The Long Game to Freedom

For much of my life, I shrouded myself in toughness and wrapped myself in a blanket of looking like I knew what I was doing, which is what overachievers do. I followed all sorts of spiritual healers until I realised that there are no quick fixes for the human condition. We are complex, nuanced, organic creatures who carry the stories and the trauma of the generations who came before us. Being human is the long game, nothing quick about it.

We are born and remain physically vulnerable longer than any other species on the planet. Wishing we could just snap out of painful experiences and be happy and upbeat only brings more suffering. Pain calls for clear, direct, open presence: this is listening to and releasing the part of the experience that is not ours and feeling the raw, wild part that belongs to us. This is what’s real; hiding, avoiding, trying to remain positive is more painful and dishonest. This is where lies and myths take hold. 

What if you brought deep presence into your feelings of pain, anxiety, grief or discomfort? What if staying present was the way through when sitting in the mud of emotional turmoil? 

So why all the quick fix healing dogma? Fix your mind-set in 30 days. Trauma healing in 90 days. Less wrinkles in 6 weeks. New body in 60 days. Everything convenient and fast, almost instant.

Now is the time to draw on your resilience. Knowing that, not only can you survive the painful and hard aspects of being alive, but your resilient spirit ensures that you thrive in every moment — painful or not. 

We’re built to bounce back naturally from difficult situations. The human condition is incredibly robust. What keeps us from this durability is believing that we’re not naturally resilient. 

Some of us come from backgrounds where we’ve been taught to believe we are weak and fragile and need looking after.  We’re not. Allowing time and space is required to be fully human.  Don’t hurry.  Use the tools and skills that resonate with you. Don’t follow someone else’s dogma. As you are unique, the map for your healing and life is also unique.

This blog was drawn from The Book of Hope – Antidote for Anxiety. 

Link to my buy books page:  http://www.vickibennett.com.au/orders.html

Anxious about 2021?

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Are you torn between feeling excited about a New Year, or are you a little anxious about the coming year?  I am osculating between the both of these and bearing in mind the kind of year we have just come out of, it’s not surprising.

But let’s break it down.

Anxiety is thinking about future projected disasters or unknown problems from the future.  The levels of anxiety felt here are dependent on how we manage this. When feeling anxiety, don’t add anything to it by saying ‘I should or shouldn’t feel this way’ or try to find the ‘why’s’ or running a narrative about it. Just identify anxiety for what it is, a pattern, and it’s okay to feel it, but it’s not okay to hurt yourself about it. 

Mainstream personal development is about adding to the narrative, not honouring it as an emotion. Meet the fear with compassion, ‘I’ve got you, I feel you’. When you notice thoughts arising about the ‘why’ of it, just stay there with the feeling. Be kind to yourself by not allowing the narrative to try to make sense of it. Don’t be afraid of feeling it and try not to attach a story to why you are feeling it, just feel it, stay with it, nothing else is required. You don’t need to be fixed, just kindly sit with the anxiety until it let’s go of you. 

Talking about emotions gives us freedom but feeling our emotions gives us liberation and feeling our emotions without fear can be a big step towards self-soothing. 

Each of us has our brand of anxiety, which is completely unique. As children many of us were not taught to self-sooth. I do this through journaling. Making sense about what I’m anxious about on paper. I write in vivid detail my concerns and issues and more often than not, find a way forward in the writing of it.

I also walk in gratitude every day, and use the words, thank you with everything I am grateful for. I notice the small things that give me hope.

Hope is optimism and action engaged. Seeing ourselves as part of the future. To have hope is to want an outcome that makes our life or the life of others better in some way. Visualising a better future motivates us to take the steps to make it happen. We are the masters of our interior life. Happy New Year.

Hope is optimism in action

When my publisher asked me to write a book encapsulating everything about living a hope-filled life, I was thrilled and terrified at the same time. Thrilled to be sharing my ideas but terrified that by opening up, I would be forced to navigate deeper levels of my understandings of anxiety. Why poke the sleeping bear?

As an adult, I’ve struggled with being enough. Overachievement and the need for approval have always driven me, often to the high end of anxiety and, when I was younger, to depression. Like many others, I have had lots of counselling to help pinpoint where my anxiety started, and this exploration has helped me to live a life of curiosity, love and passion. That’s why I decided that The Book of Hope – Antidote for Anxiety would be a handbook based on what I’ve learned about handling the ups and downs in life. 

The book was published in February 2020. Little did I know when I was writing it, that the looming worldwide pandemic would turn our lives upside down. 

Over 2 million Australians suffer from anxiety. Research suggests that 45% of Australians are expected to experience some form of mental health issue in their lifetime. These staggering numbers are growing in our 21st-century living. When we add the level of anxiety and stress created by COVID-19 there seems little opportunity for peace.

We are becoming increasingly anxious, frightened, depressed, and overwhelmed, but let’s not kid ourselves; we were already anxious, frightened, depressed, and overwhelmed before COVID-19. 

Human evolution relied on fear as a critical response to physical threat, our in-built mechanism of fight-flight-freeze is how we survived as a species. If we didn’t feel fear, we couldn’t protect ourselves. But now our survival-based fear has evolved into overwhelming anxiety, which we accommodate by soothing, avoiding, or numbing it down. 

What kept our ancestors alive is killing us slowly. 

Our ancestors were able to put aside their anxiety, to rest until the next battle or event. Our fast-paced technology, TV, social media, and texting drives us to feel like we are never quite free of pressure. Anxiety has become our new normal, and high levels of anxiety can smother hope in a heartbeat.

Recognizing anxiety is the first step. Identify when cortisol and adrenaline are activated; when our mind starts to race, hands tremble or there’s a shaking sensation in the chest. When you feel anxiety, sit quietly and breathe into that feeling, resist attaching a story of ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘who’ to the feeling. Don’t argue with yourself about it; don’t try to blame, shame, or guilt the feeling away. That’s never worked. Identify the anxiety as early as possible and breathe through it until it lets go of you. 

A pioneer of dealing with anxiety Dr. Claire Weekes wrote, “To recover, we must know how to face and accept panic; to go through panic until it no longer matters … Recovery is in our own hands, not in drugs, not in the avoidance of panic, not in ‘getting used to’ difficult situations. Permanent recovery lies in the patient’s ability to know how to accept the panic until they no longer fear it.”

We may not be able to control the outer circumstances of our lives. However, by identifying and taking notice of what’s happening within, we can develop resistance by taking small moments of mindfulness, awareness, and being in the current moment. 

My definition of hope is optimism in action. Hope won’t stop the challenging things from happening, it just helps us to understand that they are transitory.

We need to create new neural pathways in our brain – those stimulated by gratitude, kindness, optimism, cheerfulness, buoyancy, and hope. When we think more hopeful thoughts, our bodies release dopamine and serotonin, two types of neurotransmitters that relax the nervous system. Both of these chemicals are linked with happiness. 

Stop constantly accessing the news or having it on as background noise; at least take it down a couple of notches. Being hammered with the same event over and over again is not healthy. 

Spend time in the outdoors, read more, meditate, experience art, literature and music, these are the things that nurture our hearts and make us more peaceful and wise. 

As a small child, I remember the excitement of saying goodbye to my favourite aunt as she boarded a luxury liner from Sydney Harbour, heading to Southampton. She threw a yellow streamer from the upper deck and I eagerly caught it and held on tight, smiling and waving with my other hand. This encounter left an indelible mark on my imagination. Now as an adult, hope for me is the streamer between the ocean liner and the dock. Between me and my future. 

This article first apeared in Your Life Choices on 1st October 2020.  https://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/health/your-health/anxiety-is-killing-us-slowly

Navigating Madness

If we thought the world was mad before, COVID-19 has bought us to a new level of anxiety, uncertainty, fear, overload and what sometimes looks like madness. Lack of certainty and the consequences of fear have engulfed us worldwide. But don’t underestimate the importance of this time for affecting change.

We are tested daily by not understanding or knowing what the outcome of this pandemic and its ramifications will look like. Our collective anxiety around health, economics and survival is skyrocketing. Uncertainty about when the pandemic is going to stop and what we will be left with when it’s over. And on a very personal level, the safety of Aged Care facilities, concern about economic survival, including our investments and our fears for our children’s and grandchildren’s futures. 

Constant uncertainty feeds anxiety. But we still wake up every day and steer our way through what’s in front of us. Let’s not underestimate our individual strength and courage and our collective strength and influence. 

How can we connect to a hopeful future? How can we tune into confidence for the future? How can we collectively ride the wave through this? 

We need to become more resilient and hopeful. Now is the time for radical hopefulness. Hope is the ability to believe in the possibility of a better future. Hope is optimism and action engaged. Optimism on its own won’t cut it, we need to do something with our optimism. 

Many people are helping others in this time of pandemic, reaching out and speaking up more clearly about what they want from the world in the future. One where we can care for each other, look after our community and care lovingly for ourselves.

Our action can be a subtle or as big as we are comfortable with, but each of us can find more ways to be resilient and hopeful. Every little bit of caring for our community, our environment, and our families helps. 

Think big but start small.

This article first appeared in Your Life Choices, Friday 4th September, 2020.

Expectations

Letting go of expectations a tricky one to understand. How can we have goals but let go of our expectations of the goal? Being a goal setter and a visualiser since my teens, I found the difference lies in detaching from a particular outcome. 

Detachment is a vital part of goal-setting and visualisation, and yet it appears to be a paradox. Writing goals and creating a detailed plan of action with completion dates is essential, but I’m suggesting that, once set, to detach from a specific outcome. This allows for a vital element, creativity, to be ignited. 

Undue or fixed and over-determined attachment to a specific result or solution can inhibit creativity. Creativity occurs when there is an abundance of possible solutions and results; strong attachment to a specific outcome may blank out the possibilities of something even better happening. 

Detachment from the timeframe is important too. Sometimes the goal will manifest sooner than anticipated, sometimes later. Don’t give up because a goal hasn’t materialised on cue. 

Detaching from the outcome means that we remain committed to our goal, but release energy from the exact outcome. When we get locked into a precise outcome, we may not see an opportunity that comes out of left field, or the need to go in a different direction. If we keep our mind open to access creativity, we may achieve an even better outcome. 

Creativity is about allowing the magic in. Look around and notice the coincidences, and  the serendipity in this world. I use this magic every day to create the material that goes on my social media stream. I never know in advance what I will be writing about. I find a picture that resonates, then write about what it means to me on that day. My goal is to write a short article, but I allow for it to look or express itself differently than any expectation I may have. 

Self Care and Covid19

As COVID-19 takes hold, the way we live has changed indefinitely. Every family in Australia has been affected. As businesses close leading to mass job losses, families are struggling financially. Parents are living with the overwhelming fear of not being able to support their families. Emotionally, we are challenged by being asked to stay in our homes, away from family and friends, creating a sense of loss as families are isolated from parents and grand-parents. And the pervasive threat of the time bomb of the COVID-19 virus hangs over our heads. 

The stress and anxiety we are all feeling is real. 

If we fight against the reality of this virus, it hurts. Everything is close to home at the moment. Stress and anxiety are skyrocketing and freaking us out as a nation.

What are our commonalities as human beings right now? Our level of fear, dread, grief, heartache, panic, anguish, hopelessness, anxiety and the need to feel safe brings us together. In the past we have been told to think we need more security, more money, more success, to work harder, have a bigger house, to have a greener house, be a better parent, lose weight or be more organised and everything will be OK. But it’s not. 

Human beings think on average 100,000 or more thoughts a day; many of them are repeats of thoughts of the day before. We need to create new neural pathways in our brain – those stimulated by gratitude, kindness, optimism, cheerfulness, buoyancy and hope. When we think more hopeful thoughts, our bodies release dopamine and serotonin, two types of neurotransmitters that relax the nervous system. Both of these chemicals are linked with happiness.  

And be aware of our self-talk. It’s often not what’s happening that causes the problem, it’s what we say to ourselves about the event, because our self-talk usually takes the problem up a rung, whereas being in the moment takes things down a rung.

What we really need is to care for ourselves better and let our worried minds have a rest. Stop constantly accessing the news or having it on as background noise; at least take it down a couple of notches. Being hammered with the same event over and over again is not healthy. Rolf Dobelli’s recent book, Stop Reading the News is a manifesto of creating a happier, calmer and wiser life. Spending time in the outdoors, reading more, meditating, experiencing art and literature, these are the things that nurture our hearts and make us more peaceful and wise. How can we possibly benefit from seeing tragic events up close and personal duplicated on screens and social media? 

Develop a self-care toolkit. This can look different for everyone. If you feel yourself falling into apprehension, when the fatigue of anxiety deepens, practical suggestions include, first recognising this state. Then calming yourself, stepping away from the area if things are getting too stressful. 

We need to be clear with ourselves and those around us about the difference between the things we can control and those we can’t and get cracking on the ones that are within our control. My daughter has a “feeling” seat in the garden. A place where she can go and feel her feelings of anxiety, anger, worry and fear. She may ask someone to sit with her, but not try to fix her. Just to hold her while she sits in the feelings. And when she feels any kind of small shift, she then connects with her five senses, bringing herself into the moment by noticing five things she can see around her, naming four things she can feel, three things she can hear, and identifies two things she can smell. Finally, she recalls one good thing about herself before she gets on with what she was doing.

Stop thinking about things that you are not prepared, or not able to do anything about. Turn off the television, have a break from your screens, re-runs of the day’s events are not necessarily in perspective and stepping them up is unhealthy and causes further angst and anxiety. 

Compassion is activated when we feel empathy for another person. It’s important to be able to care deeply for another, but not at the expense of caring for ourselves. It’s a healthy option to support others from a base line of deeply supporting ourselves. 

Create distinct internal boundaries of what you will and won’t do. Being clear in your mind about your values and live and reflect these in your behaviour. The only viable state is to give from a position of strength rather than giving from burnout and fatigue. Think: ‘What can I do right now that is going to have a positive effect on me and those around me?’ It is only sustainable to support and give to others based on having already supported and given to yourself. Self-sacrifice is not sustainable.

We’re all going to have to evolve if we’re to become the people who can navigate the turbulent waters of COVID-19 and steer our world into safer waters. Let’s support each other in doing that. This is not a time for giving in, but for managing ourselves through the weariness by build personal strength through having a healthy toolkit and finding hope.