Ultimate Mannequin Challenge

Hello Friend!

I woke up and realized it had been more than two months since we entered the second lockdown here in the UK. (For those of you who don’t know, it’s been a strict lockdown where not only non-essential shops are closed but we’re required to remain in our homes, leaving only for a limited time to exercise, alone or with our household, or to shop for medicine and food.) My first thought was: Damn that was fast! After all, we had been busy moving into a new house, preparing for the holidays, which in a blur came and went, and settling into our routines. I noticed a faint pressure in my chest, but I didn’t think much of it, so I got out of bed and continued with my day.

After lunch, I watched a Youtube show I forgot I had subscribed to, Ofyr (pronounced oh-fire): a cooking demonstration channel for people who own one of their outdoor grills. This episode happened to be recorded in Stockholm, a city I lived in for over five years. Watching the chef cook Gothenburg’s prized langoustines on the hot metal ring, the old town’s silhouette behind him, I escaped for a moment to take in the crisp Swedish air and smell the fresh brackish waters of Lake Mälaren. A fleeting yet lovely respite and travel back in time to life pre-Covid-19.

I’ve been living in London for two years – the first half settling in and taking care of the required bits of moving to a new country, the second under some version of lock down. There’s a world to explore out there, and I can’t help but feel I’m frozen in a Mannequin Challenge.

It’s been okay though. I’m rather proud at how I’ve managed myself and my loved ones throughout this pandemic, keeping our locked-down lives as positive and productive under the circumstances. (Not sure I could say the same if I had little ones to homeschool. Hats off if that’s you.) I decided that even though I’m in a freeze frame I would enjoy this unique time to self-reflect, focus on health and family (here and distant), and plug away at work, steaming ahead with confidence we’d soon unfreeze and resume a more normal life outside these four walls.

In the afternoon, I joined a zoom yoga class. The instructor, an Australian friend from our Stockholm days, began practice with a question: What does connection mean to you?

We were to take time, sitting cross-legged with our eyes closed, to think about this, to see what surfaced. What I saw behind my black lids were images of people and places that are seared to my heart. As I watched the reel play, my heart tugged and ripped to fold into itself. I used my breath to move through the pain and to acknowledge its existence, until I could return to contemplate the question. Again my head filled with memories that felt warm like the glowing sun these grey skies have hidden.

I sat with the pain, breathing it in and out of my body. Accepting it as loss, as the heartache that comes with missing friends and family. I could feel my heart swell with gratitude for what I hope soon to reconnect with, the simple things in life shared with family and friends: enjoying a long walk along a wooded path; sharing a cup of coffee and diving deep into meaningful conversation; cooking a meal together and lingering at the table hours into the night; the hearty laugh-tears and side-rocking bear hugs that come with a shared laugh or cry; celebrating traditions; volunteering; being trusted with a personal story; the awe of first-shared experiences discovering art, food, wine, a new park, village, or distant city. These are the things that make me feel connected, experiences I look forward to living again. They are the yang to my yin, the yin to my yang. What roots me to the soil and my place on this earth.

The end of the challenge is near. Vaccines are being administered, and there’s a real push to unpause life. In June we will move back to the US and begin another chapter, repatriating after eight years abroad. In the meantime, I will try and savor this experience as much as I can, living in the moment (frozen or not) and ever grateful that no matter where I may be, I’m connected to what matters most.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts. What does connection mean to you?

Thank you for sharing and for listening.

XO

-N 

“Only through our connectedness to others can we really know and enhance the self. And only through working on the self can we begin to enhance our connectedness to others.”

– Harriet Lerner
River Thames, Chiswick – Photo Courtesy of Craig Johnson

A month of Journaling Together

Preparing for Post-Lockdown

This week here in the UK, Boris Johnson will announce next steps toward reintegration to our public spaces. This may be happening for you where you live, as we wake up from our hibernations. 

I’ve been self-isolating since March 14th and my instinct tells me to prepare for what’s potentially coming in the next few days and weeks: in particular, feelings of grief. I’m anticipating marked changes in my life and in my city that I’ll undoubtedly compare to the reality I put on pause a few months ago.  

To hear more about the importance of moving forward with grief, which is to say to experience it fully and ultimately weave it into our story, listen to Harvard Medical School psychologist Susan David’s podcast Checking In. In her short episodes, she shares advice on how to cope during these unsure times. 

Just after self-isolating, I began recording Journaling Together. If you haven’t followed along, it’s a video blog meant to encourage expressive writing as a way to ease anxiety and improve overall wellness. I wanted to find a way to help and I thought I’d actually do my journaling online and invite others to join me in that calm space. I’ve considered techniques that worked for me throughout my life, which I believe are relevant even in these unsure times. 

Before sharing five minutes of timed (and recorded) writing, I provide personal stories and observations I hope resonate with you. Below are descriptions and links for each video. 

I am moving from daily recordings to weekly, at minimal. I hope you’ll watch future weekly Journaling Together videos. Your ideas and feedback are encouraged!

* I recently published this as an article on Medium titled DOTS Journaling: Four Steps & Three Questions to MAJORLY Improve Relationships — Reconnect With Yourself And Others During Covid-19 & Beyond. It’s an approach to journaling I developed years ago. (It’s the written version of video Day 4.) I hope you find it helpful. If you do, please share with someone you think will benefit from it. Thank you!

In addition to spending time with my family and connecting with friends across seas and countries, a lot of good has come from my time in lock-down. I’d decided to focus on getting back to healthy eating and to practice mindfulness through meditation and exercise.

As I age, I’m more conscious about food and its impact on health and the environment. I’ve realized how often we’d been eating out and how much salt, fat and added sugar are loaded on to take-out and restaurant meals. I’m hoping to cook more healthful, meatless, home-cooked meals going forward.

I realize there are many who are struggling to keep their heads above water. I am in complete awe of our care providers and the caregivers and parents who are working hard to balance multiple roles of employee, parent, and teacher. Stay strong! You are heroes in my eyes.

What about you? 

What positives do you want to try and carry forward as we step into post-lockdown society? I’d love to hear your experience!

I wish you health, I wish you safety, I wish you wellness. 

Love, 

Nancy

Tuscan white bean dip with seeded crackers
An important part of my wellness plan is to have a routine to my day. It gives me a sense of normalcy and purpose. A highlight of each day: crossword puzzles with Papi.

DOTS Journaling: Four Steps and Three Questions to Strengthen Relationships

Photo by Anna Herbst www.annaherbstphoto.com
Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead to an understanding of ourselves.”

Carl G Jung

Let’s face it, there is no such thing as a perfect relationship. Sometimes, even the most loving couple can aggravate each other. Familiarity can blur sacred boundaries. We bicker, blame, perhaps even say hurtful things before we pause to consider the consequences. At times, friendships can experience tension, as can relationships with family or coworkers.

Whether we are in a relationship where neither person seems to hear or understand the other or confined to four walls during a restless pandemic, it can be hard to see beyond annoyance or hurt to get unstuck. So, how can we safely manage anxiety, gain clarity, and emerge with next-level relationships? 

Fortunately, there is a proven way, and you have probably been doing it already: Journaling.

By expressing our emotions through written language, without pausing the pen or censoring our thoughts, we can get to the heart of the matter.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

If you are familiar with journaling, you most likely know its many benefits, including the health improvements that happen when we engage in this process as a practice to combat depression and reduce or eliminate anxiety.

In addition to controlling these diseases, here is a reminder of just a few ways journaling can support us:

  • Provides relief from racing or disturbing thoughts
  • Helps organize thoughts
  • Boosts our mood and positive outlook
  • Improves memory
  • Improve self-awareness and esteem
  • Boosts immunity
  • Facilitates personal growth

With so much to gain, it is surprising that journaling is readily accessible and requires little to get started: a pen and something to write on.

While journaling when we are stressed may help relieve tension at the moment, it may not necessarily strengthen our relationships unless we analyze what is happening on a conscious level, making it likely the problem will repeatedly surface.

So how do we get off the hamster wheel and move beyond writing to reconnecting and bonding with others?

The key may be in HOW we journal. 

For nearly a year, I found myself journaling about a specific issue in my relationship, usually centered around our different parenting styles. When it came to this situation, we could not communicate well: I would say something, he’d become angry, we would stop speaking, or vice versa. Repeat.

Anger, sadness, or disappointment drove me to the page each time. The relief I experienced was enough for me in those moments. But eventually, the problem would show up on the page again.

Looking back at my journal, I knew I had to dive deeper into a more reflective form of introspection, one that would help me connect the dots and understand what was really at the root of the problem.

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

I developed DOTS Journaling: a four-step, three-question approach to unpack issues, relate to others, and reconnect relationships in a meaningful way:

DOTS

Dump, Observe, Time, Synthesize

Step 1 — Dump it all onto the page. Writing to release tension and charged energy — that lion roaring in our head — can immediately calm us and lower anxiety, making space for us to think more clearly.

It’s important to acknowledge how we are feeling and the reasons we are feeling this way. (I feel this way because…)

By detailing what happened and what was said, we can begin to unpack the issue.

Step 2 — Observe the situation by answering three questions:

Q1: What is my role?

Q2: What might the other person be experiencing or feeling?

Q3: How can I help?

“Ego takes everything personally.”

Eckhart Tolle
Photo by Yasin Arıbuğa on Unsplash

Q1: What is my role?

This question helps identify the specific actions and words we contributed to the event.

How exactly did I contribute to the issue? What could I have done better?

(To help separate the person from the event, try writing in the third person. Instead of using “I” in this reflective writing, use a pronoun, your name, or a friend’s name.)

Q2: What might the other person be experiencing?

This is where we will need to identify and move Ego* aside, shifting the focus to consider what is potentially happening in the other person’s life.

It helps to imagine floating high up in the air, hovering over the person. Looking down, note their relationships, and consider what may be happening for them at work, home, or school. What observations may explain their role in the conflict?

Try to step in their shoes.

* We can recognize Ego’s voice because it is harsh, needy, often negative, and defensive. Alternately, our intuitive inner-voice is calm, gentle, and non-judgemental.

“If you can’t control people, then control your reaction to  them. If you can’t control a situation, then prepare for it.”

Lilly Sin
Photo by Roger Bradshaw on Unsplash

Q3: How Can I Help?

Here we identify an action we can take to improve the situation – one that doesn’t compromise our integrity, but emulates our values and aligns with our intention to reconnect.

We can ask ourselves if there’s a behavior or action we’re contributing that may need addressing. Or do we need further information to gain insight? Perhaps we can explore this by asking the person open-ended questions.

Might we need to apologize? If so, why?

Step 3 — Timing — Reconnect with the person when the time is right. Knowing when they are most receptive to engage in a conversation could mean the difference between progress and a stales-mate.

Consider the time of day they have the most energy and calming presence. Note the extent that food impacts mood or attention. To ease the pressure, should we consider a neutral meeting space? Does he/she require more time to digest information? If so, might a handwritten note or e-message work best in this situation?

Once we identify the best time and approach for reconnecting, it’s helpful to prepare for a productive conversation. We can do this by speaking from the “I” point of view to create a neutral, non-accusatory tone. While it’s important to share how we feel, the discussion should happen when we are grounded and ready to share facts.

  • The situation made me feel… because…
  • I understand these facts about what happened…
  • I acknowledge my role and understand that I (contributed in this way…)

Acknowledging our role can help build trust and accountability and create a more open conversation.

Avoid directing blame. Instead, state facts and open up the conversation with open-ended questions** that begin with how or what. Closed-ended questions that result in yes or no answers often don’t provide insight.

  • What would you consider a fair compromise?
  • What steps do you suggest we take?
  • How can we support one another when it comes to this issue?

It’s helpful to remember that we can’t control how others react, so offer this gesture without expecting anything in return. Some need time to process. Trust that the words or acts will be received as intended.

**A note on the importance of the pause: the time between delivering a question or message and response can feel uncomfortable if there is prolonged silence. Try to settle into this space and allow the silence to happen. This is critical thinking time. It could be that the person is processing and exploring new territory. If you wait for them to naturally break the pause, you will receive a genuine response.

Step 4 — Synthesize — Reflect on the experience and results of DOTS Journaling.

How did the follow-up conversation go? Was an understanding reached? Did the timing work or might there be a better time to re-engage? What observations should be noted for future reference? 

How difficult was it to recognize and move Ego aside? How did its absence (or presence) contribute to the conversation? 

Answering these questions on the page makes our reflections tangible, so they are there to revisit and remind us when needed.

Once I approached the conflict in my relationship through DOTS Journaling, I understood that I was carrying issues from my childhood that were no longer serving me. And in the space of our conversation, he was encouraged to consider his actions. 

This new awareness helped us formulate healthier responses to some of the parenting challenges we faced. It took time, practice, and patience but we were able to work through this issue and become better parents and better life partners.

Whether we are in the midst of a challenging relationship or simply wanting to improve one, DOTS Journaling can be an insightful way to problem-solve while learning more about ourselves and the relationships we care about. 

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