Is there always a silver lining?

silver lining heart clourd

As a kid, my mum was a big fan of getting me to look on the bright side.....mopping away blood from a hugely scraped leg she’d tell me that at least it wasn’t broken!

We’re all familiar with the wishful thinking idea of the silver lining in our clouds and the cute idea of making lemonade with the lemons life chucks us, BUT, when we are hit with tough times it doesn’t turn out to be quite as simple as that, does it? 

In our last blog we wrote about how the ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Training) framework can help us to better live with unhelpful emotions.  (Heavy thoughts?

ACT does not suggest that positive thinking is the ultimate answer to your troubles.  Instead we’re encouraged to look for, and appreciate what is indisputably good, even during a really terrible time, and allow those things to give us some comfort.   We may then be better able to accept our situation.

When my Dad died I was devastated, but I tried very hard to appreciate the hugs of my family and friends, the taste of meals that were cooked for me, and little cute moments my kids provided. When you’re having a very difficult time it can be hard even to do this but the results of research in this area suggests it’s well worth trying.

cup of coffee

Noticing positive things around us can be a first step towards activating our internal resources and character strengths.  Start small – if you can notice how good your coffee tastes and how lovely the sun feels on your skin you are appreciating beauty around you and you can perhaps feel some gratitude for those moments of pleasure.  You can try to notice that brief sense of gratitude and hopefully it can help broaden your ability to appreciate what is still good around you.  When we use our character strengths, in even the littlest way, we give a boost to our sense of wellbeing and it can also give us more energy to cope with all that’s going on around us.

So is there always a silver lining?  Sadly, no.  There isn’t a magic wand that clears away the dense fog of tough times; but allowing ourselves, indeed deliberately trying, to look for positive experiences can help give us the strength to accept what is going on and keep functioning rather than be consumed by it.

Flourishing Mothers were inspired by Russ Harris and Barbara Fredrickson

Heavy thoughts? Feeling rattled? Then ACT.......

Did you know we have around 40 thoughts per minute? And linked to many of these thoughts are a vast assortment of emotions, both pleasant and unpleasant? No wonder at times we all feel overwhelmed by the noise in our heads and feel that emotionally, our day is a roller-coaster!

ACT on heavy thoughts

It’s pretty hard to prevent thoughts and feelings. And worse, as humans we’re programmed since cavemen days to have a bias towards the negative – we were on high alert for imminent danger (that lion attack!) and accompanying emotional responses such as fear. Even though nowadays there is a negligible risk of a lion walking through the front door, we are still biologically attentive to disappointment, frustration, sadness, shame, anger and fear…and the list goes on. Instead of battling the lion, we battle ourselves.

So, if we can’t always block our challenging thoughts or prevent our unhelpful emotions, we need to work out how to live with them - without acting on them, stopping doing things we love or living the way we want to, in line with our values or goals.

A well-researched framework used by Coaching and Positive Psychologists is ACT (an acronym for Acceptance and Commitment Training). ACT mixes mindfulness and acceptance strategies from psychology. We encourage our clients to notice their thoughts and emotions, but to let them come and go without “fusing” and becoming entangled with them in an unhelpful way.

Here’s an example of how 3 steps in the ACT process can work for mums.

Scenario: You’ve organised a park play date with some local mums but one thing has led to another and you’re late!

Mummy Self-Talk: “I can never get out of the house on time! I’m so annoyed with myself! I’m a useless mother!”

Step 1.  Diffuse. Reduce the power of painful or unhelpful thoughts. Notice your thought, then distance yourself from it.

  • More helpful self-talk: “There I go again, calling myself a useless mother. That old story ….”

Step 2 - Expand. Notice your emotion. Label it. Make room for it by imagining a vast space inside you comprising this emotion and every emotion you experience (including the pleasant ones), in effect, watering it down.

  • More helpful self-talk: “I’m feeling annoyed. That’s OK. I’ll take some breaths and this feeling can float in the balloon all my emotions, good and bad.”

Step 3 Engage. Start to direct your attention outwards to what you were doing and remember why you were doing it – how is your activity important to you?

  • More helpful self-talk “I’ll grab the keys, my daughter and her shoes as I really want her to have fun at the park and to enjoy a catch up with the other mums who are going.”

In our day to day lives, when we mindfully focus on the task at hand, and when we allow thoughts and emotions to come and go without struggling with them - we enjoy our days more, and allow ourselves to do things that are important to us both now and into the future.

Best wishes from Flourishing Mothers

Flourishing Mothers were inspired by the work of Steven Hayes and Russ Harris

Moments of Mindfulness - relaxation busy mothers can find time for!

During my years of motherhood I've come to the conclusion that finding a way to relax, to take a breath, to be more mindful, is essential to reaching anything remotely resembling a flourishing state.

When I'm able to step back a bit mentally from a situation and have a moment of deliberate calm, it's then I'm more likely to make decisions and react in ways that I can look back on with positive emotions. I'm a lot less likely to enter into a screaming match with my daughter or make threats I rationally don't want to go through with.

Positive Psychology research suggests that relaxation or mindfulness exercises can be useful to help calm a strong emotional response to stressful situations and they can provide a benefit even if you feel you can only spare a minute or two!

When you've got 1 minute

Place your hand just beneath your navel so you can feel the gentle rise and fall of your belly as you breathe.  Breathe in. Pause for a count of three.  Breathe out.  Pause for a count of three.  Continue to breathe deeply for one minute, pausing for a count of three after each inhalation and exhalation.

When you've got 2 minutes

While sitting, take a break from whatever you're doing and check your body for tension.  Relax your facial muscles and allow your jaw to open slightly.  Let your shoulders drop.  Let your arms fall to your sides.  Allow your hands to loosen so there are spaces between your fingers.  Uncross your legs or ankles.  Feel your thighs sink into your chair, letting your legs fall comfortably apart.  Feel your shins and calves become heavier and your feet grow roots into the floor.  Now breathe in slowly and breathe out slowly.

The beauty of these mini-relaxation exercises is that you can do them alone or with your baby in your arms or encourage an older child to do them with you.  We'd love to hear if you find them of benefit!

Until next time.......

(Adapted by Flourishing Mothers from the Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School, Stress Management, 2011)