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On my mother’s arrival back from what can only be described as the holiday from hell, I fully expected her to be in pretty bad form. What should have been the trip of a life time to Miami, courtesy of my father for her 50th birthday, was spoilt by British Airways: they lost her luggage for the duration of the holiday. Then she cut her foot. And she got attacked by mosquitos. It was literally one thing after another.
As I tentatively opened the door to Inishowen, I found my mother staring at the Christmas tree. The very dead Christmas tree. The two jobs I’d been given on her departure were: Do not let the dogs in the bedroom. And remember to water the Christmas tree. Oh dear.
But instead of having a quite justified nervous breakdown, she just threw her arms up and said it didn’t matter; no one had died. Asides the Christmas tree, of course. She could have come home and wallowed in the fact that her big birthday had been ruined by a catalogue of disasters, but instead she chose to put everything in perspective, which allowed her to get past the situation without any dramatics. This naturally got the clogs in my little head turning.
What is perspective?
By definition, perspective is described as, “a true understanding of the relative importance of things; a sense of proportion.” We will all encounter difficulties every so often. It’s how we deal with these difficulties which set us apart from each other. Do you blow things out of proportion regularly? Is your glass half empty, instead of half full? Do you indulge negative thoughts instead of looking at the positive in a situation?
Why do we need perspective?
Putting things in perspective is an important discipline that we should apply on a daily basis. It steers us away from self-pitying thoughts and allows us to thankful for what we have.
Chances are, the mass majority of the negativity in our lives could be quickly helped with this useful tool. Unless you are faced with a life or death situation, perspective can be applied to most things.
Often, when accidents and sudden tragedies occur, we find ourselves immediately self-reflecting, and we suddenly stop thinking the world owes us a favour. The images of the bin lorry crash which took 6 lives in Glasgow are still very fresh in mind. One minute you’re shopping for the last Christmas presents, and the next: your time is up.
How do we get perspective?
Perspective comes into play as a result of a difficult or unpleasant situation arising – whether it’s menial issues such as having bad service at a restaurant or having problems with Vodafone signal (and getting through to the Indian call centre!); or it could be something more disruptive like falling out with a family member or losing your job.
I’m not talking about how we’re a small dot in the universe kind-of-perspective. What I mean is less ‘poor me’ and more ‘I’m so blessed to have what I have in my life’.
I’ve set out the path to perspective in what I consider to be a few things that help achieve this.
We usually need to put things in perspective when we are unnecessarily worrying about things. Addressing your responses to worry and stress is crucial; it stops you from wasting useful energy on something unnecessary and unproductive.
· Change the way you think about difficult situations. Often when you feel like everything is going your way, something will come and turn your world as you know it upside down, making you question everything in your life. And it’s easy to hit the panic button and generally not cope. But instead of asking ‘why’, look at it as if life is inviting you to grow and learn.
· Accept you don’t have all of the answers. And that’s okay. I recently saw an article online by a celebrity which was titled “At 30, I didn’t think I’d be divorced with no children.” Seriously, that was the title. I was immediately confused, was there a manual that I forgot to pick up at school? One that read: By the age of 30 you must be married. By the age of 32 you must have children. By the age of 40 you must own your own home etc. Just because many people will be at a certain stage in their lives at similar ages, in terms of relationships and accomplishments, doesn’t mean that this is the path for everyone. What’s for you won’t go by you – stop over thinking the future and take each day as it comes!
Do things that help a positive mindset
· Get away regularly. There is no one who will sing this island praises more than me, but it is a small place, and getting breathing space from it is vital to clear your mind and reflect. Whether it’s hopping to the mainland for a day or two, or going on a holiday abroad; new experiences help you to gain valuable perspective to come home with.
· Be healthy. A healthy body and mind is the perfect canvas for bringing positivity into your life, while leaving feelings of worry and stress behind. Eating a balanced diet while reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, as well as exercising more, will put you in a more positive mindset.
Giving something back
Giving back to the community or doing something charitable will often give you a sense of perspective. I’ll never forget being in Kenya on holiday and visiting an orphanage in Mombasa.
We’d been advised by some friends we’d made at the beach to visit the ‘Canon orphanage’ – as they were really struggling. We loaded a boot full of pasta, rice and goodies and off we went down the highway to hell (words cannot express how awful the roads are there!) and arrived at the orphanage – it was so much worse than I’d envisaged.
Everywhere you turned there was damp, decay and a smell of rot. The toilet was a hole in the floor, and the beds an arrangement of filthy mattresses on the floor. Each child had a story about how they’d come to the orphanage – the mass majority had lost parents to AIDS. I’d never met such pleasant, humble children. They greeted us with warmth, smiles and songs. Out of the supply we’d brought they were given crisps and chocolate – to our amazement they’d never tasted chocolate – we soon found out why when they opened up the wrappers to be met with a sticky, melted mess! Thus the chocolates were abandoned and the trust worthy crisps were opened instead. Without hesitation they offered us crisps before they had them themselves. It was a gesture so simple yet so heart warming – to be generous when you have nothing to give is a quality you wouldn’t find in many people.
The strangest thing that struck us as we left was that the children were genuinely happy. The owners of the orphanage explained that they were the lucky ones – many of the orphaned children will not be lucky enough to find a shelter to home them. That was their perspective.
Use the New Year as a stepping stone
I think of the New Year as one of my favourite times of year – it’s the ultimate time for self-reflection and having a new sense of purpose. A good principle I’ll be going by is to worry less and be grateful more.
In achieving perspective, you will feel less anxious, have a better attitude and generally have a grasp on what is and isn’t important in life. Live in the Now. Prioritise your problems, managing them one at a time. Don’t be the person who looks back on life and thinks ‘I wish I’d worried less.’
Because life’s too short for that carry on.
Happy New Year everyone!