Friday, May 14, 2021
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You Got This

I was driving back from an appointment in Danville last week and decided to make the return to State College via Lewisburg. It happened to be Wednesday which means the Lewisburg Farmers Market was open. Taking Route 45 home after stopping for some goodies, I had to pass through Mifflinburg.

There it was again. You got this.

In the front yard of a home right along the main drag in Mifflinburg, someone has put a sign – not unlike a political candidate’s election sign – in their front yard.  No logo or sponsor name.  Just simple black letters on a white background.

You got this.

I have no idea why the homeowners put that sign in their front yard or for whom it is intended but I have thought about stopping and knocking on their door. Thanks for the reminder.

I needed that. I needed for someone to tell me again. I got this. 

I think most will agree the past year has been pretty tough. Isolation. Uncertainty. Fear. Division. Misinformation. Politics.  Life turned upside down. Just about the time that things start to look hopeful, something new comes along and we up the ante. I turned off the television news about a month into the pandemic but through the internet or social media, emails or just in conversations, there are constant reminders and commentary about how bad things are.

But then, a sign. You got this.

A simple sign as a reminder that we can change how we look at the cards we are dealt.

Scientists are constantly finding out new things about the way our brain works. One of the things we know about the brain is that our innate need for survival often means we look for negativity and potential danger.  In other words, we are wired to look for threats.  Neuroscientist and psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett, in her book “How Emotions are Made; The Secret Life of the Brain,” talks about the constant scanning that our brain does to read and predict what is coming into our space and how we use our past experiences to assess what our bodies need to do to protect us. It’s all about survival.

In modern society, since lions and tigers and bears aren’t an actual threat to most of us, our brains naturally look for danger in other places.

2020 and the pandemic offered threats to us on all levels – physical, emotional, social, spiritual, economic and just about every other area of our lives. The impact on kids. Teenagers. The impact on the elderly. The impact on families. Jobs. Pets. Friendships. Relationships. Our ability to see and be with loved ones. It has been all encompassing and has hit us from all directions.

Each one of us has our own story of how the past year impacted us on an individual basis.

My chapter in the book “The Year from Hell” might not be as long as others but it still has a few pages.  Trying to plan and re-plan my daughter’s wedding. Health concerns of elderly parents. My kids out of state and not being able to see them when we wanted to. The impact on jobs. After three and half semesters of teaching remotely at Penn State and trying to work with students online, I can tell you that the majority of them have had enough. I have had enough. In the past week, I have heard more faculty and staff say that they are burnt out than I have the whole year.  

I can’t imagine what people like elementary school teachers or frontline nurses or small business owners, to name just a few, are feeling.

The losses. The incredible and painful losses.

In case no one told you today, you got this.

There are times that we don’t want to hear “you got this.” We want to hear that our issues and anxiety and feelings are valid and that things suck. We want to be able to vent and have someone say “I hear you and I care.” We don’t always need to be given suggestions or solutions or hear someone else’s experience of how they got through. Sometimes we just want to express our sadness or frustration or anger. In fact, social scientists suggest that what they call toxic positivity — the messages that society sends that optimism and an unfaltering positive mindset is the key to happiness —can be as limiting and harmful as seeing the glass half empty.

But sometimes, a well placed “you got this” is just what we need.

In just about every yoga class, you will hear that energy follows our thoughts. Shift your thoughts and you will shift your energy. People who study the brain tell us that our brain gets used to firing in certain patterns but that we can retrain it to fire in different ways. Looking at the bright side can bring us some light. We can and should acknowledge when there is hurt or shame or disappointment but acknowledging what we have and the good things can be helpful too.

I’ve seen the “You got this” sign several times in the past year. Each time, I have been driving along, deep in thought about my to-do list. Thinking about where I am coming from or where I am going and there it is. When I see the sign, it always brings me a smile. It reminds me that it is OK to have tough times. It reminds me to take a deep breath and to reconnect to the here and now. It reminds me that I do have control over some things in my life and I can use my skills and my strengths to take on whatever comes.

It reminds me that someone cares.

You got this.