When we encounter new experiences, we learn new ways of interacting with the world and we grow. We do this our whole lives. When we are very young, these milestones are celebrated: our first step, our first word, graduating from college. I think we all know why growing is important. Like the grass, without growth, we all go dormant.
So why don’t we celebrate growth milestones in adults? We’ve all experienced several lately. Many of us empty nesters suddenly have our college students at home with us, sharing shower time and eating our yogurt. After several weeks, we have accommodated their needs and ours – with no fanfare. I also know several people who have taught their elderly parents how to use Zoom to communicate during social distancing. Well…I think there was some celebrating in these cases, but I hope you get my point.
My guess is that we stop celebrating growth because along the way we stop seeing growth as new and exciting and essential (are we too busy, too tired, too stressed?), and we start calling it by the dirty word CHANGE.
All these recent changes haven’t been easy for many, but I don’t understand why my friends get very concerned when I tell them that since my husband and I work from home, we really haven’t had that much change for us (return of the fledging notwithstanding). I think they think we are doing something wrong. I know they are feeling a lot of stress with all the changes they are going through. I have stress too. It comes from change as well. How am I meeting that? How are we all doing? Could we all be having different experiences?
Possibly. I have lived in 14 different places in my life. In comparison, in that same time period, my parents have lived in 2 different places. I will rearrange my furniture every other month, and I usually decide to paint the dining room the night before we host Thanksgiving dinner. These may be simple examples, but these changes bring me joy, while I know others to whom they would cause great anxiety.
Why are some so resistant to change? And why do some meet it with resilience?
Are we learning from our mistakes and embracing challenges as growth opportunities? Or are we feeling stuck and fearful? The former is what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck would call a Growth Mindset. The latter she calls a Fixed Mindset. The Growth Mindset believes we can cultivate new abilities and characteristics through experience and practice while the Fixed Mindset gives up on failure. There is a lot more to Mindsets than that, but let me tell you that I happily painted my dining room 3 different shades of purple until I found the right one. And the good news is that Fixed Mindsets can change. We can all be resilient. Read more through the links below.
Resilient or resistant, we all experience stress in our growth. We can help set ourselves up to succeed with basic self-care: Eat well, get enough sleep, move your body and connect with others. Along with that, Harvard Medical School published this short list of ways to combat persistent low-level stress: 1.Relaxation; 2. Physical Activity; 3. Social Support1.
Ask 5 people how they relax and you will get 5 different answers. None of them are wrong, but one of the best, and easiest, ways to combat stress is breathing. The simplest way is to close your eyes, breathe through your nose and count your breath in and out. Or you can breathe in for 6 counts, hold for 2, breathe out for 6, hold for 2 and repeat 10 times (or whatever pattern works for you). During social distancing, you can check out Pranayama, or yoga breathing, exercises on the internet. When you can get back to your doctor’s office, make an appointment for biofeedback and see how breathing can control your blood pressure and heart rate – it’s really cool.
Are you getting out? Try a cemetery walk (perfect for social distancing)! That is the perfect place for an Awe Walk. With an Awe Walk we are combatting stress by getting physical activity but we are also practicing growth by experiencing new things.
To do an Awe Walk, try to find a new place to walk, but if you can’t then try to look at your usual location in a new way. As you walk, you do breathing exercises, you do mindfulness exercises, feeling your feet on the earth, listening to sounds, watching the interplay of light and shadow. The Awe Walk uses all your senses – see the links for the instructions. If you can’t get out of the house to do a walk, I recommend finding some guided visualizations to go on a virtual Awe Walk.
The HERO team has a group text thread for the month of April where we text one thing we are grateful for each day. This thread will often be a way to connect with each other outside of the work environment. We are a small team, so this works for our company. If you are a larger company, could it work for your department? Or a project team?
This is one area I think the world is really excelling at. I love hearing the stories of people cheering every evening for the healthcare workers and other acts of kindness that are taking place in this strange new world. Please feel free to share your ideas and your stories in the comments.
1. “Understanding the stress response. Chronic activation of this survival mechanism impairs health.” Harvard Health Publishing Updated: May 1, 2018 Harvard Medical School Accessed 23 March 2020 https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response