A discussion with a patient this past week really brought into focus the power of the mind to affect the world. Or maybe it would be better to say how we decide to live in the world. Our patient, I’ll call her “Amy”, is a teacher’s aide in a crowded, underfunded special ed. classroom, and she was saying she is just feeling “good” these days as school starts up again. Probing more deeply into what that means, she said she feels more able to cope with her work, and that the work itself has meaning – work that last year just felt like “torture”.
Her own mood diary supported her sense of improvement. Last year at this time her feelings of anxiety were high, and outlook was pessimistic. Last year, her mood ratings gave put her in the “mild depression” range, and this year she is above that, in the normal range. The only change at work, she said, was the teacher giving her just “a bit” more help, which was enough to have the space to develop relationships with the children instead of just being “the disciplinarian”.
That small space for relationship building seems to have had a big impact in enabling her to look at the students’ behavior with curiosity about them as people, rather than judging them as problems to be controlled. Amy says she has more self-confidence and better social relationships with the other staff members at lunch and after work.
Small exercises in mindfulness, breathing, and keeping a half-smile while meditating lead to a big gain in function and confidence. Those gains open up space to cultivate awareness of each moment and experience gratitude for them. Next, it isn’t so important to go home and isolate in front of the TV, instead, other social activities begin to be more attractive and engaging.
Now, Amy says, she isn’t just reacting or responding to what happens to her, but she can take steps to reflect on her own teaching style and work with the children in a more pro-active way. All of that from “just a bit” more help and a changed attitude! Amy’s experience definitely shows how the way we approach even the most difficult situation can have a big difference in how it affects us. Small steps can and do lead to bigger, more meaningful outcomes.