Reflection: Putting Things Into Perspective
When life gets hectic or weighs heavy with responsibilities, it might feel as though there is no opportunity to evaluate your choices and that you are running on autopilot until something stops you. Being confronted with any type of major change may mean making decisions that you hadn’t prepared for, but it can also generate the chance to redirect your attention to the things that really matter to you. If important aspects of life have by default fallen down the priority list, it may be time to reassess and put things into perspective.
Consider the following ideas for reflection:
- How much of my week is spent doing tasks that make me feel good about life?
- Are there elements of my daily routine that I can change, but haven’t?
- Do I ever respond to small stressors with disproportionate upset / anger / fear? What can I do in these moments to manage the temporary, uncomfortable emotions?
- Am I making time to notice positive things around me and express gratitude for these?
- Have I given myself time and permission to recover naturally from any upheaval this year?
- Am I leaning on the support resources around me, or trying to cope with things alone?
- If a close friend were experiencing the same things, what might I say / do to support them? (And can I direct that same kindness and patience towards myself?)
- Name 3 things in life that help me feel calm or positive no matter what else is going on – what can I do to remind myself of these when I’m having a tough day?
- There will always be certain things I cannot control. What will I do to feel grounded when this happens?
- What is one thing I can take action with today that will help me feel a little better?
Expecting of yourself that you will always be able to feel content or peaceful is perhaps unrealistic and unfair. Cultivating acceptance of life’s inevitable challenges is a useful first step to putting things in perspective. Secondly, ask yourself if there is anything you can do in this moment (big or small) to change the circumstances? If there is, what support might you need to act upon this? If there is not, instead think about what is going to help you to cope better with the difficulties.
A useful metaphor here might be to think about the weather. None of us can predict or change a thunderstorm when we have plans for a picnic, but we can decide not to run outside in the middle of it! Instead of becoming angry or upset with the outside world, we can choose to adapt, to slow things down, change our plans and give ourselves permission to remain indoors. If we absolutely have to go out, we will need good waterproof clothing and the understanding that we may need to come home sooner than we wanted. This is a superficial analogy, however it outlines the basic principles of how to cope well with upheaval.
It is worth remembering that human beings are creatures of habit, so we like to feel that we are in control… Making a conscious effort to put things in perspective (using some of the points for reflection above) could mean the difference between resisting or accepting that this is not always possible, and that is okay.
5 tips for keeping things in perspective:
1. Change your environment
Would it be possible to take a short break somewhere removed from day-to-day life? Being around different people or in unexplored places helps us reconnect with the wider world and remember that, however all-consuming our current problems may be, we can hit the pause button from time to time. (Bonus points if you can take time to engage with the fun things in life and deliberately set down the serious issues for a time!)
2. Look after your basic needs
If you are spiralling in a continuous pattern of stress and overwhelm, it is imperative that you begin prioritising some necessary self-care. Regular walks in nature / a bubble bath at the end of the week / an hour playing your favourite sport / reading fiction for escapism. Make a list of activities that restore your energy and practice ensuring they stay part of your routine. (Connecting with others is a key example here, so that you do not feel isolated in your experience.)
3. Be by yourself
As well as ensuring you have social support, sometimes a little solitary headspace can be just as important. It can be tempting to fill time with activity and noise in order to avoid processing difficult emotions. Trust your instinct regarding the timing with this, but checking in with yourself somewhere quiet and peaceful periodically can help restore a little balance. (You do not have to sit in silence meditating for this – you could focus on creating something artistic or write down how you feel. You could listen to your favourite music somewhere green – think about what might work for you.)
4. Take care of your body
During times of heightened pressure, we can fall prey to unhelpful routines with food and exercise. You don’t need to adopt an all-or-nothing attitude here – in fact, that in itself will likely exacerbate stress. Instead, start small and gently reintroduce manageable, sustainable habits that are about taking excellent care of your physical wellbeing. Consider how you might treat a small child by feeding them nutritious food, ensuring they get to expend physical energy and helping them get a good night’s sleep. These basic elements take on heightened importance in adult life whenever we are stressed.
5. Remember the bigger picture
“Putting things in perspective,” ultimately means rewiring certain automatic thinking patterns. It is about creating some distance between the immediate feelings of distress and the bigger picture. Consider how you hope/expect things will be in years to come. In 5 or 20 years for instance, will the thing that is now causing you distress still then feel significant? If not, try to remember that it is temporary. If the answer is yes, perhaps it is important to begin taking action to change the path that you are on?