What spiritual retreats can teach us about the challenges of lockdown

What spiritual retreats can teach us about the challenges of lockdown

In 2005, a documentary called Into Great Silence was released, which portrayed life in a monastery in the French Alps. The director Philip Groening spent months living with the monks, where after a few weeks of silence and solitude, he developed a new sense of awareness.

The quietness and inactivity of the monastic way of life had an awakening effect on him. He began to live wholly in the present, and seemingly mundane objects became intensely real and beautiful.

At the moment, during lockdown, we may not be living like monks, but we are certainly living restricted lives. Some of us may find the lack of hustle and bustle unsettling. We’re so accustomed to background white noise that when it ceases we may feel uneasy.

Quietness and solitude can also expose us to discord in our minds, which start to chatter away, creating a sense of disturbance. Negative thoughts and feelings emerge – especially during uncertain times, when there are urgent and real concerns about job security, family members and financial stability.

But as I show in my book Back To Sanity, once we get used to living more slowly, quietness can sometimes be strangely therapeutic, and help us cope with difficult moments.

The positive aspects of confinement

And while many of us are understandably finding our present predicament extremely challenging, I believe we can learn something from retreat techniques which might help.

Of course, this may not be possible for everyone. People who live in isolated or crowded conditions or who are in turbulent relationships may find it much harder. It’s partly a question of temperament too. People who are naturally introverted and reclusive will find the lockdown easier to deal with than people who are more extroverted.

But there are certain practices we can try to follow which will help us to learn from retreats how to better deal with the changed lives we are leading. Here are five tips:

  1. Acceptance. If you keep thinking about how great your life was before the lockdown, and about how awful it is now, then you will feel frustrated and unhappy. One of the best pieces of advice I have heard is: “If you can’t change a situation, stop resisting it. Just accept it.” So tell yourself that this is the way things are, that this is your life for the time being. Don’t fight the situation – embrace and accept it.
  2. Live in the present. Don’t think too much about the past or the future. Just live from moment to moment, taking each day as it comes. Pay attention to your experience on a moment to moment basis. Be mindful. Look out of your window or go into your garden (if you have one) and look around slowly, paying attention to everything which comes into your range of vision. Do the same when you go out shopping or for exercise, and when you eat.
  3. Appreciate the small things. This is the time to appreciate the things in our lives which we are normally too busy to notice. It’s the time to appreciate food and drink, the natural world around us, the sky, the stars and the people who are close to us. Above all, we should feel gratitude for life itself.
  4. Trust yourself. One thing my psychology research has taught me is that human beings are much stronger than we think. There are reserves of resilience inside us which we only become aware of when we are challenged or face difficulties. Even if you think you can’t cope with a situation, you will be surprised to find that you can.
  5. Reframe the situation. It’s not going to last forever, and it may be a long time before anything like it happens again. Don’t think of the lockdown as imprisonment – think of it as a spiritual retreat. Some people go on meditation retreats or yoga holidays to feel rejuvenated. Now many of us are on an enforced retreat from our normal hectic, stressful lives.

In my role as a psychologist, I have become aware of the therapeutic power of these practices. At the end of this period of retreat, we may return to our normal lives feeling more human. We may become more centred in the present, and less focused on the future. We may become more aware of the beauty of our surroundings, rather than giving all our attention to tasks and activities.

Instead of losing ourselves in our roles and responsibilities, we may become attuned to our authentic selves. And rather than looking for happiness outside us, by buying and doing things, we may find a simple contentment emerges naturally just from being.The Conversation

Steve Taylor, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Leeds Beckett University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

7 Tips to Help Manage Depression and Anxiety

7 Tips to Help Manage Depression and Anxiety

Dealing with a mental illness is never easy but with the proper strategies and tools, you can learn to manage your mental health while living a happy life.

Self-care is the root for coping with mental illness. I never understood the meaning of self-care until I was hospitalized. It sounds simple to take care of yourself but you would be surprised by how many people neglect self-care.

Many of us tend to take care of everyone else without realizing that we are more valuable and effective if we take the time to give ourselves some TLC. 3 John 1:2 says “Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit.”

God desires for us to be healthy. But, how can He dwell within in us if we aren’t healthy in our mind, body, and spirit?

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Anxiety disorders affect approximately 40 million adults in the United States. It is also common for individuals with depression to have an anxiety disorder or vice versa. In fact, 6.7 percent of the United States population has major depressive disorder (MDD).

However, the good news is that 80 percent of those treated for depression and anxiety show improvement in their symptoms within four to six weeks of beginning medication, psychotherapy, attending support groups or a combination of these treatments. In addition to clinical treatment, there are a variety of coping mechanisms that help manage your symptoms.

Feeding your spirit can include praying and/or reading your Word. However, we, as Christians, may also want to consider opening our minds to additional coping strategies that will impact one’s spirit, body, and mind.

1. Therapy

I have been in therapy for a year and a half, and it has been a long process but I am reaping the benefits for sticking it out. Find a therapist that you like and feel comfortable talking to. Therapy offers personal insight, empowerment, coping strategies, prevention of future illness distress, and someone to talk to without judgment. I was hesitant in the beginning because I thought to myself “I am not crazy. I do not need therapy.” However, I am glad I put my fear aside and gave it a try. While you can talk to a friend, family member or pastor, I recommend that you speak with a person who has a background in mental illness.

2. Balanced Diet

It is not rocket science but the foods we eat impact our illness. If your mental illness is a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder, it is important to be conscious of how food affects you. I have noticed when I consume an obsessive amount of comfort foods such as ice-cream and cookies, I feel worse. Here is the problem with overeating; it decreases your energy because your body must work harder to break down the food. Not to mention, overeating can lead to being overweight. A balanced diet helps with concentration and energy levels. According to Everyday Health, foods such as turkey, walnuts, fatty fish, whole grains and green tea help with depression.

3. Exercise

You do not have to go to the gym every day if that is not your thing but you can take a walk, attend a dance class, play sports or play with children. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals , such as endorphins. Endorphins, also known as the feel-good chemical, interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. Exercise also helps to alleviate stress, improve self-esteem, and sleep.

4. Create a support group

It can be frustrating when you have a mental illness and no one understands you and/or judges you. Finding the right support team is important. This may include a life-coach, therapist and/or psychiatrist, significant other, family or friends. Each individual should help in some way by meeting a need or needs. If the relationship is not healthy then you may want to consider removing them completely from your life. You should be able to share with your support group whether you are having a good or bad day. When you struggle with a mental illness, every day will not be sunshine and rainbows, and that is okay.

5. Listening to nature sounds

Before I go to sleep, I play sounds of waves as it helps to relax my mind and body. I enjoy hearing the sounds of waves, raindrops, and waterfalls. When most of us take vacations, we tend to go to the beach, tropical islands or lakes to relax and rejuvenate. So, it makes sense that the sound of nature such as birds chirping and waves help many relax, specifically, the sound of water. According to an article by the Huffington Post, water gives our brain rest from overstimulation and induces a meditative state.

6. Himalayan Salt Lamp

I had no idea of the benefits of a Himalayan salt lamp. The lamp is a carved piece of rock from the Mountains in Northeast Pakistan and stretches across approximately 186 miles from the Jhelum River to the Indus River. The Himalayan salt lamp releases negative ions which promote a relaxing environment and increases the feel-good chemical serotonin in the brain. WebMD explains it perfectly. Negative ions are odorless, tasteless, and invisible molecules that we inhale in abundance in certain environments. Think mountains, waterfalls, and beaches. Once they reach our bloodstream, negative ions are believed to produce biochemical reactions that increase levels of the mood chemical serotonin which help to alleviate depression, stress, and boost energy.

7. Journaling

While journaling is not anything new in the mental health world, I think it is important for anyone struggling with a mental illness. It helps you be honest with yourself, track changes, create goals and express feelings through journaling. The beautiful thing about journaling is that you can be as free as you want and it is a judgment-free zone. You can journal once a day, a few times a day or every few days; there is no set schedule so it does not feel like a chore. If you are in therapy, journaling can allow you to write topics and concerns that you can discuss in therapy that will better aid you in your recovery and healing. Journaling helps to clarify your thoughts, reduce stress and solve problems. It has also been proven that journaling is one of the most effective coping skills.

While the above seven strategies mentioned are not the only strategies for coping and taking care of yourself, it is important to find what works for you. Take the time and step outside of your comfort zone for managing your mental illness and begin your journey to healing. God often pushes us outside of our comfort zone to strengthen our faith in Him and ourselves.