Year in Review – Prompt #5 Kind gestures

Sometimes we are encouraged to dive into a vision for the new year without processing the year that has been. Have you ever experienced that?
As an art therapist and coach I know that feeling, accepting and integrating our feelings, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is an important part of good health, and an important part of feeling authentically energised for the future.
Through the last two months of 2018 each week I’ll be sharing some end of year reflection and journaling prompts I have developed to help you integrate the experiences of this year and finish up feeling clearer and more accepting of yourself and the year that was, more focused on what you care deeply about, and more energised for the New Year.
Here is this week’s Year in Review prompt….
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Kind gestures

If you’d like to join me again this week reflecting on the year we have had, take some time to reflect on kind gestures that stood out for you this year. I designed this week’s exercise with the idea of overcoming negativity bias (the way our minds can focus on the things that went wrong rather than the things that went right), and as a way to gently reconnect with feelings of gratitude and connection to others.

Q. What were the times this year that someone made a kind gesture to you that you really appreciated? Look for the warm glow around the memory that tells you that it was special and you felt lucky to receive their kindness.

For each one you can remember receiving, pause for a moment and write a few sentences capturing what the gesture was, who did it, how it made you feel, and why it was especially meaningful for you at that time. See if you can describe the moment in some detail, it may help with remembering the feelings that went with it.

See if you can come up with 10. This might mean you have to dig around a bit to remember them, or it might come easily.

  • Did someone unexpectedly buy you a coffee?
  • Did someone make you dinner?
  • Did someone give you honest feedback from a place of love?
  • Did someone lend you an outfit for a big night?
  • Did someone help you move house?
  • Did someone send a heartfelt message at a tough time?
  • Did someone listen when you really needed it?
  • Did someone include you or invite you somewhere?
  • Did someone forgive you?
  • Did someone give you kind words about something you did?
  • Did someone go with you when you had something hard to do?
  • Did someone share some of their optimism and encouragement with you?
  • Did someone show patience and loyalty?
  • Did someone surprise you with a kind gesture big or small?

The kind gestures really can be big or small! Please try not to judge yourself or the memories you come up with. Nothing is ‘too small’ or ‘silly’ for the purposes of this reflection. This is an exercise in honouring our emotional landscape and the things that matter to us, even if they don’t make sense to our rational minds. Even if they might not have ‘meant much’ to someone else, they meant something to you and that is important.
Once you’ve remembered and described the 10 acts of kindness, see what you can observe about the values that are important to you, the people who are important to you, or even what you might feel inspired to do more for others going forward.

If you’d like to share one of the moments that sticks in your mind with us feel free to do so in comment below (perhaps keeping the other people’s identity’s private, eg ‘a good friend said….’, ‘a stranger at the supermarket did…’, ‘a person at work offered to…’).

How does it make you feel to remember these kind gestures?

What does it make you think about?


If you would like to work on your vision for 2019 and start to implement a project close to your heart please get in touch. I am available for coaching and my rates are listed on the coaching link above.

Year in Review – Prompt #4 Giving

Sometimes we are encouraged to dive into a vision for the new year without processing the year that has been. Have you ever experienced that?
As an art therapist and coach I know that feeling, accepting and integrating our feelings, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is an important part of good health, and an important part of feeling authentically energised for the future.
Through the last two months of 2018 each week I’ll be sharing some end of year reflection and journaling prompts I have developed to help you integrate the experiences of this year and finish up feeling clearer and more accepting of yourself and the year that was, more focused on what you care deeply about, and more energised for the New Year.

Here is this week’s Year in Review prompt….
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Giving
Around this time of year lots of people exchange gifts. Gift giving traditions can be fraught and tied up with issues with overconsumption, debt and more. But they are also deeply connected to reciprocity, social ties and acts of care.
Lets think gently and with curiosity about the act of giving. Grab a journal and a cup of tea and explore this one with me.
Journaling and reflection prompts (spend 5 minutes on each):
Beyond formal gift giving, what did you give this year with no expectation of payment or return?
What time did you donate to someone’s project or cause?
What random gifts did you give to those you love?
What funds did you give to charity?
What objects did you give freely to new homes?
Which of your gifts and talents did you share with others?
What small acts of kindness did you try to foster through the year?
Now looking across your answers above, spend 15 minutes with these questions:
What feelings arose in relation to giving this year? What themes can you see?
What was easy to give?
What was harder to give?
What felt great to give?
What would you like to give more of next year?
And if something comes to mind that you’d like to share in comments below feel free to do so!

 

PS If you live in Australia a great giving opportunity this time of year is Share the Dignity‘s “It’s in the Bag” campaign. It’s easy – simply find a handbag in good condition that you are no longer using and fill it with toiletries and personal care items such as deodorant, face wash, pads and tampons, a toothbrush and toothpaste. Include a brief affirming note or Christmas card, and then drop off at a Bunnings store before or on Sunday the 2nd December.

Why I love working in community mental health

I’ve been musing lately on my experiences in running art therapy programs for community mental health providers.

Why creating welcoming spaces for people in crisis or experiencing extreme states matters:

Mental health sufferers face both stigma and other challenges to joining in mainstream activities. Low energy, low mood, feeling anxious, fidgety, being prone to angry outbursts, finding speaking up or staying quiet hard, having loud internal negative self talk, hearing voices  – any or all of these can make showing up hard and make finding a safe and welcoming space harder still.

Many people who come to community mental health programs often have a range of social, economic, health and trauma experiences that they are dealing with that are linked to or compound the experience of a mental illness / mental distress / mental health challenges:

  • Poverty can make it harder to afford medication or therapy
  • Trauma experiences can make it hard to relax or trust others, or to open up
  • Concentration and energy levels can make it hard to hold down work (or study), which in turn can increase social isolation, economic distress
  • People can juggle their own mental health issues while also caring for family members with mental health issues
  • Alcohol and other drugs can be used to help mask the pain but at the same time contribute to financial, social and other health challenges.

Here’s what I know even more deeply than I did before from this work:

People are complex whole beings. They are a life story, they are friends and parents and neighbours. They are dreamers and fighters and nurturers. They are carers and volunteers and advocates. They are artists and storytellers. Having a mental illness diagnosis doesn’t define a person or tell you anything of the entirety of who they are.

People have moods that come and go, we are all variable hormonal, social, responsive beings who have capacity for change, above and beyond our symptoms.

People with mental health challenges may find it hard to find or access the very resources that might help them most. Brain fog, anxious feelings, low energy and other challenging felt experiences can make remembering, researching or processing information difficult.

People are more alike than different. Our dreams and fears are remarkably similar no matter what our age, income, past experiences or current challenges. We all want human connection with people we like and trust, to feel closeness and to be respected and understood, and sometimes to be cared for and nurtured. We want some kind of physical and material stability, to attend to the basic needs of our life without all consuming stress about money, debt or housing. We want to make a contribution to the people and world around us, and we want to express ourselves in the world. We want to feel well in ourselves, healthy, and to access some kind of help, medical or otherwise, for physical/ emotional struggles we might face.

It takes guts to get help. It takes immense courage and determination to commit to doing the things we know are good for us, especially when getting there and being there can sometimes feel extremely hard.

We often think we are unique with our fears and doubts and ‘weaknesses’, and this causes shame. When we speak about our experience to supportive others it lightens our load. It also inspires others to feel better about their experience. We feel less alone when we can reveal more of who we really are and what is really going on for us.

Compassion and acceptance of ALL of us can happen gradually and in baby steps. It is an ongoing practice to show ourselves compassion, towards our limitations, towards the parts of us that are fearful, angry, hurt, hurtful. It is an ongoing practice to develop an encouraging voice that allows us to try new things and show ourselves, even when we are not ‘perfect’.

Getting help through medication, being in support groups, accessing social workers or being in one on one therapy is a really important step towards recovery.

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Taking social isolation seriously

Recent research supports the idea that feeling socially isolated can impact on our physical as well as mental health (1).

One of the reasons I love running groups is that a facilitated space can help people connect with others quite deeply in a way that feels safe.

Quite simply, connecting with others feels good and is good for our health, but can become hard when we are nervous, shy, or don’t trust others because we have been subjected to violence or abuse. Sometimes poverty, transport issues or physical isolation can make it hard to see and spend time with people. Similarly mental health challenges can contribute to social isolation, because our behaviours can be seen as ‘hard to deal with’ or even just ‘unfun’, leading to social connections falling away over time, which can further add to the distress a person in crisis is experiencing.

Social connection has many benefits; a sense of mutual support, feeling less alone in times of crisis, practical support such as help with problem solving or with physical tasks, an opportunity for fun and laughter, hearing stories of other people’s inner worlds that show us we are not alone in our feelings, and more.

Some statistics out of the United Kingdom (2) show that social isolation and loneliness in older adults is widespread:

  • 17% of older people are in contact with family, friends and neighbours less than once a week and 11% are in contact less than once a month (Victor et al, 2003)
  • Over half (51%) of all people aged 75 and over live alone (ONS, 2010)
  • Two fifths all older people (about 3.9 million) say the television is their main company (Age UK, 2014)
  • 59% of adults aged over 52 who report poor health say they feel lonely some of the time or often, compared to 21% who say they are in excellent health (Beaumont, 2013)

The relationship between isolation and loneliness is a complex one, involving social contact, health (physical and psychological) and mood. (3)

Now we are beginning to see that poor social skills, social isolation and loneliness may also be associated with poor physical health, and pose a risk to future health in the same way that other lifestyle factors like smoking do.

“We’ve known for a long time that social skills are associated with mental health problems like depression and anxiety… But we’ve not known definitively that social skills were also predictive of poorer physical health. Two variables — loneliness and stress — appear to be the glue that bind poor social skills to health. People with poor social skills have high levels of stress and loneliness in their lives.” says Chris Segrin, head of the UA Department of Communication (4).

The good news is that social skills can be learnt, and new patterns of relationship can be developed.

So what do we do about this?

Lifeline suggests the following actions if you are feeling lonely:

  • Connect or reconnect with friends and family – staying in contact with loved ones can prevent loneliness and isolation. If your family don’t live nearby, technology can help you stay in touch
  • Get out and about – regular outings for social functions, exercise, visiting friends, doing shopping, or simply going to public places can help
  • Get involved in your community – Try a new (or old) hobby, join a club, enrol in study, or learn a new skill. Try looking online, at your local TAFE/Community College, library or community centre for things in your area that might be interesting to you
  • Volunteer – helping others is a great way to help yourself feel more connected
  • Consider getting a pet –pets are wonderful companions and can provide comfort and support during times of stress, ill-health or isolation
  • Get support – If loneliness and social isolation are causing you distress, you should discuss your concerns with a GP, counsellor or a trusted person

In my personal life I am going to try to be more regularly in touch with people who may be socially isolated, and in my work life I’m going to try to learn more about social isolation and how formal programs and interventions can help reduce the stress of loneliness.

How about you?

Final thoughts…

If loneliness is an issue causing you distress please take it seriously and consider taking some steps to reduce it. Here are some links to services if you’d like to talk to someone to help you come up with a plan.

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(1) See more at https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171106090116.htm

(2) Campaign to End Loneliness www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/loneliness-research/

(3) GOprogramme,Findings17 (available at: www.growingolder.group.shef.ac.uk/ChristinaVic_F17.pdf)

(4) See more at https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171106090116.htm