After everything that has taken place this year that has affected all of us in so many different ways, it’s important to remember that it is completely NORMAL to experience feelings of hopelessness at some point. To experience negative feelings at this time is a completely natural human response to a traumatic time.
If you look on social platforms, in the news or across the media there is a lot of negativity and fear to focus on but we can choose where to put our energy. If we reflect on the idea of Hope vs. Hopeful, with hope being the idea and will of wanting something to be different, we can draw on the Yogic principle of Acceptance and rather than pushing and wanting things to be different. Looking at the law of impermanence it’s also important to remember that things will change, change is inevitable and by relinquishing an aspect of control we can begin to practice more Acceptance. Trust the process and remind yourself that things can and will be different. That’s when we can then invite in more Hope for the future, by trusting and knowing that things can and will change. When we instill more positive practices at the heart it can allow us to feel more hopeful and focus on the things that we still have control over. Remember, we still have power over the way we think, the way we treat other people, the way we nourish ourselves, conduct our personal lives and use our voice within society.
It can also help to focus on the things that are creating positive change and even in the bleakest of situations, we can normally find a small glimmer of hope. If we consider the Black Lives Matter Movement (the ongoing fight for social justice) and raging bush fires across the world (the need to protect the environment) – we can draw elements of hope from the tragedies and loss that have been catalysts around the globe, from educating ourselves and making changes in our own lives to governments and businesses being held accountable for racism, promoting diversity & inclusivity and their impact on the climate and natural world. This is a call to action and positive change can only occur if we respond to that call, which is a call to hope in itself.
It can be difficult to harness hope when we’re feeling low or hopeless but it can be a powerful tool to reflect on the things we have in our lives to be thankful for. Focus on the smallest changes you can make at a daily level, so your daily routine can insight real, lasting change. On heavy days when you don’t feel like getting out of bed or you’re feeling weighed down, try not to be hard on yourself. If you need a day of Netflix in bed, not leaving the house or eating a massive bar of chocolate, firstly don’t shame yourself for feeling low as that’s just fuel to the fire. Feeling down is part of a continuum of a human experience, sometimes we’re happy, sometimes we’re sad. We’re not a fixed state or fixed human being, we’re not just a sad or low or hopeful person, remember that we can experience many different emotions at any one time and emotions will shift. Come back to that rule of impermanence and remember that these feelings will change too.
If you’re finding that these low experiences are turning into destructive behaviour or a self-sabotage cycle try to notice and bring in awareness when negative habits start to spiral. When we bring awareness into our habits and notice when things begin to go off kilter we can stop them from spiralling out of control.
When we’re feeling low or hopeless it can be difficult to find the motivation to lift the nervous system, to re-energise and replenish ourselves. We might be sleeping much more or much less, our circadian rhythm might be affected which can in turn, affect how we’re feeling. Not getting enough sleep can make us irritable and see the world through a foggy lense, getting too much can make us drowsy and fatigued. In terms of sleep hygiene try to get into a regular bedtime routine, go to sleep at a set time, ban screen time an hour before bed and try to soothe the nervous system so you’re ready for sleep. This could mean taking a hot shower or bath, reading in bed, meditation, breathing practice or anything that helps you to feel more relaxed.
Nutrition can also affect our mental health and how we’re feeling, imagine putting the wrong fuel in your car, it can make the car breakdown! Mindful eating and being more conscious about what you’re putting into your body as fuel, will affect your mental health and how you’re feeling. Getting into the habit of asking yourself the question ‘is this action harming or helping me?’ can help to bring more awareness and consciousness into your decisions.
If you’re feeling low, getting into the habit of asking ‘is this energising me or depleting me of energy?’ is another powerful tool. Thinking about the things that help to lift you energetically and the things that make you feel more weighed down. It’s important to stay connected to those people that help to lift you and reflect on who is around you in your life who can support you. Often when we’re feeling low we want to hide from the world and isolate ourselves but from research we know that social inclusion and socialisation brings about positive mental health.
We are social creatures and we need to feel connected with other people, at the moment we’re all likely missing physical connection and touch on a hormonal level, hormones such as oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine are all boosted through social interaction. Within the government guidelines, try to stay connected, even if you can’t do that physically. We need to keep those anchor points and lifelines active with loved ones, friends and family.
Routine can also play a big part in feeling low or hopeless, even if your usual routine has gone out of the window at the moment, try to put a new routine in place. Even if it’s simple, like having breakfast at a regular time, going for a walk at a certain time of day, calling someone at a specific time or limiting your social media and screen time, these small changes can bring back a sense of purpose and control in how you spend your day.
The power of the breath can be an incredibly healing tool, every single person has the capacity to soothe themselves through their breath. Typically our breathing rate is 10-12 breaths per minute but when we’re feeling anxious, where the nervous system is too switched on, it may be 15 breaths or more. When we’re feeling low the breath may have a jerky pattern or be unregulated, when we start to bring conscious control back to the breathing we can start to soothe the nervous system and signal the brain to feel more relaxed.
If you’re feeling anxious, stressed or low at the moment, coherent breathing can be a very soothing practice to help activate the parasympathetic nervous system and relaxation response in the body and brain. Steph shares a coherent breathing exercise at 23.28 in the video below:
Ask the Yoga Psychologist is an opportunity for the MoreYoga community to gain insight and learn about a key topic around mental health. Every month our Resident Psychologist, Dr. Stephanie Minchin will answer your question about mental wellbeing. Dr Stephanie Minchin is a Clinical Psychologist and Yoga Teacher with complimentary advanced training in Yoga Therapy. Stephanie co-founded the MoreMind project with MoreYoga, alongside Liz Joy Oakey, integrating yoga and psychology for positive mental health, and has also authored several book chapters, articles and research papers.
About the writer, Liz Joy Oakley
Liz Joy Oakley is Yoga Teacher, Holistic Wellbeing Coach and Head of Vibes at MoreYoga, co-running our MoreMind Project with Stephanie Minchin, coordinating events, content and workshops focused on better supporting our communities mental and physical wellbeing. After starting her career in the fast-paced world of luxury fashion Liz came to Yoga after being diagnosed with Malignant Hypertension and Generalized Anxiety and left with the goal of helping others to lead healthier lives holistically. Liz went on to spent a year working at the Safe Childhoods Foundation in Indonesia, an NGO committed to combatting organized crimes against children, she began to understand the true benefits of Yoga, Meditation and Psychology as therapeutic tools and describes this as a time of total transformation.
Now back in London, Liz is passionate about helping people achieve a healthier, happier lifestyle through her work. She loves bringing people together, encouraging authentic connection and is happiest when facilitating retreats, workshops and events based around Yoga, Positive Psychology and Holistic Wellbeing.
Liz teaches Hatha, Vinyasa, Yin & Restorative Yoga, specialising in teaching Yoga, Mindfulness & Meditation to improve stress & anxiety. She combines this with her work as a Holistic Wellbeing Coach & is dedicated to spreading Joy through her work.