The last two weeks have been full of change. All of my habits and routines were trashed, reworked, reworked again and abandoned. And then reworked. Again. And again.
My children were on Spring Break last week, running around like feral, nocturnal animals. Honestly, probably living their best lives as my husband and I were quickly regrouping. But getting them into a new routine this morning was like stuffing two wild cats into a bag. It was all claws and squirming. No one was interested in writing reflections on their reading assignments. Not them. Not me. The free-float of spring break seemed to be a good way to deal with the global emergency. And who wants to read about Mittens the Cat, anyway?
In a nutshell, this has been the longest month of my lifetime.
So what can you do when time slows - sometimes only to squeeze in more unwelcome change each day?
When your nervous system is overloaded and overwhelmed with events like this, remember that your body goes into survival mode. Your vision narrows as you ready to fight. Your body tenses prepared to flee, or to freeze. Stress hormones pound through your bloodstream ready to take action. Tension, narrowed vision and cortisol cocktails flowing like a Pandemic Unhappy Hour aren’t producing your most buoyant conditions. Our options seem to vanish right when we need solutions. We need to move out of panic mode and become more creative and flexible.
You can self regulate. And I’d like to share a few things you might want to try for yourself. I’m sharing this because I want you to see you have choice in how you respond to the world.
You can develop strategies that take you out of pain or panic.
If you’ve been working with me for awhile, you know about BEL. BEL stands for body, emotions and language. These three components build your point of view as an observer of life. That means if you’re upbeat and positive, those qualities are probably reflected in your body’s position and posture, the language you’re using to describe things, and the emotions you’re feeling. Each of the three (body, language and emotion) is an entry point for self regulation.
Today I’ll share an approach that take about two minutes but can bounce you out of the crisis response.
I start with body. I touch my pointer finger and thumb together at the fingertips. I either tap them together or make small circles and pay attention to the sensation of these two fingers touching. This reconnects you to the body and the moment. Once you remember that yes, you actually are living in a body today, take a look at your surroundings, inhale a deep breath.
Move to the emotion. Then, check in with your emotions. How are you feeling really? (P.S. “fine” is not an emotion). Sad, mad, glad and disgust are four basics — investigate and get more nuanced if it helps but don’t spend a ton of time thinking of the right name… just feel the feeling. You don’t need to manage the feeling for fix this. Just let it surface and be acknowledged. Sometimes if I am in a spot where I’m not going to be able to cry or yell or express my emotion, I promise myself that I will feel the full situation as soon as I am able. Acknowledging goes a long way.
Lastly, move to language. For many, language can quickly take us back into our heads (and our spin or our panic or our rumination) so I leave language for last. Make language neutral, simple and believable. “It’s okay.” “I don’t need to figure it out right now.” “I’m safe.” “I can reach out for help”. “This won’t last forever.”
This mini-process takes a minute or two, but leaves me more grounded and at ease. It is something I can do at any time to bring down the stress and shift who I am as an observer of the situation. Am I generative and creative? Probably not yet, but I’m on the path.
Although it’s easy to assume “we’ll all be back to normal soon”, we don’t know if that is true. And certainly, it is not “back to normal” now, so it’s worthwhile to have strategies in your back pocket for the days and weeks that stretch out in this new normal.