Soul Goals

At this busy time of year, the last thing we’re probably thinking about is New Year’s Resolutions and setting goals. Every November I personally resolve to be more prepared and less REactive about Christmas however that rarely comes to fruition. This hectic season often feels like a fast flowing current that we get swept up in and can’t get out of. It becomes more about getting ‘through’ Christmas than simply enjoying it. By the time we feel OK to relax, it feels all too soon to compile a set of task oriented goals for the coming year. And perhaps if we failed to achieve what we set out to do in the previous year, we’ll be a lot less keen to list a whole new set of benchmarks for the following year.

So what are our options?  To aim high and commit or to not aim at all? The former might involve listing some things we’d like to change or improve about our lives and setting some measurable outcomes as per the SMART method of goal setting.  The latter might be to not aim at all and hope to be happy with whatever outcome befalls us.  Certainly there is less pressure that way, but also a loss of direction and perhaps satisfaction.

This dilemma has got me to thinking that perhaps we’re missing a step.  That being the all important stage of reflection.  Unless we take some time to reflect on what has worked or not worked in the previous year, or perhaps be honest about what our gifts are (and are not) we may be moving forward unwisely.  In order to do this step authentically, we need to move from our brain to our soul. Here’s an acronym for SOUL that I’ve created and sincerely hope to use over my summer holiday:

S: Still – there’s an old proverb that says “muddy water, let stand, becomes clear”.  Imagine that old bottle of muddy water you brought back from the creek, hoping to find tadpoles in? It was hard to find them when the bottle was all shook up; but slowly, as you waited for the silt to sink to the bottom, the water became clearer and you could find what you set out to catch.  In other words, when we sit awhile, and let all that’s going on around us simply settle, things in our life usually become clearer.

O: Overview – once we’ve sat still for a while, it might be time to take a look at the year or the season of our life that has just passed.  What went well?  What values seemed to grow within?  What relationships opened up?  What was there to be thankful for?  It’s probably best to create your own questions in this section.

U: Under – Many of us would accept that our lives have many layers.  This section is about reflecting on some of those under layers.  Not being content to just live life on the surface, but to explore what can sometimes be hidden away underneath.  What tugs at your heart but can’t be felt in the normal day to day?  What cries out from within but can’t be heard?  What longs to see the light but struggles because it lies so deep down?  We may be talking about identity, longings, deep emotions or even hurts.  This is an opportunity to stop and take a look in a moment of solitude so that we can come to an acceptance of who we are and why.  If you sense that this is a fearful exercise, it might be wise to have a trusted friend or professional alongside you.

L: Look – This implies that our eyes need to be open.  Open in a metaphorical sense in that we are prepared to look at ourselves, our relationships, our purpose and meaning in life and our future. Looking works on many levels: Look up (perhaps to the stars or a higher power you believe in?)  Look out (to a beautiful horizon or simply outside yourself) and Look within.

As a result of this time of reflection, you may decide to do something differently or even set out a plan.  Whether it prompts action or not, there’s nothing lost in taking stock of our soul.

 

 

Managing Anxiety

Written by Ivette Moutzouris

Anxiety…..this is a word we often hear now. Many Counsellors and Psychologists would probably agree that a large proportion of clients we see exhibit symptoms of anxiety. I’ve even heard primary and high school teachers say there are more stressed and anxious kids now than there used to be a few decades ago. So why the increase in people reporting feelings of anxiety and stress and what can we do about this?

There are probably many factors but I think part of the issue (particularly in western culture) may be the busyness of life and the expectations we have about life and ourselves. That is that we are constantly on the go with little time to rest, slow down and quieten the noise in our lives and in our heads!!! So how can we manage and get through life with less anxiety and stress?

Firstly I think it is unhealthy to expect that we can maintain constant busyness all the time without having times of rest and learning how to slow down. I have seen the  benefits not only personally but also professional from my clients when they learn to say ‘no’ sometimes, when they delegate some responsibilities, when they learn to set boundaries, when they take some much needed time- out for themselves. Some of my clients who have presented as feeling very stressed and anxious have gone on holidays or have changed their lifestyles and as a result I have seen a fresher, happier, calmer version of themselves. Why? Because we all need rest and believe it or not we need it regularly. It is part of our make-up. Physiologically we sleep for this reason, we also have a calendar which includes weekends and holidays so that we can hopefully rest from school and work. The problem is that we have largely forgotten how to rest and have a tendency to use these times unproductively. If I asked how many of you do leisurely activities regularly on your time off to wind down how many of you would say that you do? Or instead do you spend time working on your laptops or browsing the internet for long periods of time when you should be resting, talking to your family/friends, reading a book, exercising, going outdoors etc. We live in a fast paced society but we are in control of our own lives and we need to learn how to slow down and make healthier choices.

The benefits of this lifestyle is a calmer self, and a calmer self is usually a version of you that has time to reflect instead of react and has time to learn, grow and enjoy life more fully.

Anxiety symptoms are not always bad and sometimes they can help us to be more alert for situations such as a performance or an exam. It is also our body’s way of preparing us for danger or a threat. It does however become problematic when we experience anxiety over a prolonged period of time or when our mind perceives a threat that does not exist. When this occurs it is important to learn how to calm our minds and our racing thoughts and challenge any unhelpful thinking patterns. As mentioned earlier it may mean that we take stock of how much we are trying to pack into our lives and make some necessary changes whilst also learning the value of ‘quiet’ time either through calming activities such as walking, yoga, reading and so on. This doesn’t necessarily mean that our problems are solved but it does help us to become calmer so that we can cope better with life’s challenges. Research in the field of neuroscience supports this by showing how our brain activity changes when our bodies are in a relaxed state. This is the reason why activities such as ‘Deep Breathing’, ‘Mindfulness’ and generally anything that we do that slows us down is so important. This calmer state helps us to think more clearly and then we are in a better position to work at finding solutions to problems or seeing situations in a healthier way.

Regular exercise has also proven to be an effective method for reducing anxiety. This is because of helpful chemicals that are released in the body and brain that can act as a defence against the physiological symptoms of anxiety.

Maintaining a healthy diet is important because of the effects that certain foods can have on our bodies and our emotions. For example drinking caffeinated drinks and high sugar foods can seem emotionally helpful when we are stressed but they in fact make our stress levels and anxiety worse because they stimulate an already highly wound up self. Even skipping breakfast has shown to be associated with a higher release of stress hormones.

Trying to maintain healthy sleep habits is beneficial as it allows our bodies to rest and our minds to consolidate and process our thoughts. Feeling rested generally helps us emotionally to not be as reactive during the day and helps with clarity of thought and increased concentration levels.

In general when dealing with anxiety symptoms it is important to deal with both the mind and the body. When you focus on working on these two aspects of the self you can make changes that will benefit you long term and help you to feel calmer and become more resilient when challenges occur.

 

Bourne, E. & Garano, L. 2003. Coping With Anxiety. New Harbinger Publications.

Arden, J.B. 2010. Rewire Your Brain. John Wiley & Sons.Inc.

Siegel, D.J. & Bryson, T.P.2011. The Whole-Brain Child. Bantam Books.