Dealing with long-term difficulties or illness affecting a close friend or family member can be distressing and harrowing. The demands of supporting a loved one through ongoing crisis can be stressful and exhausting, especially if we are living with an ongoing situation where we feel we can no longer, physically, do anything more to improve their situation.
We may feel trapped, frustrated and unable to cope, we just cannot do any more to help, their progress, (or lack of) is outside our control. This is when we may feel we have reached breaking point.
Don’t despair, there is more we can do to improve our capability to cope and to support our loved one. We may not be able to affect the situation by physical means, but we can improve our mental strength, which enables us to deal with the situation from a stronger , less painful position and therefore increases our ability to care for the troubled friend or relative.
We often ignore or overlook our ability to improve our mental strength, assuming that how we are feeling about a situation is beyond our control: ” I feel so awful (but there’s nothing I can do about it), I just can’t cope any longer”.
The crucial thing we forget is that our feelings are within our self, therefore they are within our control. We may be affected by external conditions outside our self but how we perceive and mentally process these conditions greatly affects how we feel towards them. It is likely we all know somebody who can deal with life’s trials and tribulations whilst remaining incredibly calm and peaceful due to their inner strength or inner peace. Their mind remains at peace through life’s difficulties due to the way they mentally process the situations they encounter in their daily life.
‘Ah, yes, but I see things differently to them’ you may say, ‘therefore I find the situation more painful and difficult to bear’.
This may be true at the moment. We may well see things differently. In fact, the way we see things depends entirely on our state of mind at that moment in time.
Prove it to yourself by looking back over your life at some of the fashionable outfits, hairstyles and bands you once indulged in! At that time , you saw them as the only way to be, do you still see things the same way? Look at it another way: when you have a really happy mind you hardly notice the clouds, the rain, or having to stand on the tram all the way to work, however if your mind is feeling miserable, these things feel like the end of the world.
It shows us just how fickle we are, we view everything in our day according to the state of our mind rather than a truly objective standpoint. When we realise this, it is really good news! It shows that we can learn to process our external conditions with logical reasoning and improve our inner strength or inner peace to allow us to cope with difficult situations. We can learn how to improve positive states of mind such as patience, compassion and love and eliminate negative unhelpful states of mind such as impatience, irritability and anger, therefore maintaining a much more relaxed, happy mind and decreasing or eliminating our anxiety and stress.
There are a few ways we can do this, here are five suggestions to get you started.
1. Relax your mind.
One of the best tools in any anti-stress toolkit is a little simple meditation. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as sitting down in a comfy chair, physically relaxing your body, then spending 5-10 minutes just observing the sensation of your breath as it enters and leaves the tip of your nostrils, with no other thoughts in your mind.
We never think to rest our mind, we constantly find more activities for it e.g. t.v. web, Facebook etc, never giving it any time off, so no wonder we get so close to burnout. We keep our mind busy every minute of every day, only becoming aware of this when we sit down and try to switch off this constant mental chatter. So don’t worry if at first it seems our mind gets busier when we sit down to try to meditate, just let go of any thoughts or feelings as they arise in your mind and gently keep bringing your attention back to your breath.
Always remember, even 1 minute of mental peace is 1 minute of rest for our overworked mind. This one minute will build into 2 minutes and so on. If you can do this regularly (daily is best) you and your friends will soon notice a calmer, less stressed ‘you’.
More information on meditation can be found here , and also in this book: “Modern Buddhism” by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (Available in hard copy or free download here)
Patience is often seen as gritting our teeth to keep us silent while our irritation or anger builds within, and often results in a volcanic eruption of all the emotion we are trying to repress.
True patience or Patient Acceptance is exactly as it says; learning to accept patiently the things we do not want in our life, by using logical reasoning and thereby altering our perception and feelings towards the situations, objects and people we would choose not to experience.
Our stress is caused by the discrepancy between our expectations of our life and the reality of our life. We are constantly battling in two big areas;
a)Objects, people or situations we desire but cannot acquire or achieve.
b)Objects, people or situations we really do not want but which appear easily in our life.
We devote a great deal of time and energy trying to control these two groups, especially trying to avoid all items in group b. However if we look at it logically, there is not one single person has ever walked this earth who has managed to acquire everything in group a) and avoid everything in group b). Even the rich and famous have unhappy times in their lives, suffering loneliness, broken relationships, illness, loss of loved ones, and other disasters.
Therefore it is illogical to assume we will be the first person to avoid all these difficulties in our life. Still we plan our way through life becoming surprised that things don’t always go our way. This is the gap between our expectations and reality which leads to so much stress.
This is why the difficulties encountered by our loved one take us by surprise: “Why me?” “Why them?” we ask in a shocked confused way. But in reality the question is “Why not?” Why should we be any different to the countless number of other people struggling with the same problem?
A lot of our stress comes from this anger of non-acceptance.
Sadly, not accepting our loved ones situation, and becoming angry does not help us or them. We need to rethink;
“This is the way it is, my non-acceptance will not change this, it just causes me to have an angry mind which increases my stress and decreases my ability to help”.
We need to come from a strong position of peaceful, patient acceptance to enable us to deal with the difficulties and maintain our inner strength. Then we will be more able to progress through the next steps……..
More coming soon in Part 2……………………..
Tagged: family relationships, Meditation, self-help, stress, WPLongform
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