How to Easily Avoid “The Winter of Our Discontent”

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The Winter of Our Discontent is the title of John Steinbeck’s last novel, published in 1961, and drawn from the first line of Shakespeare’s Richard III. 

However, what I’m referring to is something entirely different.

I’m talking about the remaining winter months and how we’ll keep our sanity amidst more possible lockdowns and quarantines. For those of us living in cold climates it poses new challenges. Gone are the days when we could safely and comfortably gather or move about outside. Snow and ice will affect that ability to some degree.

I reluctantly cancelled Thanksgiving, as well as my usual trip to Florida for Christmas. Disappointing as that is, how could I not? Covid is out of control and promises to get worse, due to people traveling in higher numbers to share the holidays with their families. The risk is much too high. The numbers are through the roof and our frontline medical personnel need us to make the right choices. 

When I saw a videos of airports crowded with holiday travelers, it reinforced the decision. Also, the emerging variants are a new threat. However, the best way to ensure there’ll be more family gatherings in the future is to stay home now. 

So, as we navigate this cold, dark winter season, with all its pandemic uncertainty, I began to wonder: can we not only survive, but actually thrive? 

I believe it’s possible if we utilize our time wisely. But, there’s definitely things we should and shouldn’t do.


Things to Avoid

Catastrophizing 

To catastrophize is to view something as worse than it is. Considering the current statistics, this is hard NOT to do. However, a true catastrophe is something we have no control over. An earthquake is a good example. Usually widespread and sudden, this force of nature causes tremendous destruction for which we can’t do much about.

Likewise, the pandemic occurred without much warning and is running rampant, but we definitely have some control. And this is what we must focus on: masks, social distancing, frequent hand washing, etc.  Feelings caused by a loss of control are always negative. Therefore, we should concentrate on the positive steps necessary to stay healthy. This way we regain some control over the ongoing threat of getting sick.

Negativity

News reports, people, and social media are all sources of negativity. While we shouldn’t ignore what’s happening, it’s important to limit our exposure. Stress releases the hormone cortisol into the bloodstream and a steady diet of this produces many unhealthy responses.

Constantly checking news and social media is time that could be spent in more productive ways. The videos and images that accompany the reports are equally frightening. 

Negative people are the ones to avoid, if possible. Better to surround yourself with those who remain optimistic. Their resilience is just as contagious as the pessimists and much healthier.

Losing Routines

The pandemic has greatly impacted our lives and daily routines. Many people are working remotely and families with school-age children must balance both work and school responsibilities. Retired folks are most at-risk and are advised to restrict their outings. 

With so much time spent at home it’s easy to fall out of one’s normal schedule. This may involve skipping the daily shower and staying in pajamas all day. Mealtimes and bedtimes can change. Housework is put on the back burner. 

All of this comes at a cost. The structure and organization of having routines promotes healthier living. While we have to make adjustments, it’s important to maintain some continuity in our schedules.

Unhealthy Habits

During times of stress we tend to overindulge in “comfort measures.” Whether it’s food, alcohol, or something else, we reach for these coping mechanisms when feeling anxious.

julia-engel-B9UZSOU0pVQ-unsplash (1)The human brain is hard-wired towards reward-based activities. These are the things that release dopamine, aka the “feel good hormone.” We then associate the good feeling with the bad habit, despite the negative consequences. 

Is it any wonder that we rely on these to get us through times of anxiety? 

Research has shown that sedentary behavior and depression go hand in hand. People aren’t exercising as much as they normally would and this adds to the problem, as well. It’s important to recognize what our comfort measures are and work to avoid or control them.


Despite pandemic-induced limitations there are productive ways to spend our excess time at home. Projects in the “as soon as I get a chance” file are ready and waiting. Now IS our chance.

Things To-Do

Household Projects

We’ve all got them. Between the basement, attic, and everything in between, there’s work to do. Whether it’s cleaning, organizing, painting, or renovating, there’s probably something you can start your list with. You may want to stick with DIY tasks rather than bring contractors into your home. If you do hire outside help follow the established safety precautions.

Reading

If you enjoy reading now is the time to set a goal. I have a list of classics that I’ve wanted to read for a long time. I’ve also thought about pulling out my college biology textbook to look up some things that have become more relevant with the passing years! Or, maybe you have some favorite titles from long ago that are worth taking another look at. 

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Do you have unread magazines piling up? I recently gathered mine all together and organized according to title and year (yes, they go back to 2017.) I plan to read several each week and then donate to our local library, as well as any books I’ve finished reading. 

Puzzles and Games

The sales of puzzles, boardgames, and crafts have surged as America remains at home. With long hours to fill parents want to incorporate more screen-free time. And it’s not just the kids. Adults are getting in on the fun, as families rediscover the types of connections from yesteryear. Remember those ongoing games of Monopoly that lasted a week?

According to Forbes the top three toy sellers in the US are Walmart, Target, and Amazon. These retail giants will likely survive the current crisis and come out even stronger. Unlike other industries whose retail accounts may close, toy manufacturers are positioned to do well.

Online Courses

You CAN teach an old dog new tricks and what better time than now? There’s many online courses to take and a wealth of subjects to discover. Sites like The Great Courses, Udemy, and Coursera offer a wide array of topics, some from leading universities and companies. Online courses are less expensive than in-person classes and some are free of charge.

If you need additional training for your job or want to learn a new skill, there’s no time like the present. 

Gratitude Journal

Person doing expressive writing for relaxation.

Gratitude journals, like mindfulness and meditation, have grown more popular in recent years. Guided journal sales rose 30% from January to April in 2019 alone. The prevailing wisdom is that daily reminders of our blessings create a more positive mindset. 

However, reflecting on one’s life is a personal endeavor and the method may not be a one-size-fits-all. There are different ways to tweak this exercise. One way is to create a Power Journal that also includes what you learn, contribute, and accomplish each day. As the author you decide the format, frequency, what to record, and what to call it. 

Photos, Movies & Music

Since cooking and organizing are the top “screenless” activities during the pandemic, don’t forget the boxes of pictures and media cabinets. Whether yours are stored in a physical space, or digitally, organization is an ongoing task that we often neglect. More time at home translates to updated playlists and camera rolls, or alphabetized DVDs and catalogued albums.

Outdoors & Nature

There’s nothing like a long walk to clear one’s mind. Whether on a treadmill or at the local park, exercise releases feel-good hormones needed to fight the negativity of the pandemic. This is a great time to enjoy our favorite music, an audiobook, or podcast.

And the type of exercise doesn’t matter. It can be mild, vigorous, or anything in between. Moving and increasing the heart rate can lift our spirits and outlook.

Similarly, being in nature  has a calming effect. Think about the sound of waves crashing on the beach, or hiking on a path with a view of majestic, snowcapped mountains.  Stimulation of our five senses  has a dramatic effect on our mood, as well. Exercise + Nature is the créme de la créme.


When we look back on this extraordinary period in our lives, there needs to be some positives. Yes, we missed holidays and spending time with friends and family. There were moments of sadness and isolation. Our lives were interrupted and we had to adjust to many unwelcome changes. But, imagine what the pandemic of 1918 was like. No television, radio, computers, etc. Talk about feeling bored and isolated!

However, we should also remember our accomplishments and the wisdom gained. Little things like a clean, orderly basement, or how to properly wash our hands. And the much bigger things: learning to truly appreciate each of our days and those people we share them with. 

 Change can be welcome or hard, but it’s always inevitable. Maintaining an optimistic outlook helps us manage our time and perspectives in a much better way. 

You must welcome change as the rule but not as your ruler. ~Denis Waitley

 


Sources

verywellmind.com 

webmd.com 

piedmont.org 

lifehack.org 

thriveglobal.com 

wikipedia.org 

npd.com 

thriveworks.com 

comscore.com 

 

 

 

Revenge, Forgive or Ignore?

I came across this quote the other day and was surprised to learn that it came from Albert Einstein.

You know…the guy who brought us relativity, E=MC2, and a host of other life altering discoveries. While most of those are too complex for me to discuss, the statement above is fairly straightforward.

I’m not sure why it surprised me. After all, Einstein was a pretty smart guy. I guess he struck me as more of a math and science type, devoting his time to complicated calculations and experiments involving light and atoms.

But, his keen awareness encompassed other things, as well. He was paying attention to more than just chemical elements; he was observing people, too. And based on this quote, those observations were spot on.

I’ve been all three of these people at various times, which is why I wanted to take a deeper look.


Revenge

The term just desserts connotes a treat…as in sweet revenge. And science has shown that for a brief moment when we exact revenge, there are feelings of satisfaction. But, it’s short-lived.

In one experiment researchers scanned the brains of people who were deliberately wronged and then given the chance to “even the score.” For one full minute there was a rush of neural activity in the caudate nucleus, an area of the brain known to process rewards, like nicotine and cocaine.

We expect revenge to provide an emotional catharsis; a purging of the hurt and anger that results from an offense done to us by another. But, further research wasn’t able to confirm this to be true and, in some cases, showed the opposite.

Most people aren’t good at making predictions about the future and are wrong about the perceived emotional benefits they expect to gain.

Revenge doesn’t actually fulfill our expectations and can prolong the unpleasantness of the situation. Instead of delivering justice it can create a cycle of retaliation because people are often in different places on the moral continuum.

Some people become fixated on the misdeed, reliving it over and over. They never have an opportunity to heal and move on.

“A man that studieth revenge, keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal, and do well.” ~Francis Bacon

There were many times in my life when I wanted revenge for various slights done to me. I considered all means of retaliation, but usually settled on not speaking to them (that’ll show ’em), or taking it out on myself.

Those times that I acted in self-destructive ways usually involved nicotine and/or alcohol. I’d often backslide on a cigarette habit that I’d finally given up or overindulge on my favorite wine.

That tendency was definitely rooted in weakness and when I wasn’t brave enough to stand up for myself I turned the revenge inward. This was a direct result of being in an abusive relationship for many years. It was only after a lot of hard work and growth that I turned weakness into strength.


Forgiveness

Wikipedia describes forgiveness this way:

Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which the aggrieved party undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as resentment and vengeance, and with an increased ability to wish the offender well.

It’s important to both the offended AND offender because forgiveness moves people forward as opposed to remaining emotionally engaged and stuck in a negative situation.

Harboring hurt and anger is debilitating both physically and mentally. Stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released in the body and can cause high blood pressure and heart problems.

However, forgiveness doesn’t automatically mean reconciliation. In cases where the offender is a serial abuser, the forgiving person shouldn’t return to the relationship unless the offender agrees to seek professional help.

In these cases the person who has been hurt can forgive in order to help themselves by letting go, but shouldn’t forget the offense. It’s imperative that they always remember, so they don’t allow it to happen again.

This was the case for me when I left that abusive relationship that I mentioned earlier. I could have disparaged this person and “gotten even” on a few fronts, but chose forgiveness. Coupled with the personal growth I later achieved, I came to understand that it really was the best revenge.

Forgiving Others

Psychologist Robert Enright outlined four steps necessary to forgiving other people:

  1. Uncover the anger – Think about how you either address or avoid the emotion.
  2. Decide to forgive – Realize that copin/ignoring the offense doesn’t move you forward, but forgiveness will.
  3. Find compassion – Did the offender act maliciously or due to challenging circumstances in their own life?
  4. Let go of harmful emotions – Such as anger, resentment, blame, and victimhood. Instead, consider what valuable lesson there is from the experience and the growth to be gained from forgiveness.

Forgiving Yourself

  1. Acknowledge your accountability – Take responsibility for your offense and the hurt you caused.
  2. Ask yourself – Why did this situation occur in the first place? What was within your control and outside of your control?
  3. Moral of the story – Figure out what lesson and insights you can derive from the experience. Then determine how to avoid repeating that mistake.
  4. Forgive yourself – It’s not enough to simply say the words. An important step in forgiving yourself is making restitution with the aggrieved person. Apologizing and offering a gesture of kindness to back up your words goes a long way towards legitimizing an admission of failure – to the other person and yourself.

Ignore

Ignoring negative people isn’t easy. 

Sometimes they’re family or a coworker. Maybe it’s a friend or cranky neighbor.

Whoever it is they are certain to suck the life right out of you. And speaking of life, whose life is perfect anyway? Everyone has their share of troubles. Perfection is a myth that produces expectations beyond anything close to reality.

Quote: Stay away from negative people, they have a problem for every solution. Albert Einstein

It’s how you handle those inherent difficulties that separates the optimists from the pessimists. Additionally, how you handle pessimists can greatly determine their effects on your life. 

If it’s someone in your inner circle like a family member or coworker, that’s not a simple task. There are strategies you can use like those in this Psychology Today article.

For anyone who qualifies as a secondary contact, it’s helpful to keep a safe distance. 

But, the one thing they all have in common is their inability to see their own negativity. They view anything less than ideal as some force outside of their control working to make them miserable. They blame other people and circumstances for their unhappiness.

And sometimes there ARE things outside our control that cause legitimate grief.

However, we do control our attitudes and actions and that’s where negative people fail. They’re pros at playing the blame-game and take no responsibility for anything they say or do. They don’t recognize how their behavior contributes to outcomes. The glass is perpetually half empty.

Fortunately, those closest to me don’t fall into this category. The few that do are casual acquaintances that I have no emotional investment in. So, they’re easy to ignore and limit contact with.

The important lesson to remember is:

“Someone who wants the best for you is what’s best for you.” ~Andrea Grossman

 And ignore the rest. It’s what smart people do.


 

 

Current Events (Depress Me)

Bad News 3

  • Olympic boxer jailed on charges of sexual assault in athlete’s village
  • Mayor of rich D.C. suburb charged in meth for sex scheme
  • Chicago releases shocking video of police shooting unarmed teen
  • Nanny raped while taking three-year-olds to the park
  • And then there are politics…

Is it any wonder that reading the news of the day can be a depressing experience? The fact that we have a 24 hour news cycle means that we never get a break from it, unless we voluntarily choose to turn it off.

I’ve been thinking about this and how to go about it. TV isn’t an issue, since we don’t have cable. But, the Internet puts the world at our fingertips and that’s where I’ll have to start. I spend a quality amount of free time on the computer, so maybe avoid all social media, news outlets, etc. every other day or a couple of times a week? 

This will actually free up more time for other things, which is great incentive!

Other people have written about this and I’m curious if any of you have tried it. I welcome any feedback if you have some thoughts or experiences…