How to Shift Your Perspective When Things are Hard
In just a matter of days, most of our lives have been impacted significantly by the Coronavirus outbreak.
Instead of going about our daily lives, we are cooped up at home trying to make sense of what’s going on around us and how to adapt to this new way of life. There is a lot of uncertainty about what the future will hold. And with that, comes a lot of fear and anxiety.
- There’s disappointment about canceled trips, celebrations and gatherings.
- There’s anxiety about lost jobs, lost contracts, lost paychecks.
- There’s worry about making sure there’s enough food on the table.
- There’s concern for the health and well being of our loved ones – especially those who are more vulnerable to the virus.
- There’s isolation and loneliness as we long to see our family and friends.
- There’s frustration from weary parents trying to keep kids educated and entertained.
There’s no doubt about it. It’s an incredibly difficult time for all of us. You would be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t been impacted by this pandemic.
And you have every right to be disappointed, frustrated and worried. But my encouragement to you is this––DO NOT STAY THERE.
These are all valid feelings. So feel those feelings. Acknowledge those fears. But, do not let them consume you. Do not let these be the things that dictate your thoughts and rule your mind.
Because, guess what? You have a choice.
You Can Choose What to Focus on
You can decide to focus on fear or you can decide to focus on joy and happiness.
You don’t HAVE to let fear be the thing that dictates your thoughts. But you have to make a conscious decision to choose joy, gratitude and love.
Because even though things are hard and scary right now, there is still so much goodness in the world. There is so much to be grateful for. You just have to look for it. You have to be intentional about it.
What Happens When You Focus on Fear
When we were confronted with my husband’s cancer diagnosis, we were consumed with fear and worry. My mind often spiraled out of control and played a game of “what ifs.”
I don’t know what it is about uncertainty, but it causes our brains to do funny things.
I often imagined the worst. I worried about months of chemo. I worried he wouldn’t be able to work and that we’d lose our income. I even worried that he might die and envisioned what Garth’s funeral would be like.
It’s crazy to admit that, but it’s true.
Of course, none of those things happened. Garth had stage 1 cancer and only had to do two rounds of chemo treatment.
All things considered, his battle with cancer, while scary, was incredibly short. And now, it’s been almost four years and he continues to be really healthy.
During that time, I learned just how damaging it can be to let negativity and fear fuel your thoughts.
You see, we often worry about the future and all of the “what ifs” in hopes that by doing so, it will make it easier if those things actually happen.
But it doesn’t. And it won’t. You are simply making yourself miserable over things that might never happen.
I saw someone share this recently, which perfectly articulates this idea:
Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.
It’s really easy to worry right now. But it’s not helpful. And it’s not healthy.
As I mentioned before, you have a choice.
So, what can you do instead?
Shift your perspective.
The Importance of Shifting Your Perspective
There’s a book I read to my son called the Pout Pout Fish. For those of you who are not familiar, the story is about a fish with pouty lips who is a big, fat grump.
In fact, here’s the phrase that’s repeated multiple times throughout the book:
I’m a pout pout fish,
With a pout pout face,
So I spread the dreary-wearies
All over the place.
This grumpy fish thinks that the shape of his mouth has made him destined to be grumpy. It’s not until the end of the book when another fish kisses him on those pouty lips that he realizes that those lips that he thought were for pouting can also be used for kissing!
At the end of the book, he proclaims that he’s now a kiss-kiss fish and proceeds to smooch all of his friends instead of being grumpy all of the time.
His lips didn’t change. His circumstances didn’t change. The only thing that changed was his perspective.
I think this message is true for us today. Just like the fish, you can choose to look at this situation and be grumpy or you can choose to be cheerful.
I promise that it’s possible. Even in a time like this.
4 Ways to Shift Your Perspective
So, let’s talk about some practical ways to shift your perspective and choose happiness and joy today.
1. Focus on gratitude.
When we were facing cancer and infertility, it was a really low time for me. I was worried, stressed and anxious. This was caused, in large part, because I spent way too much time googling and reading articles about our ailments.
And you know what? Because I spent all of my time focusing on that, that’s all I thought about. These struggles were ever present in my mind.
But, what happens if you switch your focus to something else? What happens when you start looking for good things instead of the bad?
One of the best things I did during this season is use the Five Minute Journal first thing every morning and evening. The first step in the morning routine is to write down three things you are grateful for.
I’m telling you that this small action is a great way to shift your perspective for the day.
There were some days that I felt so low, that I literally wrote things down like “coffee, my bed, my warm house, my husband” on that list.
But just doing that, made me realize that while things seemed really bad, I honestly had a whole lot of reasons to be thankful. I had a loving husband. I had a roof over my head and a bed to sleep on. And thank goodness, I had some coffee to help get me through it all!
Every time I start to feel stressed, switching my mindset to gratitude is always something that helps me feel better.
Just yesterday, I was thinking about how grateful I am that we had food in our fridge and in our bellies. I am grateful that we accidentally ordered too much toilet paper last month from Amazon and now we have enough for weeks! I am grateful that right now, my family is healthy and that we have each other in this time of isolation. And I’m especially grateful that I’m getting to spend more quality time with them.
So, make it a practice to write down a few things you are grateful for every day. And every time you feel stressed, worried or panicked, revisit that list or create a new one. Focusing on gratitude is always a helpful and beneficial practice.
2. Look for things you CAN do.
In this time of uncertainty, it feels like there are so many things that we can’t do. It feels like life as we know it has stopped. But, if you look closer, you’ll see there are a lot of things we CAN do.
There’s an opportunity to slow down. To rest. To recharge.
There’s an opportunity to actually do things we say we never have time to do.
For instance, you can:
- Read a book (or several).
- Finally write that book you’ve wanted to write.
- Make some art. Paint. Draw. Color. Sketch. Craft.
- Learn a new language.
- Call some friends you haven’t talked to in a long time.
- Write letters.
- Pick up a new hobby or rediscover some old ones.
- Make music.
- Learn how to play an instrument.
- Stretch or do yoga.
- Go for a walk.
- Spring clean.
- Do yard work.
If you focus on all of the things you can do, you’ll see there’s a lot of opportunity to invest in yourself and the people in your life right now. And that is a beautiful thing.
You just have to be willing to change your perspective.
3. Be present in the now.
One thing that has always remained true is that we don’t know what the future holds. Before we were in this time of pandemic, we didn’t know what the next day or week or year would look like. That hasn’t changed.
Perhaps we fooled ourselves into believing that we had things all planned out. But, the reality is that we didn’t. We can’t control what happens. But, we can control how we respond to it.
I’m not going to discount the importance of planning ahead. I think it’s smart to do that. But, continuing to worry about the future is not helpful. The only thing we can control is what we do right now.
In times of uncertainty, instead, it helps to be present and to focus on where you are right now. The next hour, day or week is not guaranteed. So, how can you focus on where you are right now? How can you be present in this very moment? How can you focus on what you do today?
A friend of mine shared this idea on facebook – when you are feeling overwhelmed with fear and worry, check in with yourself and ask, “Am I okay right now?”
If we’re truly honest with ourselves, almost always, the answer will be “yes.”
When my two-year-old bumps his head or sneezes or trips, I’m constantly asking him, “are you okay?”
And lately, as his vocabulary is advancing, he has started responding “I am O-Tay.” It’s the cutest thing ever! Here’s a video so you can see for yourself.
So now, as you check in with yourself, you can think of my son and say, “am I okay? “ And answer “I am O-Tay.” It brings a smile to my face every time I think about it.
Maybe it will for you too.
Because, chances are good that right now, you are okay. Just keep checking in with yourself to remind you of this important fact.
4. Connect with people.
Fear, worry and doubt thrives when you’re alone. Community and staying connected with people is a great antidote for that.
Even though it’s much harder to be in community since we can’t physically be in one another’s presence right now, thanks to technology, it’s still possible to be connected to people. And I encourage you to make every effort you can to do that.
Use FaceTime, Skype or video conferencing platforms to check in with your friends and family. Pick up the phone and call someone. Send text messages to check in on your loved ones. Reach out to your friends on social media or find a group to join.
Write letters or postcards to let people know you are thinking about them. Wouldn’t receiving some happy mail right now just make someone’s day?
There are lots of ways you can stay connected and I hope you’ll make every effort to do so.
People need people. Just because we are in physical isolation does not mean we have to be in emotional isolation.
So stay connected. It’s worth the effort.
Finding joy in the tough stuff
I don’t have all the answers. But, I hope that these tips can help you find the joy in these challenging times.
It might not always be easy, but I’m willing to bet that we can find beauty in the dark places if we’re just willing to look for it.
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