I got my second email this morning from The Washington Post about how to cope with the mental challenges brought by our time in history. There is a lot of stuff there, but one thing I know from my own life is right on:

“…lots of small practices can help you move forward and recover a sense of time … Alvord (clinical psychologist) said, you accept what’s out of your control and look for what’s in your control, even if it’s as small as taking a walk.”

I think I learned as a little kid that if I just take a walk (bike ride, run) things will improve, whatever things are. There was another good thing in this morning’s email regarding mental habits that deepen peoples’ depression and feelings of hopelessness:

  • The “I can’t” habit. You automatically decide you can’t meet a new challenge. You give up before even trying.
  • The catastrophizing habit. You see disaster everywhere, and fall into what ifs. You spend a lot of energy panicking.
  • The all-or-nothing habit. If something doesn’t go just one way, it’s wrong. You’re irritated with yourself and others.

    These are countered with challenge questions:
  • The “I can’t” habit: “What is the evidence that I can’t do it?”
  • The catastrophizing habit: “What are five other things more likely to happen?”
  • The all-or-nothing habit: “What are some possibilities that fall between the extremes?”

Today’s newsletter thing was great — I guess I’m a fan of behavioral psychology which this whole thing illustrates. When I was having counseling myself, that was my therapist’s approach. She was perfect for me because I’m one of those, “That’s all very interesting, but what do I DO???” kind of people. Deep down I believe that we are what we do, the culmination of our choices and actions. I just wanted to make choices that worked. I wasn’t trying to expunge any deeply buried demons or get to the bottom of anything. I knew that dark icky stuff wasn’t going away. I wanted to learn how to live with it.

Still…I dunno. I think “sinking spells” are a normal part of life in any moment, “normal” or whatever this is. Maybe it’s all how we feel about our sinking spells, how well we’re able to ride them out and move forward. Some time ago — when I was still teaching Business Communication — I had an epiphany about the word “positive.” The text book talked about “good news” and “bad news” messages. Simply good news is what the audience wants to read/hear and bad news what the audience doesn’t want to read/hear.

It was challenging for my students to get that simple point, that good or bad depended on the audience’ desires, not theirs. A good news message started out with good news, ‘Yay! You get a refund!” a bad news message started with goodwill, an acknowledgement of the humanity of the audience, “We appreciate your business” or “Thank you for your inquiry” — something like that. Students had this idea of “justice” (“They want something they can’t have! They read the signs! Off with their heads!”) so it was challenging to teach this. Shouldn’t have been, but it was there I learned that we can’t take empathy for granted. Some people need to be taught.

The closing of both types of messages was supposed to be positive, and positive meant something that pointed to a future relationship. Positive didn’t mean up-beat or cheery, but something that pointed to a future that was better than the present, essentially the “light at the end of the tunnel.” In a business message like those my students were learning it might be, “Here’s a coupon for 10% off a future purchase” or “We hope to do business with you in the future.” Basically saying, “This, too, shall pass.”

Featured photo: For various reasons, I had a bad day yesterday. At one point, I started to cry. Teddy and Bear were very worried and Bear stayed worried (as is her nature) until I went to bed. The photo is Bear taking care of me in the evening. She can’t make me soup when I’m sick, drive me to the doc if I’m hurt, or offer any other concrete help, but when it comes to moral support, faith and affection, it’s pretty hard to beat a livestock guardian dog.

24 thoughts on “Pawsitivity

  1. Glad you can write out your perspective, Martha, so it doesn’t sink you by being bottled inside. Rest and nourishment and subtle actions. The Hare always sets out to win, and never does, buzzing all around like a pachinko ball. And, the tortoise? Goes slow to go faster by experiencing everything along the way. I always wonder if the tortoise stopped for 5 or 10 minutes just looking at the finish line taking the experience in before calling out to the Hare, “Hey, what’s this?” Step. Finish line. Tortoise 1 (experience), Hare 0 (all manicy). The experience might be an indelible cornerstone to brace against. The manicy? Gone with the next breeze.

    Glad you have the newsletter Road Map. Sometimes just pointing on a hike… ahhh, you may know that better than me where you are living. 🙂

    • I’m getting the newsletter mostly because I’m interested in this pandemic as a phenomenon. It hasn’t affected me much (so far), but people around me. One thing, though, is that some ordinary tasks are complicated (like going to a doctor, getting groceries, a flu shot, travel…). I am not totally sure, but I think it’s harder on young people than on a retired little lady living in the back of beyond. 🙂

      • My Mom, who has been retired for quite some time indicated that other than doing her grocery shopping online, she hasn’t much been affected.

        I agree most likely harder on people where the adaptation required creates overwhelming loss.

  2. That newsletter sounds like a helpful resource on many levels. When someone advises to “think positive” during a – as you say “sinking spell” – it’s not usually too helpful. Maybe if it was prefaced with empathy, which (I agree) often has to be taught, that would help.
    It’s when a sinking spell spirals out of control…that’s worrisome. But you’ve got Bear. ❤️
    I hope you are better today. I find that crying just bubbles up at random times these days. (do you realize how often we say “these days”?.).

    • I agree. “Think positive” doesn’t seem to mean much. It’s just vague, like “freedom.” I am better today. Some problems aren’t resolved, but they will be (that, I think, is thinking positive). Yeah, crying. I have felt like it more than I’ve done it, but one of my friends says she has experienced moments when she just feels like crying (probably she doesn’t cry, but…) These days are just objectively weird and sometimes stressful. Bear is a pretty good pal because 1) she has no idea what’s going on “these days” 2) she doesn’t offer a lot of advice. She just puts her paw on my leg. Advice is often helpful, but sometimes we just need a paw on our leg. ❤

  3. I love this approach to dealing with the ups and downs of life. I’m sorry your day was bad, and how very sweet, your loving dogs’ care for you

  4. I’m really enjoying reading the WP’s newsletter via your interpretation! I’m also a behavioral psychology junkie and need the action piece most of all. If I can’t use what you’re telling me then don’t bother. I think we need a world-wide pandemic support group.

  5. I see LOTS of catastrophizing going on. Whatever problem we have, the worst possible result is viewed as the inevitable one.

    I get a kick out of youngsters who think the world has never been at such terrible risk. Obviously never heard of the Cold War.

    • I see a lot of that, too. I have a friend who makes that a habit. It’s his strategy for not doing anything. I think maybe there are people who get perverse comfort out of the imagining the worst case scenario when really we don’t know and we can do things to prevent it.

  6. Thank you Martha! This was just what I needed to hear today. I’ve been “circling the hole” ever since I got back from Arkansas. The idea that my worst case scenario is the only outcome had taken center stage. I’m going to employ the strategy you listed and start to back away from my “doomsday” thinking… Hope all is well

    • My neighbors and I had one of our COVID tea parties today. There was much laugher, I told a shocking joke about sheep, there was talking about husbands and at the end, as always, there was “We need this.” “Yes, thank you, Martha.” “This keeps us sane.” I love the two women into whose neighborhood I moved six years ago today. I think we benefit a lot from each other’s blog posts, too. I’m glad mine was good for you today. ❤

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