Tools for Tough (Interesting) Times

“May you live in interesting times,” states the ancient and well-worn Chinese curse.  As the world around us all continues to be more and more “interesting,” we have continued to face each day with strength and courage.  For many of us this is done in the presence of what some call a “low-level battle fatigue,” a weariness or heaviness that you notice at some point or at many points in your day. 

Of course, this is to be expected when we have faced more than 700 days of difficult news in difficult times.  Our lives have been impacted by not only the pandemic challenges, but by political, economic, social, educational, and for some, family turmoil.  Every one of us has been impacted, especially those who say they haven’t been.

Yet, you’re still here. 

Most of us have survived well enough to remain strong enough.  And a good number of us have managed to thrive.  We have sought help, leaned on others, and grown stronger for it. We have encouraged others to do the same. We have become more grateful. We have increased our sense of well-being and worked to build resilience along the way.

Yet to continue to remain intact, and especially to thrive, we need help.  Help from others, from our colleagues, from our families and friends.  We need tools and resources to help us stay on the healthy way to recovery in our minds, emotions, and physical beings.  Sometimes the tools we need are not intuitive for us. Read on for some tools that work for most people yet are relatively unknown.

Get social. Prosocial behavior is a proven tool for building a number of resilience and helping skills. It can improve one’s self-esteem. It can improve one’s listening and empathy skills. Engaging with others can lighten the mood and encourage oneself and others. It also reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness, and deepens and adds meaning to existing relationships.

Research tells us that intentional kindness leads to a more positive mood, a greater sense of well-being, increased feelings of altruism and personal satisfaction.  It also helps to reduce harmful, stressful emotions.  Teams thrive on kindness.  Simple actions are best!

What can we do to be more intentionally kind?  Connect with others with kind words or actions to make them feel happier, welcomed, included, or appreciated. Focus on being “other-centered” as you go out of your way to give gifts such as spending time, listening, and speaking kindly.  You can give simple offerings such as a note of encouragement, thanks, or hope.

Get moving. Exercise that elevates the heart rate – brisk walking, “heavy hands” walking, X-C skiing, snow shoeing, brisk bicycling – can improve sleep, elevate mood, improve cardio health and blood sugar and lipid levels. Doing the exercises alone can give you good solitude time for thinking, praying, meditating, and problem solving – make sure you are solving the problems, not simply dwelling on them! Doing the exercises with another person or a group can be great social time. Other exercises are also very good for one’s physical and emotional health. Weight-lifting, body weight exercises like push-ups and pull-ups, and even gardening, mowing the lawn with a walk-behind mower (not self-propelled), and snow shoveling are great!

Get into the woods. There are a number of benefits from immersing yourself in nature every week. Any place where you can get into a lot of trees and/or green space has a surprising number of benefits. Especially if the trees are conifers. Walking into a conifer forest, even a small one, has been shown to within minutes lower one’s pulse rate and blood pressure. Staying in that forest for a modest period of time has been show to elevate mood, reduce feelings of stress and negative emotions, and elevate the killer cells in the blood stream that attack harmful organisms. This has been researched here in the US for nearly 50 years, and in Asia for much longer. The results are amazing. Across the Pacific pond people are given prescriptions for forest exposure, and many communities have combination nature preserve and health clinic facilities.

This is why I backpack with friends (and sometimes alone). I get to be social while exercising in conifer forests. I can’t lose!

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