Overview: I am always stoked when I get to feature a guest post. The author of this guest post is Mary Stompe, a CBT psychotherapist who graduated from the Masters of CBT here at Flinders in 2021. Mary put together a great post on meaning and purpose which I’ve featured in this post. Enjoy. Reading time ~ 7 minutes.
Finding Meaning and Purpose during difficult times: Increasing our self-awareness and human connection
by Mary Stompe
We are living in a period of significant uncertainty and fear, locally and globally. The evolving situation with COVID-19, restrictions and vaccines, the election, and the war in Ukraine, can take a toll on our mental health. People are being divided by their opinions: vaccinated-unvaccinated, Liberal-Labor, Ukraine-Russia, the list goes on…
But with this division comes social isolation, disconnection and loneliness, leading to further decline in our mental and physical wellbeing. We are innately social beings, wired for connection. This is especially important in times of uncertainty. What can we do to cope, when we cannot predict what the future will hold? Through my work as a psychotherapist, Flinders University Alumni and personal life experiences, I would like to offer some guidance:
1. Get in touch with your values
What’s important to you in your life? Family/friends, study, employment, personal growth? Spirituality, generosity, humour, authenticity, honesty, connection?
There is a saying that values are like a compass. They guide our path in life and how we want to live; while goals are milestones along the way; a result of living a life according to our values.
- Are you doing what’s important to you? If it’s family, when did you last give them a call, or catch up with friends? When you do, notice the effect that this has upon your mood.
- Is what you’re doing taking you closer to, or further from, the person you want to be?
2. Set some short to medium-term goals
Being a university student, you’re probably very familiar with the term SMART goals. There are various interpretations of this, but one is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time orientated. We’re much more likely to reach our goals if:
1) they align with our values and 2) they are tangible; something that we can measure that is only just beyond our reach. If our goal feels too far out of reach, we can lose motivation to get started.
If this is the case, how can you break your goal down into smaller, sub-goals?
What is one thing you can do today to move in the direction of your goal?
3. Look for the common ground with others, rather than fixating on our differences
We like to think that our point of view is the “right” one. As humans, we tend to focus on information that supports what we already believe and ignore evidence to the contrary. After all, no-one wants to be told that they’re wrong. But this can divide us; we become closed-minded, instead of being open and curious to other people’s perspectives and what we can learn from them.
It’s often not as simple as “celebrating our differences”; rather, I encourage you to find the common ground with those you disagree with. There is a saying in psychology: “You can’t get angry with someone if you understand their reasons for doing what they do.” When you start to see the world from another person’s perspective and their life experiences, this creates an opportunity for growth in our understanding and connection to others. If we were able to be united by our similarities, rather than divided by our differences, imagine what we could achieve…
4. Get in touch with the present moment
When we are experiencing distressing emotions, this can often be a signal that our mind has wandered, either to worrying about the future or ruminating about the past. Mindfulness – paying attention to the present moment with curiosity and without judgement, brings us back to the now. It is a form of attention training, which can reap many benefits. These include reduced emotional pain, increased positive emotions, improved concentration, memory and self-awareness. This in turn allows us to make more conscious decisions, regaining control of our behaviour.
5. Behavioural activation:
When we feel depressed, we naturally tend to withdraw from the world around us, as everything feels like an effort. But in doing so, we deny ourselves the opportunity for positive reinforcement; the positive emotions that come from engaging in activities we enjoy. It sounds counterintuitive, but action before motivation is key. After all, do we wait to feel fit before we go to the gym? Or do we go the gym first and feel fit later? Try scheduling a few activities into your day that you previously enjoyed and commit to doing them for just 10 minutes. You might be surprised at your ability to stick to brief, time-limited activities and the benefits that come.
If you would like to learn more about the above topics or feel that you would benefit from seeing someone about your mental health, Mary (the author) provides mental health support services online via telehealth. She specialises in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), incorporating other related therapeutic approaches.
For more information, please visit:
Or contact Mary at firstname.lastname@example.org or 0410 274 175
Note: the inclusion of Mary’s practice details should not be seen as an endorsement by Flinders.