5 Secrets to Gaining Perspective During Trying Times
Words of wisdom can help put our lives into perspective.
Posted June 3, 2020 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan
There’s no question that in the present moment, we’re facing huge challenges—personally, nationally, and globally. Sometimes it can all be overwhelming, especially if we listen to or watch the news obsessively. This negative energy can affect us to our cores, thereby hurting our overall well-being. It’s very easy to lose perspective.
We all have our own ways of coping with such difficult times. Some people practice relaxation techniques; others turn to exercise, hobbies, friends, family members, and therapists. However, we all need reminders to do so, and we also need to gain perspective on everything that’s going on.
We might feel a sense of hopelessness and an inability to manage our issues, but one thing we can manage is our emotions and reactions. While many people are turning to their own devices and what’s worked for them in the past, our current situation is quite unprecedented, so it might be helpful to learn new coping skills during these times.
Many of our habits and ways of being have been fostered during childhood, and what emerges for me personally is my way of coping with challenges, which has always been through writing. I have my mother to thank for the red-leather Kahlil Gibran journal she gave me back in the 1960s after my grandmother died by suicide in my childhood home. In those days, therapy wasn’t as commonplace as it is now, so people either suppressed their emotions or shared them with close friends or loved ones. I was a quiet 10-year-old, and my mother was dealing with her own grief, so I needed an outlet for my feelings.
At the top of each page of that journal was a beautiful quote from the prophet. Not only was the volume a beautiful place to record my thoughts, but the quotes inspired me and prompted my writing as a way to heal from my loss. While I didn’t see the journal’s true value at the time, looking back, I realize that it was a powerful gift that actually set the stage for my life as a writer.
Quotations can be powerful ways to comfort us and bring perspective into our lives. Here are some that I’ve always resonated with:
1. Take control of your mind.
“The energy of the mind is the essence of life.” —Aristotle
By maintaining a sense of emotional well-being and balance, we have the power to be in charge of our thoughts. Thinking about the here and now is very important for remaining in the moment. When we’re fearful, we’re living too much in the future or focusing too much on the past. Engaging in proper breathing techniques can help us with our mindfulness practice.
In his book, Instant Calm, Paul Wilson says, “By being able to control your breathing, by harnessing this incredibly powerful life force, you can control the way you feel. You can find calm in moments of stress. you can easily cope with almost any pressure.” Try doing the 4/7/8 breathing technique, which involves breathing in for a count of 4, holding your breath for a count of 7, and exhaling for a count of 8. It really works. This technique brings great energy to the mind, body, and soul. When controlling our thoughts, we’re self-aware while being in the present moment.
2. Foster kindness.
“Great acts are made up of small deeds.” —Lao Tzu
Studies have shown that acts of kindness can be a path to better psychological health and can also strengthen the immune system. Being kind also takes the focus off our own immediate problems.
Humans are social beings who need to feel a sense of interconnectedness. During these challenging times, acts of kindness can mean anything from sending an email to someone who has been isolated and lonely to donating to, or volunteering at, local food banks. When we’re depressed or feeling nervous, one of the best things we can do is reach out to someone in need.
3. Regard all experiences as... mere experiences.
“It is important to expect nothing, to take every experience, including the negatives ones, as merely steps on the path, and to proceed.” —Ram Dass
While many of us have a tendency to look at experiences as good or bad, Buddhists view them as mere experiences without categorizing them. To some, this is a healthy way of being. What we often perceive to be negative experiences can actually be our best teachers.
Think about what the quarantine has taught you. Did it make you realize what’s most important in your life? Did it help you understand what you can be grateful for? For many people, this alone time has taught them to look inward, something they might not have had a chance to do before. This Buddhist prayer speaks to the importance of equalizing all experiences: “May all experiences serve to awaken heart and mind, especially those circumstances I deem challenging, and may my life be of benefit to all beings.”
So many of us run from negative situations to avoid the pain and discomfort associated with them. Try to allow space for experiences that are positive, negative, joyous, and/or painful. Sit with the discomfort, and pray, or do whatever you need to do to bring about peace of mind.
As Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor who endured many traumatic life experiences, said, “Everything can be taken from a man, but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” It’s not so much about the experience you had, but rather, how you reacted to it and how it affected the person you became.
4. Be creative.
“Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world.” —Edward Hopper
Being creative gives you an opportunity for self-expression. It’s also an effective anxiety reducer. Perhaps you didn’t have time before the pandemic to do something creative, but maybe you’d always pondered engaging in some sort of artistic endeavor—painting, knitting, music, or writing, for example. This might be a good time to think about what really resonates with you.
This will not only give you a sense of purpose and improve your attitude, but it will also bring about a sense of accomplishment and pride. In addition, you may have the opportunity to connect with others who enjoy the same type of activity.
“Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.” —Victor Hugo
You’ve no doubt heard the saying “Laughter is the best medicine.” Laughter is a feel-good activity, and although sometimes it’s difficult to laugh because life can be so difficult, there is always something you can find humor in. Turn on the TV or search the internet for comedy outlets. If you like reading, check out some satirical novels or books by humorists.
Laughter is a great stress reliever. According to the Mayo Clinic, it can stimulate your organs, as it improves the intake of oxygen and enhances your heart, lungs, and muscles while at the same time increases the endorphins released by your brain. It can also enhance your immune system by releasing neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially serious diseases. Humor helps us deal with difficult situations and also improves our mood. So have a laugh today!
Maybe this is a good time to gain perspective by thinking of yourself up in Space looking down on Earth. What’s happening here is serious, but in the context of what’s occurring in the universe, it can all be perceived as relatively insignificant. Taking this bird’s-eye view can help us with day-to-day coping strategies.
Peace, love, and laughter to all!
Wilson, P. (1995). Instant Calm. New York: A Plume Book.
Sparks, Dana. (2019). "Mayo Mindfulness: Laughter for Stress is No Joke." News Network. June 26th.
Robinson, B. (2020). "The Perspective Less Taken During Quarantine: 10 Tips to Raise Your Spirits." Forbes Magazine. April 1.