At the beginning of the year, none of us predicted the unparalleled ‘fire-storms’ of uncertainties that started burning across our country and the world. None of us anticipated COVID’s force and fortitude or its capacity to up-end and unnerve us. Nine months later many of us still feel as if we are in free-fall or, at the very least, scrambling to stabilize and maintain some right-side-up balance in an upside-down world.
Not even the professionals, the economists, our health care agencies seem to have uncontentious answers, solutions, or pearls of wisdom to set our world right. Where does this leave us and our families? How do we get ‘grounded’ in a world that continues to shake and tremble under our feet?
Our ability to get a grip on our emotions, to regain our footing while living on a ‘fault-line of stress and distress’ is crucial to riding out the seismic quakes in our lives. Register for Emotional Health Day LEAP to Prosperity FREE Virtual Summit for Women with high-level workshops and inspiring interviews to begin realizing you can master your emotions despite the circumstances you’re facing.
It starts with recognizing we either nourish our emotional well-being with a healthy ‘diet’ of positive thoughts and actions that forward our growth, our ability to successfully navigate and MacGyver our way through difficult circumstances or we unconsciously feed our emotions with the junk-food of negativity, worry and doubt. Whatever we repeatedly focus our conscious attention, thoughts and actions on, overtime, develops and becomes an unconscious habit.
Habits – good or bad — all start with our repeated conscious focus on our thoughts and actions. When we first learned to drive a car, it required us to focus our attention on any number of small thoughts, actions and gauges, while moving forward and being mindful of the situation and others around us. Most of us are now so adept at driving a car, at one time or another, we’ve caught ourselves driving while on ‘automatic pilot.’ We no longer consciously think about the small thoughts and actions required to safely and proficiently drive a car. We just do it. In fact, most of us don’t question our level of driving competency. We consider ourselves sufficiently capable of getting ourselves wherever we want to go.
Regaining our sense of emotional equilibrium isn’t simply about identifying and expressing our feelings, it’s about consciously noticing how we are interpreting our experiences and gauging what’s going on inside ourselves. Are we ‘listening’ to the inner critic rather than the inner mentor inside our head? What are we saying about ourselves, the circumstances and our ability to successfully navigate uncharted territory?
When we’re worried, stressed, or perceive something as threatening our brains unconsciously and instinctively signal a survival driven neurobiological response of fight, flight, freeze or faint (4 F’s). This occurs whether we are indeed in danger or we perceive something as dangerous – for instance, while hiking, perceiving a ‘snake’ on the path in front of us, until on closure look, we discern it to be a stick. In this instance, we quickly reset our emotional reaction and continue walking up the path.
Let’s deconstruct this scenario – we see a ‘snake’, we pause, adrenaline rushes through our bodies, we shoot into the 4 F’s, hold our breath, scope out the area in front of us, weigh our protective options – is it poisonous, do we have a stick to fling it out of our path, do we wait until it slithers away, should we turn back, can we go around, what if we continue forward – we get one step closer and realize it’s a stick. We take a breath, shake it off and continue on our hike. All this occurs within a split second or two.
Though COVID is not just a snake and it is clearly in our path, there are lessons to be learned and repeated in getting a handle on this unprecedented stress. Pausing. Taking a breath. Noticing what’s going on for you. Asking yourself in this moment, how big is my stress, on a scale of 1-10, 10 being as big as it gets? Are you at 10 in every moment? How can you take the emotions down a notch or two? Shaking it off, neuroscience tells us any physical movement is the quickest way to reset and refuel the brain with the oxygen and glucose it needs to make informed, accurate decisions. Listen to your inner chatter, are you nourishing yourself in the midst of these challenging circumstances or are you snacking on the junk-food of negativity? What are your options? What lessons have you learned over these past several months? What measures of protection have you put in place for you and your family, what new actions are starting to work well? What routines that worked before COVID can you re-insert in your day to restore your equilibrium?
Are you putting the ‘oxygen mask’ on yourself first? Are you affirming and acknowledging your small efforts toward self-care, adaptive resilience and ability to reset your compass? Repeat daily even the smallest of actions that bring you nourishing comfort as opposed to junk-food solace. Every result is a lesson learned. As you regain your balance one nourishing thought or action at a time, give yourself some measure of kindness and grace for your efforts. Though the circumstances in your world may remain upside-down for some time, as you regain your emotional footing in response to them, you will bring into balance the best version of yourself to make informed and accurate decisions, to empathically engage others, and take the actions necessary to start righting the upside-down world for yourself and those you love.
Rosalie D. Gibbons, MFT will be live on the FREE LEAP to Prosperity Summit for Women Stage on September 27, 2020 to present her mindfulness workshop called Calming the Chaos. Register early for many bonuses.