With so much out-of-our-control-ness in the world today, Make It Better National Editorial Director Mimi Towle sat down with coach and life stage expert Barbara Waxman and meditation and well-being guru, Laura Sage, founder of Chill Anywhere, to talk about skills to cope as well as thrive in a very uncertain and changing world. Here are 10 take-aways on what we can do in 2021 to make our own lives — and consequently the lives of those around us — feel more positive, upward and centered.
Embrace the Notion of Self Compassion
When Laura Sage co-founded Chill Anywhere, she was completely paralyzed with fear and self- loathing, wondering to herself why she’d put all her money into an unproven concept. She’d been very successful in two previous careers, but the thought that she might possibly fail led her to beat herself up a bit.
While Sage was able to alter her repugnant thinking, she says it’s often easier said than done. “When we were young, we were taught the concept of ‘treat others the way you want to be treated’, says Sage. “I decided to turn concept on its ear, rephrasing it as ‘treat yourself the same way that you treat those you care about the most.’” Self-compassion can help you be more confident, productive, more resilient and experience less stress and depression.
Practice Mindfulness To Change Your Perspective
We’ve all heard about mindfulness, but what does it mean? “Mindfulness is defined as paying attention in the present moment, in a particular way, on purpose,” says Sage. The idea behind mindfulness is that by engagement, we can relax our minds and cope better with stress.
The Mayo Clinic endorses mindfulness as a way to help you direct attention away from negative and unproductive thoughts, while re-engaging with the world around you.
Open Your Mind to New Ideas by Repotting Yourself in Fertile Soil
Many of us can keep operating for years on auto-pilot. While there’s something to be said about living with a sense of continuity, we can also find ourselves stuck in a serious rut and limiting our own creativity and potential as a result. Even making small changes, like taking up a new hobby, rediscovering a passion we had in our younger days or branching out into a new social circle can reinvigorate us and help bring new ideas and perspectives our way. Or it can be something much more inspiring; after her three kids were grown and moved out of the house, Barbara Waxman and her husband moved to Italy for a year where they spent time working and ‘living the dream.’
Infuse Meditation into Your Daily Routine
Numerous studies have revealed the value of meditation: this study from Harvard talks about how mindfulness-based meditation can help people suffering from depression. But meditation is something that can help everyone and come in different forms. “Mindfulness is just one of those forms, says Sage. “There’s also yoga, which is a kind of moving meditation, mantras that you repeat to yourself, another form of meditation centered on loving kindness, and more. And you can switch up what you do, in my view it’s all good.”
“The most important thing about meditation is not how long you do it, but how often,” she adds. Even if you only meditate for a few minutes a day, but do it every day, that’s much more powerful than trying to ‘binge meditate’ for 20 minutes once a week.
Don’t Let Your Age Define You
NFL player Tom Brady practically stunned the world when he, at age 43, became the oldest NFL player in any position to play in a Super Bowl. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ quarterback went on to lead his team to victory. It’s rare to see professional athletes last into their 40s, but Brady seems to defy all logic and reason, proving that age doesn’t have to stop us from going after what we want.
According to study reported by the Buck Institute, 90% of our life expectancy and how we age is based on our lifestyle choices, not on our predetermined genetics.
Waxman is a firm believer in this. She points out that we shouldn’t feel daunted by our age or place self-imposed limits based on our own life stage. A good example can be found in today’s work environment, in which it’s not uncommon to find four generations working together. “When you go in for that job interview, you might wonder how a prospective employer will perceive you based on your age,” Waxman says. “Show up as your best self, acknowledge that the world has a range of workers age-wise, and define how you personally fit in to that scenario with your experience and what you can bring to the table.”
Reject the Myth of the Mid-Life Crisis
Alongside the age-out question is what to do during those middle age years, when our bodies are changing and we are “in between” youth and older age. Waxman, who has written extensively about mid-life in her book The Middlescence Manifesto, says it’s a transitional period “marked by an increased desire to find or create greater meaning in one’s life. It’s a second adolescence, but with wisdom this time around.” Middlescence is a time to reevaluate our choices and correct our mistakes, but not necessarily dump everything we’ve done previously. Look at mid-life as your time to tweak, or rewrite, your own life story.
Focus on Gratitude
With all the negativity we’ve been dealt over the past year, it’s easy to hone in on what’s wrong in the world today. “Never underestimate the power of being grateful,” advised Sage. “ Write down what you are grateful for, and meditate on that.” Indeed. Studies show that leaning into gratitude, especially in times of strife, can help us all cope better and can help reduce stress.
Turn on Music to Make Your Brain Feel Good
You know that song that comes on the radio that you never, ever tire of hearing? You can listen to that song over and over again. Well, there’s a biological reason behind it. A research study by AARP shows that music is not just enjoyable to hear, it’s also been proven to be good for your heart and soul, and can reduce anxiety and depression. Music helps bring back memories too, because it triggers our emotions.
There are many ways to infuse music into your life. It might involve playing music in the background in your office, or while doing chores at home. Sage suggests creating a “sound bath” for yourself to help you relax. Or play songs from a favorite decade and have a full-on dance party at home. Whatever your jam is, tap into music to liven up your mood or take you down a notch.
Let Go of the Idea That You Have to Kill It in the Gym
Here’s a piece of good news: we don’t have to stop eating carbs or go to the gym for three hours a day to be healthy. How so? Because the key to being healthy isn’t about obsessing over calories or killing ourselves at the gym, it’s about balancing our intake and output.
“The healthiest populations in the world don’t go to the gym and they don’t go on fad diets,” says Waxman. “These populations stay active; they just approach it differently and inherently. They find ways to incorporate exercise in their lives naturally, such as walking and biking everywhere, and they don’t overeat.”
Forge New Relationships Outside Work
Humans are social creatures by nature, so the past year has been particularly hard on those of us who crave interaction. While it’s tempting to think that loneliness and isolation are the “new norm,” the reality is that we will eventually be able to return to real-time interactions.
However, some things will look very different on the other side of the pandemic, such as the working world. Forbes reported on a survey from Growmotely which found a whopping 97 percent of remote workers do not want to return to the office full time. Given that so many of us lean on the office for social interaction and friendship-building, this means we’ll need to find new ways to stay connected to each other.
How to help:
Consider supporting one of these local nonprofits that urgently need support during the pandemic.
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Donna Berry Glass is a freelance writer in Marin County who writes mostly about family and kid-oriented topics. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with her family exploring the natural beauty of Marin, snuggling with her Cavalier King Charles spaniel while reading a good book or whipping up something delicious in her space-challenged kitchen. Donna is a supporter of the California Academy of Sciences, a world class science museum and research institution, and the Institute on Aging which provides much needed services to seniors and disabled individuals.