(published in Fibromyalgia Magazine, Oct 2017) Estimated reading time: 5 mins.
You know, I’m not an expert in psychology. Neither do I have all the answers in dealing with pain and fatigue brought on by Chronic Fatigue syndrome and Fibromyalgia from which I’ve suffered for nearly ten years. But, like many of you, I’ve been at my lowest point many times over these years and have increasingly found that gratitude and kindness help me weather the storm until it passes. So I wanted to share some suggestions from my book, ‘Acts of Kindness from your Armchair’ on self-kindness and gratitude in the hope that these may help you too.
A little self-analysis:
Are you a glass half-empty or a glass half-full person? I admit to being the former in the past. Youth brings for some a tremendous sense of entitlement and when things don’t go according to our plan, we blame others or make excuses. We rarely think that our negative attitudes may be contributing to our failures. Many psychologists believe that we have an inbuilt tendency to notice the bad things in life, the possible threats as we see them. Perhaps this can be traced back to our Stone-Age predecessors whose very survival hinged upon their ability to notice threats on the horizon. It does help to explain why many of us hold a negative view of life: the glass half-empty standpoint. At the extremis, those in this group rationalise that because they will never be successful, there is no point in trying.
However, I have seen that for every negative act, every act of disappointment or despair, there are thousands of acts of kindness and love throughout the world. If our focus is solely on the negative aspects – as we perceive them – of life, our vision may become blurred to the good things around the periphery. That’s why it’s important to give gratitude every day for the blessings in our life. Remember also that when we focus on things which we perceive as a threat, this often triggers the stress response, (the “fight or flight” response) which can be incredibly harmful to our bodies. It produces noradrenaline which floods our system; increases heart rate and pulse; induces feelings of nausea; and causes muscles to tremble and shake in preparation to “fight or flight”. This is a useful inbuilt genetic program which kicks in in times of extreme danger. However, our stressors/dangers are other people in cars, screaming children, barking dogs, all sorts of things which invoke this hitherto ‘emergency’ response time and again. If this physiological response is allowed to continue over time, it may detrimentally damage your health.
It’s certainly easier to look on the negative side of life if we have an inbuilt propensity to view the world in this way. It takes a lot more effort on our part to counteract this tendency and focus on the positives, all the blessings in our life. We have to retrain our minds not to take our blessings for granted but to be grateful for them. The following gratitude practice has proved to be very beneficial to my mental health, allowing me to climb out of the well of depression where I saw no glimmer of hope, to sit calmly in the warmth and light of positivity and optimism.
Practice 4: Daily gratitude
Make a note of five things which you are grateful for every morning. If you prefer, say them in your head, but I believe it’s beneficial even for a couple of weeks to write them down. This allows you to look back and gain an overview of your thoughts and words. Some people prefer to record their daily gratitude journal onto a tablet computer using the microphone keyboard icon. Do this every morning before rising, at morning coffee break or some other time to suit you. Be sure to say why you’re grateful for the blessing and what difference this makes to your life.
Here are some of the things I am grateful for and why:
- I am grateful for the fact that I work from home and can keep my own hours, as this flexibility is really important to me and gives me a sense of control.
- I am grateful for my dogs, as they get on well together, and are good company for me.
- I am grateful for electricity because it provides an abundance of energy for cooking and heating. In this way I can wake up in a nice warm environment which helps my pain with a lovely hot cup of tea which soothes my soul.
- I am so thankful for my sense of hearing, so that I can listen to the birds at the feeder in the morning. This makes my heart sing.
- I am grateful for my friends as they make me laugh and keep me positive.
- I am thankful for the family into which I was born. My parents instilled diligence and perseverance in me which allowed me to prosper in life and my siblings are a constant source of friendship for me.
Make your own gratitude list. It may be tempting to allow your ego to intervene in this process, noting down things which it thinks you should be writing down to make your life appear more exciting. But no-one else needs to read this list. No-one will judge you. Simply write down what you’re grateful for this day.
If you’re thankful for your husband’s patience as he cares for you, because this makes your life so much easier, write this. If you’re grateful that you live in the middle of a city because you love all the buzz and the noise, write that. List the ones which resonate with you. Everyone’s list will be different.
Practice 5: How did I show love and kindness today?
The second practice in this chapter is to note how you showed love and kindness. I do this at the end of the day, lying in bed. Reviewing your day, remembering what you did, and more especially, in what ways you were loving and kind is an act of kindness to yourself. It focuses the mind, enabling you to analyse events and how you made someone else’s life better that day. Break this practice up into three sections: kindness to the self; kindness to other people; and kindness to the natural world and the environment. To help you get started, here are some things which you could include:
- I showed kindness to myself by eating healthy food because I know it helps to keep me strong;
- I showed love and kindness by watching something other than the news. In this way I was more positive which I know is good for me;
- I showed kindness to myself by meditating on one of my poor behaviour choices from the past and handing it over to God;
- I showed kindness to myself by sitting out in the garden for a while, just being with nature. It is so good for the soul: the birds singing, the flowers showing off, the warmth of the sun on my bones, the smell and sounds of grass being mown.
- I smiled at the grocery delivery man and engaged him in a conversation. He showed me a photo of his dog on his phone. That made us both smile!
- I showed kindness to the birds by making sure their feeder was topped up. Otherwise they waste vital energy flying in only to find there is no food and I do love to watch them.
- I showed kindness to others by joining in a remote meditation, sending love and positivity to world leaders as they met to discuss a peace plan for a Middle Eastern country which has been ravaged by war for years.
It’s over to you now:
Being thankful is a major way to show love and kindness to ourselves. It also has the added side-effect that our renewed positivity will affect those around us. Even if we don’t say anything, they will perceive by our demeanour and outlook that we are much more positive and thankful. So, be kind to yourself. Change negativity, sarcasm, pessimism, lack of motivation, glass half-empty attitude, to positivity, optimism, compassion, determination, glass always half-full! You will become a better, kinder person if you effect these changes in your life.
About the Author:
Anita Neilson is an Author, Spiritual Poet and Kindness Blogger. A secondary school teacher until ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia struck in 2008, she now spends her time writing for many mind, body, spirit publications; walking her dogs and meditating. You can connect with Anita at: http://anitaneilson.com, on Facebook @AnitaNeilsonAuthor and Instagram @anitaneilson61.
Her book, ‘Acts of Kindness from your Armchair’, is out November 24th 2017, available from your preferred online book retailer.