September 1, 2020
Pandemic Survival Secret: Be Your Best Friend
Despite our difficult life experiences, we keep hoping, even expecting, that everything will be positive from now on. We make a tradition of greeting each other with best wishes on holidays and special occasions and meaning it as if we can wish away that life has its own plans and always has two sides. The truth is, we live in a dual world in which we can’t appreciate the brightness of a day without experiencing the darkness of the night.
No matter how hard we try to protect ourselves and do everything right, we’ll never avoid setbacks and disappointments. Every life is full of unpredictable challenges, regardless of how perfect it might look from the outside.
A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Ford et al. 2017) made the fascinating discovery that, to quote senior author Iris Mauss, associate professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, “People who habitually accept their negative emotions experience fewer negative emotions, which adds up to better psychological health.” In other words, we intensify our emotional distress when, on a bad day, we tell ourselves to cheer up and snap out of it, which, by the way, we would never say to a close friend when they’re having a bad day.
Remember, you are not your emotions. You’re just the one who experiences them. In our day-to-day lives, we can become distracted by and absorbed in our thoughts and feelings and often allow them to obscure our essence, the nature of who we truly are, in much the same way that clouds can obscure the sun on a cloudy day. Let the clouds pass; they need time to fulfill their purpose, too. The sun will always be there, just as your true nature will always be there, shining no matter what. You have to be aware of your inner light, which gives life and warmth and energy to you and everything around you.
For those times, when the clouds are still in the sky, and you’re experiencing moments of sorrow, hug yourself. Write the same compassionate letter to yourself that you’d write to a friend in the same situation. Comfort yourself, and notice how even your own soft, warm touch is calming and reassuring.
There’s a hormone called oxytocin secreted by the pituitary gland and released when we make a significant social bond or snuggle with a loved one, a pet, and even ourselves. It’s sometimes known as the “love hormone.” Tell yourself, with a hug, I know it’s a hard time, darling, but your heart is still full of love and kindness, and trigger your own “love hormone” while riding out your negative emotions. Your pain won’t vanish instantly, but it will begin to dissipate, especially when you keep reminding yourself that you’ve survived this darkness before and know it’s only temporary.
And you don’t have to feel alone and isolated. Remember, everyone suffers. Everyone faces challenges. That’s how we grow. If you doubt that for a moment, ask yourself this question: What have I learned when times were good? I’ll bet you learned less than when you look back at your “post-traumatic” times.
Pain has the power to change us, the invaluable potential to bring us to another level. In moments of sorrow, when we’re wandering through dark periods, we have to remember that everything has its beginning and its end. The darkness will pass, and the sunshine will brighten our lives again; we have to be patient.
One of the most challenging and most valuable lessons we can learn and embrace is that everything is temporary for better or worse. Impermanence is inevitable; it is as intrinsic to life as the air we breathe. This can seem like bad news on our best days and great news on our worst. But in the biggest possible picture, when we embrace the reality of impermanence and stop being blindsided by it, we can give ourselves the priceless gift of learning to let go.
Letting go willingly, gracefully, and without resentment to address our lives and the world around us leads to profound internal changes. It brings us peace, acceptance, gratitude, flexibility, and a significant decrease in anxiety and fear. Rather than being afraid of change, failure, and loss, mastering the art of letting go allows us to know that we’ll be facing all those things sooner or later and that they’re impermanent, too. So whatever happens, we’ll have the faith and strength to get through it.