix to wellbeing and happiness, but creating a habit of wellbeing takes some effort. What can be done so we can be more mindful or aware of our happiness level? Creating a habit of wellbeing can be cultivated with some simple steps and can be created in about three weeks. One of the fastest ways to increase our happiness is to create a gratitude habit. Gratitude is a term that has been used a lot and it almost sounds like a new trend. Gratitude has always been an important and quick way to boost our mood. Actually, it is impossible to be grateful and depressed at the same time. We can always find one thing we can be grateful for at any time when we look for it. When we make the effort to shift our attention to something that is beautiful or that makes us smile, gratitude can be found. Noticing simple things that give us a moment of pleasure, we can make that moment our opportunity to feel gratitude.  Gratitude is the best mood booster we have and it is always available. This pandemic has given us time to try and create a new habit. Challenge yourself to create gratitude habit during the next few weeks. Simply begin by setting a reminder to pause and find a reason the be grateful. Choose a time or place that is easy for you to see the reminder and make an effort to find gratitude at that moment. Another challenge would be to set a reminder on your phone every hour to take a gratitude break. Imagine feeling more happiness every hour of the day! Every time you take a gratitude break, pause, and notice how you feel. Repeat daily for 21 days! You may find that you are grateful you were able to create a new habit and you will be happier!  We all want to be healthy and happy, so let’s create a habit of wellbeing.