The Fault in our Wars

In the past few weeks, we’ve read and heard of the fight against COVID19, the war that has just begun, the battles that we’ve won and the losses that we’ve sustained. We’ve seen people create incredible art, music, show commitment and dedication towards keeping spirits up, and also read about how we don’t have to pressure ourselves to achieve our full potential during this time. (more…)

Pressing Pause

Confession: I’m a sucker for silver linings. In the current scenario, I first thought: Yay! Work from home, means I can finally focus more time on creating content, catching up with documentation, write for work, write for me, do some journaling, colouring, clean my cupboard and so on. The next minute, I realized that while I was excited about getting this time to pause and reflect, I had taken it away by filling it with tasks – with high expectations of making this time productive.

As someone who primarily works remotely, this is a fear that I’ve been managing for a while – how do I justify me-time when I work with emotions, thoughts and behaviours? Where’s the line that this processing is for personal work vs. professional growth? Like most of us, I tend to look at all my actions from a capitalist lens – is this self-work going to pay off at work? How can I be a better employee and contribute to my organization?

Now, with a lot of us sharing the privilege of working from home, we are going to be tempted to turn all our time productive. We might see our down-time as slacking off. My silver lining is this: Collectively, we are going to lean on each other in ways that we haven’t had to. Amidst all the fear and frustration, I’m hoping to pause, step back and reflect on what I want and how I feel. I’m allowing myself to feel all my feelings and release them, because amidst this collective loss of control, I feel a spark of hope – to be, instead of become or do. So yes, I intend to feel more and write it down – and maybe some of it will be useful to publish later. But I hope that we’ll do lots of things that mean almost nothing at all in the long run, and feel good about the moments we spend “just being”.

Mental Health and Celebrating Days

I once forgot to wish my father for Father’s Day. Now this was a man who barely remembered my birthday. So, you can only imagine my surprise AND shock on receiving a call from a very miffed father who was upset because I hadn’t remembered to wish him for Father’s Day.

In hindsight, the older, wiser me can see how and why he was upset. Back then, I was just stunned into silence.

So, why exactly was my father upset? Why was someone who seemingly did not celebrate birthdays feel the need to be acknowledged on this particular day? Let’s take a moment to contemplate…

I think, this is what celebrating particular days does for us. It helps us to acknowledge ourselves or someone else in our life. It helps us to appreciate each other. In our absolutely and undoubtedly busy lives, we forget to value ourselves and our people. Celebrating a day brings back that value, for however brief a time. It helps us to appreciate something or someone. It brings gratitude to the forefront. It gives you an occasion, a kind of purpose to acknowledge and celebrate either yourself or someone else in your life.

Therefore, what can celebrating certain days mean for your mental health?

  • Feeling valued
  • Gratitude for someone/something
  • Appreciation
  • Feeling loved and accepted
  • Feeling important (for our person or inherently)
  • Feeling of worth
  • Receiving gifts (material or otherwise) brings in an element of feeling cherished

Now you may ask me, are we not supposed to feel these feelings anyway? Why does a particular day have to do this for us? And I will say, I agree with you 100%. However, our daily hustle-bustle does not involve feeling these feelings. It focuses on other aspects like making money, being a “good” parent, being a “good” student or employee or doing a great job at any other role that we may have taken on. We take for granted our value, love and acceptance and therefore, we also take for granted our loved ones. For this reason, we had to come up with certain days to celebrate ourselves and our loved ones; to remind ourselves for our own value and the value of the people in our lives.

And is that really so irksome, I ask you?

 

This article is written by Ms. Maitreyi Nigwekar, a therapist and integral part of Team Adveka.

Fool’s Gold – Rewards & Placebos 

Fool’s Gold – Rewards & Placebos 

When Rachel walks in to Central Perk in her wedding dress, she’s arguing with her father about how she feels as if everyone has been asking her to be a shoe, and she has been trying to become one. Her conundrum is hilarious due to the metaphor used, but the dilemma that she faced was a universal one. More often than not, we chip off parts of ourselves to fit in with others. We shrink ourselves over and over again by not expressing our opinions or needs. In repeatedly being less of us, we keep crumbling until we realize that no one has seen us for who we are. At that point, who do we turn to for support? How do we get to that point?

The path that leads us there is the need for reward. We are constantly rewarded for fitting in. We feel accepted, we feel seen, we feel like we matter, none of which we felt enough of when we were being wholly ourselves. These rewards give us a sense of value that is bestowed by external figures in minute ways, such as being deemed part of an inner circle, having the “right” opinions, or generally being worthy. In reality, a reward can mean recognition, appreciation, money, alternate compensation and so on. We become accustomed to these omnipresent rewards, which could lead to disillusionment about why we should continue doing something without being rewarded for it.

Despite a fear of rejection, the hope for a reward often keeps us going. When we feel like giving up, we most crave acknowledgement for our efforts through a reward. While we wait for someone else to notice our efforts and reward us, the helplessness can be frustrating and can take us off track.

To reclaim our narrative, we use a placebo to combat helplessness. A placebo isn’t a guarantee by any means. It is a play on the principle: ‘Something is better than nothing’, particularly when that something fulfils the need that we expect someone else to fulfil. It’s like having Leprechaun gold – the kind that disappears in a while, but makes us feel like we aren’t totally broke while we work for more. Our reward doesn’t need to be related to the task accomplished – it just has to be good enough to make us feel validated.

When we wait for a reward in response to the situation, we leave that validation to an external source. The placebo effect says: “I have put in my best and have done my part, I need to reward my efforts. I have to acknowledge that and give myself the satisfaction and the feeling of self-worth – and treat myself to something that I like, because I earned it”. Hence, these rewards aren’t just about accomplishing certain milestones – they’re about working towards those milestones, celebrating firsts, celebrating efforts towards those firsts and so on.

Self-rewards can initially feel silly or unconvincing simply because they are from us to us, and since we tend to be harsh on ourselves. They don’t contain the validation that someone else’s words would. However, by allowing ourselves the possibility that we might be worthy of what we believe we deserve, our dependence on receiving that worth only when it is granted to us by an authority figure is reduced. Our belief in this possibility leads us to strive a little more to feel like we earned it, thereby improving our performance and reinforcing our worth. These rewards get in touch with our emotions and needs and develop a sense of responsibility within us to get those needs fulfilled. When we do this, we stop accepting less from others.

In reality, there is no perfect method of cause and effect. Waiting around for our efforts to be noticed and rewarded could cost us our motivation and self-worth. By choosing to take a leap of faith with ourselves, what might begin as a placebo can transform into a catalyst. We might begin with Leprechaun’s gold and make do with it while we earn the real deal. We just have to decide that we are worth that faith and belief. That we deserve to be respected as who we are. Or, in Rachel’s words, as a purse, in a world of shoes.

This article is written by Ms Nandita Seshadri, a therapist and integral part of Team Adveka.

Herculean Labour – Romanticising Struggle

Herculean Labour – Romanticising Struggle

 

Last week, I walked in to work feeling exhausted, with bags under my eyes and a cup of coffee to help me get through the morning. While scrolling through social media, I came across quotes such as ‘Your scars make you beautiful’, ‘You have to power through this, and it will all be worth it’, ‘The only way out is through’. While it was hard to imagine that my bloodshot eyes and sleepless state could be fixed by copious amounts of caffeine, these quotes reassured me that struggling is a part of human nature – with memes reinforcing that ‘The struggle is real’. Our struggles (or “first world problems”, such as getting enough sleep) are different from those of previous generations, but the experience of struggle remains constant.

 

Upon a closer look, these new-age quotes are the same as the adages: ‘Try until you succeed’, ‘You won’t get it right the first time’, that our parents and grandparents repeated to us all our childhood. Growing up, we heard stories of how people juggled multiple responsibilities to support their families and got an education simultaneously, to finally have it all pay off with a comfortable lifestyle at present. We look for inspiration from people’s success stories that embody a rags-to-riches journey. It gives us hope that if they can do it, so can we. Hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. However, do we really need to be in a tunnel in the first place?

Due to the saturation of struggle stories, our interpretation of struggle has evolved from ‘it is inevitable and normal’ to being ‘essential for our growth and the shaping of our identities’. In trying to focus on the journey rather than the end, millennials have grown up believing that struggle is a part of life to be embraced and celebrated.

This romanticism of struggle has led to a point where we do not appreciate or accept without being made to struggle for it. Essentially, if something has an easy way to it, it isn’t worth it. So, we devalue various things in life. Solo trips or backpacking will show us how to appreciate nature, solitude, find ourselves, and bring out our best because they require us to step outside our comfort zone. In reality, the struggle can bring out the best, or it can crush us. There are other ways to explore life – the most difficult path need not have added value as compared to the others.

The struggle mindset is best exemplified in our work culture. With being busy and being tired used as status symbols, millennials feel guilty for having something easy when others are struggling; and feel guilty for struggling so much when we are meant to be having it all. Both elements reinforce each other and leave us feeling perpetually exhausted and experiencing burnout.

Regardless of our state of being, guilt is a pre-installed feature that seems impossible to delete. If we experience a day without struggling with anything at all – be it work, work-life balance, or managing a household, we question ourselves about whether we’re doing it right, because ‘Things can’t be this easy naturally, for if it was, it would have no meaning.’

Millennials aren’t looking for happiness, we’re looking for meaning – that all this struggle is worth something in the end. It is no different from looking for redemption. The belief that our story is worth something only if it has a struggle in it, sucks us into the vortex of further struggle. Even if there’s a path out, we are so accustomed to the glorified struggle that we are blind to it or choose to turn away from the path.

After viewing such a bleak picture, is there a way out of this? We have to contend with guilt and struggle, all while feeling exhausted. This is a steep, uphill climb. (With that statement, the struggle has been glorified even more).

Dismantling this culture that has such intertwined elements means that tackling one will unravel the others. We need to identify and understand our need to struggle with guilt, question what we are getting from it, and look at how we can simplify our work further and achieve our goals with the least amount of struggle. In figuring this out, we can find ways to set boundaries for ourselves to contain our guilt and struggle, thereby minimizing our feeling of exhaustion.

Rather than worrying about missing out on growth by taking the easy way out, we gain by becoming more creative (also known as jugaad) in our problem-solving approach, and that’s always a win. It is time to explore who we are and what we’re worth if we choose not to struggle. Even if what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, do we really want to take that risk?

 

This article is written by Ms Nandita Seshadri, a therapist and integral part of Team Adveka.

Cutting Some Slack

‘What a waste! She can’t even do this properly!’

The child got up and dusted herself off. ‘Fine, I won’t do it at all!’

This rebellious response to a situation where someone is being a bully appears to be justified. After all, there is no need to prove ourselves to a random person. However, if this wasn’t an external voice, but an internal one, would we still walk away that easily?

With every mistake we make, we bully ourselves over having overlooked the obvious. We hit ourselves even when we are down, in the hope that we can shame ourselves into doing better. Spoiler alert: Revenge rarely motivates us to make productive change the way it drives characters in the media.

‘Life has no do-overs’ is an anxiety-provoking statement in itself. To deal with that absolute reality, we try to create as many do-overs for ourselves as we can. Think of the times we reached the point of no return in a relationship, at a job, or a personal project. Once a certain mental threshold had been crossed, we decided that we couldn’t continue after having blotted our copybooks, and would prefer to start on a clean slate elsewhere. This all-or-nothing response is driven by a “Do it well or don’t do it at all” adage that voices the bully.

This drastic response occurs because when we feel stuck at a point of no return, we are confronted with vulnerability while everyone else seems to have it all together. We interpret that vulnerability as a poor reflection of our identity and abilities. Rather than seeing it as a temporary block in the course of the flow, we see it as the end of this journey. Being faced with that uncertainty sparks fear within us, so we are quick to jump ship while we still can and distance ourselves from that vulnerability and existential doubt of who we are if not what we thought we were.

The flaw in humans is that we expect a steady pour of productivity and creativity to produce at will, like turning on a tap, for it will mean that we “have it all together”. However, our brain is more like a flowing stream. It bends and curves but the water flows naturally. At various parts, the flow is blocked or interrupted due to the growth of nature. Nonetheless, the water trickles there but gushes elsewhere. When we encounter a block in an actual stream, we walk ahead to find where it has an abundance of water. Similarly, when we have a block in productivity, we need to give ourselves time so that we can gush later on.

Practising self-compassion requires us to adjust our mental threshold to that of everyone else’s. It requires us to allow ourselves to make mistakes and be human. In adapting to this situation, we can take a break from the task and ask ourselves what within us feels threatened for us to be unable to work on this task. It calls for a reminder that we are not defined by this task or all the work that we are meant to do. We are human, and by that virtue, we are worthy of faith, hope, compassion, and pixie dust. Remember: Just because you trip on a step doesn’t mean you throw yourself down the whole flight of stairs. You get up, dust off, and continue on your journey!

This article has been written by Ms Nandita Seshadri, a therapist, and integral part of Adveka Foundation.

Kintsugi – Healing Our Shame

Our society functions on standards and checklists. Once enough items are ticked off the checklist, we qualify for a label. Passed 7 papers out of 9? Congratulations! You can move on to the next semester. 4 symptoms met out of 7? You have an illness. After being accustomed to a world where every event needs to be quantified in order to mark a socially recognized milestone, is it any surprise that the vast majority of society is having an existential crisis due to uncertainty regarding what they want?

Irrespective of what our circumstances may be, anyone can feel like they aren’t enough – even if they seem to have it all. A life of happiness, health and success is the dream that we are all heading towards, but our paths diverge. Regardless of whether we take a shortcut there or a detour, what matters socially is how soon we achieve it, and how long we retain it. In creating a prototype of perfection, we are doing an injustice to all the variations, the quirks and the roadblocks that come in everyone’s paths.

The Japanese concept of Kintsugi or Kintsukuroi is a practice of repairing broken objects in gold. This way, even the cracks are a part of your history, and you’re not broken anymore. As lovely as it sounds, this practice might no longer fit in the culture we live in. We are the generation that goes back and deletes our teenage years from social media. Every action of ours is documented and scrutinized repeatedly for how well it holds up in the present time. When something breaks, we throw away the pieces. One mistake, and we start over – to ensure that the final product is perfect and untouched by flaws. In doing this, we are rejecting each attempt we make to repair something.

We do the same with ourselves. Regardless of what one has undergone – be it trauma, addiction, body image struggles due to acne/braces or anything else – it may seem appealing to pretend that it never happened so as to ‘move on’. In doing so, we are associating that event with shame. This rejection hurts us instead of healing us because we are erasing a part of ourselves. It is difficult to move on from something we haven’t tended to. What we need to remember is that sometimes, the onus of fixing everything with a brave face needs to be shared with someone else. This is where seeking therapy helps.

Therapy functions on the principle of Kintsugi. All the different pieces of the client’s life are gathered and put together – perhaps differently from how they were earlier – but just the way the client accepts and wants. The gold is symbolic of the powerful healing nature of a strong therapeutic alliance, which is the relationship between a client and the therapist. In therapy, the lens from which one views their life is altered. Thus, they go from being a victim of their circumstances to see how the impact of their past fits into the context of where they are headed. This takes a collaborative effort – where the therapist helps the client to examine the different pieces of their past and the meaning attached to them, in the context of their identity, emotional well-being and relationships.

The ultimate goal of therapy is to take ownership for one’s actions and to be accountable for them. When the cracks have been filled with gold, the object and person can now withstand more than they could earlier because of the added strength of the gold. The person emerges stronger and better than before, and THAT is the power of healing.

(Not) a laughing matter!

The end of the month is near, which is the time we tend to be a little low on cash, plus have deadlines looming over us. During this time, with stress being higher than usual, we are prone to overlook details or make mistakes.

Whenever I say something silly, or I’m the butt of someone else’s joke, I feel horribly embarrassed. Even if the joke is really funny – or if I would have laughed had it been about anyone else. I feel like I’d rather be swallowed by the ground. But more than that, I feel like I need to compensate for that by being more ‘mature’ or un-laughable in order to redeem myself.

Here, it is not the topic that matters. Maybe it was something personal, maybe it was situational. Maybe we even joke about it with others. What is embarrassing is that ‘I was not in control of giving that information’ or ‘I was not prepared for it’. When I’m making the same joke about myself, I control what I say and how I say it – and I’m mentally prepared to be laughed at. This also applies to goof-ups made during presentations, group discussions or at a casual gathering.

After it has happened, we stew over ‘But now, they’ll forever see me that way’ or ‘Now everyone will tease me about it’. Maybe they will. What can we do to come to terms with it?

For starters, we can recognise that we are taking ourselves far too seriously. What bothers us is the lack of control over that information rather than the content itself. The moment we accept that ‘Hey, someone else shared it’, we can choose to reclaim ownership over that by laughing at ourselves. (Extremely difficult? I empathise). Sure, maybe you’ll laugh about it a week later, or a year later. (Just not yet). The moment people get that you’re okay with embracing vulnerability, it makes you more likeable and pretty gutsy – that you can laugh at yourself.

Rather than saying: ‘life is too short to take yourself so seriously’, I prefer to remind myself that: ‘I’m more than this, but this tiny aspect is also me’. Once I accept that, I can choose to work to change it or embrace it. After all, even if nothing else changes, it is a story worth telling someday!

 

This article has been written by Ms Nandita Seshadri, a therapist, and integral part of Adveka Foundation.

Keeping the blinkers on

It is believed that when one has a near-death experience, their life flashes before their eyes. This prompts people to question: ‘Will I be satisfied with what I see then?’ Most often, the fear is that we won’t, and we’ll regret it when it’s too late.

Today, we have apps that do this for us. They show us our year in review, the keywords we typed, the colours we used, the memories we shared and so on. Logically, since most people post their achievements on social media, these are meant to make us feel better, right? Unsurprisingly, people feel like they didn’t do enough, succeed enough, feel enough or live enough. While we view another person’s video, we’re seeing their successes, but when we watch our own, we’re seeing our missed opportunities or what ‘could’ or ‘should’ have been. Thus, we feel like we did not make the most of this year, feel bad about it, and thereby decide that next year, we’ve to compensate for the lost chances from this year. Cue the resolutions (I will exercise more/eat healthy this year) and goals (I will lose 5 kgs by June) for the new year. Miss one day, and we lose motivation and bully ourselves for having missed it (Now I’ve to work harder to catch up). Essentially, we have set ourselves up for failure – we are trying to go up a slippery slope and wondering why we haven’t reached the top yet, and why everyone always seems to be ahead of us.

Sometimes, seeing the bigger picture helps us keep track of where we are headed. However, the end of the year is an arbitrary time to take stock of where we are, and set unrealistic goals to reach an ideal version of ourselves. New year resolutions don’t (usually) work because we are forcing a change overnight – and a conditional time-bound one along with that (I start a new lifestyle/new me tomorrow – and if I blow it even once, there’s no hope for me anymore this year).

This year, let’s replace the pressure of total transformation with gratitude. Think of achievements or things in your life that you’re grateful for. Acknowledging those successes is crucial in moving forward to setting new goals.

Similarly, for each goal you make, think of ways to emotionally reward yourself regardless of whether or not you work towards that goal. (I have not exercised today, and I will have a chocolate chip cookie anyway – because I feel like it. It is unrelated to me making ‘good enough’ progress towards my goal). The lesser the conditionality in our behaviour, the better we feel about the goal.

The end of the year or the start of another year can seem intimidating when it looms closer. Let’s recognize that we can choose to start over any day, not just in the New year. If you’re feeling good about where you are, there is no need to tweak anything about it for the sake of making a change. If it helps, you can make a small change today, or tomorrow, or any other day that isn’t 1st Jan, and it will still be every bit as powerful and effective – without the added pressure.

Here’s to taking one step at a time!

This article has been written by Ms Nandita Seshadri, a therapist, and integral part of Adveka Foundation.

Managing Work

The world of work involves so much more than what our position specifies. We spend most of our day thinking about our work (or how to avoid it) and gravely underestimate the impact that it has on our mental well-being. Here are 5 tips to deal with pesky issues that bother us about our work.

 

Tip 1: Giving & Receiving Feedback

Receiving feedback can be scary and demotivating at times. When on the receiving end of any feedback, keep yourself separate from your work. Ask for a constructive point on what to do next. The motive isn’t to embarrass/insult you. When giving feedback, hold off on unflattering comparisons and focus entirely on the work in front of you.

 

Tip 2: Work-life balance

We all know that it is important to leave work at work, but it isn’t all that easy. If getting into the flow takes a while, getting out of it will too! We can’t always be switched on and off when at work and stepping out of it. Rather than switching off when we walk out of office, it might be easier to unwind during the commute (like a regulator) and use that time to turn down the dial, one notch at a time.

Tip 3: Prioritising tasks   

Sometimes, work piles up so much that we become overwhelmed and decide to do nothing at all. During those times, it helps to do one simple task first – such as organising your desk, or making a to-do list. Doing one task makes us feel more productive, because we just accomplished something. It renews our self-confidence in tackling all our work one by one. Prioritising our tasks based on their importance and urgency can help us to tackle that pile and get things done.

 

Tip 4: Feeling stuck

As children, we dreamt of a perfect job where we did what loved and saved the world while doing it. If you’re feeling stuck in your current job because it is a far cry from what you had in mind for your dream job (even if not the childhood version of it), pause and take stock of whether this job is truly serving any purpose in the larger picture. What do you want from your dream job (that you aren’t getting at your present one)? What is stopping you from moving towards it? How can you overcome these obstacles?

The feeling of stuck-ness can give us clarity, should we choose to explore it. Let it guide your way to a better future for yourself!

 

Tip 5: Handling burnout

Sometimes, it seems as though everything has come together – work, responsibilities, unexpected stressors – and we simply cannot cope with them all. During these times, we have to recognise that we definitely need a break to clear our heads and get ourselves back together. The work will wait – but our mind and body need us more. Take a break free of guilt!

 

 

Work comes with its own demands and deadlines, but we need to recognize when we have had enough for a time. Talk to your superior about managing stress, improving communication and fostering a positive work environment. If you feel that your stress is too entwined with your workplace, then get a transfer or another job. You matter more than your ability to work. Never forget!

 

This article has been written by Ms Nandita Seshadri, a therapist, and integral part of Adveka Foundation.