This post was inspired by a newsletter that I sent out soon after Mother's Day earlier this year. I talked about the fact that for many of us, it can be extremely difficult to cope with a specific day in the calendar if it reminds us of someone that is no longer with us. It could be Mother or Father's day, a birthday, anniversary, Christmas or anything else that acts as a trigger for you.
I received some lovely replies to that newsletter which i really enjoyed reading. It made me think that it touched a chord with many of you, so I thought I would rework it as a blog post. I decided to focus on using gratitude to help get through a difficult time, which I hope you enjoy reading.
When my parents died it was a very sad and difficult time, but of course you can't make the assumption that losing a parent, or anyone, is always a sad thing. There could be any number of reasons why it's not. What is certain, is that whatever the situation, there will always be emotions involved. I feel that using gratitudes can be helpful to cope with any emotions, but also a helpful way to approach life generally. It's not just about facing times of difficulty, so I hope everyone will be able to take something away from this post.
The science behind gratitudes
Gratitude is actually big business now. Many large companies have increased staff morale, leadership qualities and productivity, amongst other things, by incorporating gratitudes into their work model. It doesn't only benefit those in the workplace though.
Research has shown that being grateful has a positive impact on the central nervous system and can actually affect the molecular structure of the brain. The result is that we are happier, healthier, less stressed and we're also likely to sleep better. What's not to like? If you're interested in understanding a bit more, read this article by The Power of Ideas on the power of gratitude for more details.
My own story
My mum died 11 years ago. I was only 31 at the time and about 8 weeks pregnant with Ivan. Sophie was 2 and a half and got chicken pox on the day of my mum's funeral. I can laugh about that now, but at the time it nearly tipped me over the edge, and means that I will forever associate chicken pox with funerals! I will always be grateful that I told my mum that I was pregnant just a couple of days before she was admitted to hospital and was still 'with us'.
My dad died almost two years after my mum. My parents had me late in life (I was an unexpected blessing according to my dad!), so they weren't young when they died, but that doesn't really make the grieving process any easier.
Using gratitude every day
Eleven years on, I'm happy to say that Mother's Day is no longer a traumatic day for me. I often think about my mum, but Mother's Day is now a day when I am particularly grateful for having her be my mum and can enjoy happy memories of her.
For the last few years I'd been trying to use gratitudes to help get me through difficult times like Mother's Day without realising that they were a 'thing'! Now I know a bit more about it, I have worked gratitudes in to my daily life with more purpose.
I use the Best Self Journal most days to keep myself organised, and one of the nicest parts about using it is the space to write three things you are grateful for morning and evening. I now find that even on days when I haven't used the journal, I am much more likely to take a step back from whatever I'm doing, long enough to think about what I am thankful for. It has definitely put me in a more positive frame of mind, and more importantly I think, it's helped me become a more thoughtful person.
What I'm grateful for
Of course this changes day to day. This morning when I went for a run through my local woods, I was grateful for the shade of the trees (it was about 28 degrees at 8:30am!), for my health so that I can run, for my running partner who gives me the incentive to keep up the running and for having somewhere as beautiful as Highwoods Country Park just a few minutes from where I live.
At times like Mother's Day it may well get a bit more deep and meaningful. As I mentioned in my newsletter, I will sometimes find old photos to help me remember my mum and dad and be grateful for them. These are a couple of my favourites.
The first one is in 1969 I think. My parents both worked in what was then Rhodesia (my mum was a nurse out there and my dad helped to run a school for local children on a Methodist mission). They met, married and my big brother and sister - the twins - were born out there. This is them all coming home to Britain for good on the ship SA Oranje. I don't know why, but I've always loved this picture, even though I wouldn't be around for another 5 years!
On their way back to England, 1969
The next picture is in 2003, just after Sophie was born. This was the first time they met Sophie. She was their first grandchild so it was a very special time for them.
Mum, Dad and Sophie - proud grandparents, 2003
Some easy ways to incorporate gratitude into your life
It's very simple to make gratitude a part of your everyday life. Here are a few pointers:
Interested in finding out more?
I find going out for a run or a walk with my dog to be a great way to ground myself and put things into perspective
Anxiety is defined as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease. It refers to the physical and psychological symptoms that we feel when we are anxious. Anxiety is a very personal thing and we will all experience it differently, but symptoms such as nausea, an accelerated heart rate, difficulty sleeping, a feeling of fear, dread, or numbness, an overactive mind and a sense of restlessness are common.
Why do we get anxious?
Anxiety is part of the ‘fight or flight’ response of the sympathetic nervous system – the way our body reacts to a perceived danger or stress. This response developed to help protect early humans from threats such as wild animals, by putting the body in a state of high alert to either fight the threat or flee. These days, it is far more likely to be triggered by pressures at work, home, or school. It should go like this – threat, response, recovery.
The trouble is, that for some people (1 in 6 people in any given week, according to the charity Mind), the reaction is being triggered so often that a state of anxiety becomes the norm. There is a lot of information available about the potential long-term effects of living in a prolonged state of anxiety. I came across an article which explains in a bit more detail how you need a balance between the two sides of the autonomic nervous system. It’s an interesting read and gives you a better understanding of the physiological side of anxiety.
This post is more personal - a snap shot of my own experience with anxiety. I want to share with you a bit of my own story in the hope of raising awareness of how anxiety can gradually take over, and that by talking about it, acknowledging it and being aware of why it is happening, you can beat it.
I was a very anxious child. In fact, I was an anxious teenager and an anxious adult too. I was very self-conscious and constantly worried about what people thought. I had some very good friends that I could trust and I had a lot of fun - I just worried too, and over-thought everything. I never really ‘did’ emotions when I was growing up. I had a secure and loving family, but discussing or displaying emotions didn’t really happen. I didn’t know what to do with my emotions, so I just kept them bottled up inside.
School was the biggest source of anxiety for me. Doing a talk in class was the absolute worst thing. I was very creative at finding ways to avoid doing the things that made me anxious, which was basically anything where I was in the spot-light.
My anxiety mainly manifested as nausea. For years I barely ate on a school morning. I can clearly picture myself in the kitchen before school with my mum, feeling so sick and dreading going to school. When I got there and I was with my friends, I was usually fine, but knowing that didn’t alter how I felt every morning.
The crazy thing is that I just don’t think I realised what was going on at the time. I think I knew it was the worry about school that was making me feel so bad. I rarely felt ill at the weekend, well not until we all sat down to watch Open All Hours, Miss Marple, or some other Sunday night TV. It meant the weekend was almost over, and acted as the trigger for the anxiety to start all over again.
Anxiety in the driving seat
Fast forward a few years to my first proper post-university job. Within a year or so of being there I had developed Irritable Bowel Syndrome. This had a big effect on my job and involved being sent to see the company doctor. I took the decision to find a new job - something more within my comfort zone and out of the anxiety-trigger zone. The anxiety was taking over.
Regaining the controls
Another seven or eight years later, I had my first proper homeopathic consultation. The effects were incredible. It felt like all the layers of uncertainty and anxiety I had been carrying around with me since childhood were gradually falling away. It was such a subtle change that it was only at follow up appointments when I was questioned about certain things I’d mentioned before, that I would realise how much I had moved forward. I was still me, but those anxious thoughts and the almost constant inner dialogues were gone.
I can now say with certainty and gratitude, that anxiety doesn’t rule my life anymore – it hasn’t for years. That’s not to say I’m never anxious, but now it’s just how it should be - a temporary state, not one that takes control. The way I experienced anxiety was unique to me. My homeopath asked about my childhood experiences and the triggers and manifestations of my anxiety to give me a personalised prescription. It changed my life.
Interested in finding out more?
If you are interested in hearing more about how homeopathy’s individualised approach can help the symptoms of anxiety please get in touch - remember that anything we discuss is confidential.
For a few tips on slowing down and taking control of your day right now, you can take a look at my December post :)