Commentary: Challenges can create opportunities

By Patricia C. Thompson

Albert Einstein once said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

In the days and weeks to come, we may be facing challenges or opportunities we never foresaw.

However, with clear thinking and ingenuity, we can all incline our minds to create a positive path.

Here’s a key question in these days of the coronavirus and national turning points:

How will each of us choose to direct our thoughts and actions during this pivotal time?

In tough times our own thoughts – individually or collectively – can be our best allies or worst enemies.

Pat Thompson

As an ancient philosopher reportedly put it:

“Watch your thoughts for they become

          words.

Watch your words for they become actions.

Watch your actions for they become habits.

Watch your habits for they become character.

Watch your character for it becomes your

          destiny.”

If we can tap into the “ally” of our minds and use the resources at hand – many proven and some new – we will have oars to navigate these unprecedented waters. 

Structure helpss Creating some daily patterns, practices, and wellness routines can help people of all ages, especially when confined to home. Structure can reduce stress and restlessness, and a posted daily schedule can ease tensions. 

Learning: While many schools are providing lessons and materials, families needing more youth and academic activities can search the internet on “homeschooling resources,” which yields a torrent of information. See also Khan Academy, National Education Association, lessons based on YouTube and videos from Ted Talks, etc.

Ten tips for tough times

Below are 10 ways to reduce anxiety, occupy time effectively, and help households and families relate well.

(Note: Have the approval and guidance of your medical professionals before starting any new health-impacting or movement activities.  This is not medical advice and is not necessarily appropriate for all.)

1. Breath and choice:  Asking this question (whether child or adult) before we speak or make decisions can be a powerful tool:

With this next breath, what is my best choice?

This encourages us to take a deep breath or two — a proven way to slow down and get calm – and create time to choose our words or actions wisely vs. reacting.

Posting this question in plain view can help it become a “tool of habit.”

Asking ourselves that question can help to prevent a cascade of runaway actions or words and empower us to choose mindfully.

2. Affirmations: Find a reassuring statement to say aloud or silently.  The words we say to ourselves can help our affirmation become a reality, even if it’s not the case at that moment.

Examples:

“Calm is strength.” – Dr. Fred Jones

 “I am getting calmer.”  “This too shall pass.”  “Everything will be OK.”

“…Do good, seek peace and pursue it.” – Psalms 34:14b 

3. Singing, humming, chanting: Whether solo or with others, vocalize.

Sing your most uplifting songs, hymns, etc. This also stimulates the vagus nerve that winds throughout the upper body. Reportedly this can boost mood and help organ function. (Revisit the song “I Whistle a Happy Tune” that Deborah Kerr suggested for fearful times in the classic film “The King and I.”)

Also, consider playing relaxing, instrumental background or meditation music, or you can play a musical instrument. 

4. Movement:  Move around, even indoors, but move cautiously.  YouTube is filled with free indoor routines for adults and kids, such as gentle chair exercises, yoga, qigong, and tai chi. (Warm up slowly and keep within your comfort zone, especially if alone.)

Suggested YouTube resources can include Dr. Roger Jahnke’s medical tai chi and qigong (one on coronavirus); Brad and Bob – the Physical Therapy Guys; Grow Young Fitness; Go4Life (by National Institutes of Health); or search fitness and exercise for children.

5. Jokes, comedy films, old-time radio shows: Sprinkle in some levity throughout the day.  Use these for an evening household gathering to relax or rally spirits.

6. Quick takes:  Choose print material with bite-size segments and read aloud in turns as a family (or read aloud even if alone, as that reportedly yields anti-aging brain stimulation).

Suggested books/resources (many online book vendors still shipping):

• “Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year,” for children and families, by Frann Preston-Gannon, illustrator, and Fiona Waters (impressive illustrations and verses by new and noted poets)

• Daily reading in your spiritual tradition

• Quotes by famous people (interesting for discussion)

• “Make Yourself Ageless: 366 Ways to Keep Growing Young” by Bruce Garrabrandt  

• “Quiet Mind” by David Kundtz, one-pager calmers that blend literature, reflection, and action steps

• “The Poetry Pharmacy: Tried and True Prescriptions for the Heart, Mind, and Soul” by William Sieghart (book one and sequels)

• “Then Sings My Soul” (3 editions) – hymns accompanied by some intriguing stories of their origins

• YouTube “Believe” channel:  Top Ten Tips by miscellaneous authors/experts/entrepreneurs

• Search on “daily inspiring readings” (or on “words for difficult times”)

7. Routine practices:  Have an ongoing practice associated, for example, with waking up, at each meal, and at bedtime. Whether it is reading a passage in your faith tradition, saying a prayer, meditating, or taking a minute at hourly intervals to pause and check in with the body and mind, these can anchor hope and release tension.

 Books: “Five Good Minutes:  100 morning practices to help you stay calm and focused all day long” by Jeffrey Brantley, M.D., Duke University stress reduction expert. (There’s also a night-practice sequel.) See also Brantley YouTube series “Monday Morning Meditation” (under five minutes).

“The Healer Within”  by Dr. Roger Jahnke – no-cost, at home, non-invasive health enhancement practices

8. Pre-sleep gratitude:  Near bedtime, list in a journal three things you are thankful for, no matter how basic. Research suggests this helps lift mood and may even improve sleep.

 9. Relaxation, meditation, sleep music:   Online and on YouTube, search these topics for countless videos to promote well-being.

Resources: Psychology Today for mindfulness articles, Insight Meditation for calming practices

10. Calmness for family, couples, etc.:  Done effectively, a home meeting can reduce stress, prevent problems, and promote decision-making with respect. 

Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., LMFT, offers an online guide in his “10 Tips for Holding a Family Meeting.” This award-winning therapist, syndicated columnist, and author of seven books created these tips in more typical times, but they can be tweaked for any group’s meeting. 

Resource:  Also, see YouTube videos on family dynamics and relating well by him and communication coach Alex Lyon, Ph.D.,  for improving all relationships and communication patterns.

 Pat Thompson, M.A., M. Ed., lives in Dover.  She is a retired teacher and adjunct college professor who is trained in life coaching.