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.

Is It True?

These are the words most spoken by teacher Byron Katie in her work with others. 

About 28 years ago when I was struggling with a fractured relationship with my stepson, my friend Adrien asked me this question and three more: Can you absolutely know it’s true? How do you react—what happens—when you believe that thought? And, Who would you be without that thought?

A week doesn’t go by without me using the Byron Katie tools (wwwthework.com) to help me find some peace in everyday living. When I need to come back to myself and find the part of the problem that belongs to me, it’s Byron I turn to.

This morning I scrolled her website to glean some insight into something that’s been bothering me. I clicked onto a YouTube interview with her and Lewis Howes. Nearing the end of the interview, Lewis asks Byron if she had to take all of her work with her when she died and was only able to leave three messages behind, what they would be? Her answer: 1. All problems are imagined. 2. The Universe is friendly. 3. It’s obvious to anyone with an open mind to see. While I don’t profess to understand the depth of meaning to her three statements, I can marshal a small inkling to what those words mean to me.

This initiated me to question what I would leave behind. Easy to be flippant and say – drink great wine, laugh long and hard, and remember to clean your teeth. Truth in all of these, but my deeper answer for today is: 1. Find your talent. 2. Get off your arse. 3. Enjoy the ride.

People often tell me they don’t have a particular talent, so I ask them what gives them great pleasure? From there they are able to navigate their way back to their innate creativity. Creativity isn’t some lofty practice, if you are a problem solver, you’re already highly creative. Every time you come up with a new idea or solution to a problem, the creative process is activated.

Even though I have written thirty books, I don’t see myself as a highly talented writer. That’s where number two comes in: Get off your arse. Several years ago, at a screenwriting Summer School at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts, I meet Steve a very talented writer. Where most of us struggled over the words we had chosen for our scenes, he seamlessly wrote great copy first go. It was a privilege to see such unbridled talent in action.

Over the coming years, a handful of us kept in contact. We sent each other our work, supporting and encouraging each other. Not long into our collective journey Steve dropped out of the group, said he didn’t have what it takes and slid into the hospitality industry. It was then I realised that everyone doesn’t have the drive and the determination to keep going. 

I believe that if we have even the smallest talent for something, we have to champion this for ourselves every day. Some creatives are a bit precious saying, ‘I’m the artist, it’s not up to me to advocate my work.’ Really? If we don’t believe in it and strive to support it to find its home, then how can we expect others to?

Which brings me to number three: Enjoy the ride. When interviewed about his life view, actor Barry Humphries said, ‘I’m just looking forward to the next wonderful thing to happen.’ These words of hope have sustained me through many difficult periods in my life. Through applying our talent, big or small, we can learn, grow and move forward with greater strength, personal power and enjoyment. 

Do You Suffer From Anxiety?

 

I’m pretty excited to have just sent off my 30th book to my publisher today. It’s hard to let go of something I have such passion for, to let someone else take it to the next level. This baby has been with me for over seven months, reading or writing this book has been my everyday companion. (more…)

What’s this gratitude thing all about?

I walk in gratitude every day for my creative spirt, for the ability to continue on my creative journey of writing, painting, learning and loving. By that I mean I am thankful for everything I create and experience. I don’t wait for greatness to happen to be grateful, I’m happy for the smallest things; sunshine, my morning chai, a paragraph written with ease or bother, this blog, the way my legs move when I get out of bed, my family, hot water; you can see where I’m going with this. (more…)