An Oregon mother’s local anti-suicide signs have gone viral worldwide, The Washington Post reported. In the two years since it started, the Don’t Give Up campaign has become a global phenomenon. Encouraging mental perseverance starts at home.
Amy Wolff was inspired to make a change after hearing about the alarming, local suicide rates in her home state of Oregon. She began planting signs around her yard and town that read very simple messages like “Don’t Give Up!” One woman’s good deed has gone viral and spread around the world, proving how serious suicide awareness and prevention are for every community.
Changing Our Relationship with Our Thoughts
In order to prepare ourselves to face off against depression or suicidal tendencies, we already have some of the tools we need. “We can’t always change our circumstances, but we can change our relationship with our circumstances,” trauma specialist Molly Birkholm said. “The key to changing our relationship with our circumstances is changing our relationship with our thoughts. In order to do this, it’s so important to realize that thoughts are not facts—just like our emotions, our thoughts are transient, but it can be easy to forget this in the moment.”
Birkholm said that once we realize that our thoughts are temporary, like emotions, we can begin to detach ourselves from them, “which increases psychological flexibility and resilience.” She offered the example that instead of thinking, “I am a failure,” we should realize that “I had a thought that I am a failure.” This seemingly insignificant change of perspective can snowball and provide major benefits.
When we allow ourselves to have those thoughts, rather than suppress them, we find ourselves reaping the rewards of psychological flexibility. “Suppressing thoughts or clinging to a thought out of fear of its opposite keeps our thinking rigid,” she said. “It limits our options and it keeps our focus on the avoidance of discomfort rather than our values and long-term goals.”
The Two Arrows Paradigm
The need to realign our perspectives and think of hardships from new angles has fascinating roots. Birkholm said that it comes from Buddha’s teachings regarding what is referred to as the “Two Arrows” paradigm. “The first arrow is the one that is shot at us,” she said. “This could represent either physical or emotional pain that happens to us, so to speak, whether it is illness, injury, the death of a loved one, or something else. While the first arrow may cause pain, the suffering is actually caused by the second arrow, which is the arrow we shoot at ourselves.”
In this line of thinking, it’s our response to the pain that causes us the most trouble. “That response to the pain is what holds the key to living a life filled with meaning or a life filled with suffering,” Birkholm said. “The ability to find meaning in adversity is central to the ability to bounce back from it.”
Suicide is a major issue around the world, and there is no simple or quick fix for suicidal thoughts. However, by realizing that our self-deprecating thoughts are temporary and not necessarily factual—and by stepping back and considering how much pain we may be causing ourselves—we can begin to tackle our difficulties.
Molly Birkholm contributed to this article. She is a trauma specialist and iRest® trainer affiliated with the iRest Institute; a cofounder of Warriors at Ease; and the CEO of Molly Birkholm, Inc. As a yoga and meditation teacher and trainer, professional speaker, consultant, and writer, she inspires others to create meaningful life changes using research-based yoga and mindfulness meditation techniques.