This will be an ongoing series on topics relating to how we cope personally and collectively in the midst of this health crisis. For questions, topic suggestions, resources, or other, please feel free to reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I will also be holding a FB Live each day that I post an update at 3pm EST on my Resilient.Bounty page. This will be a brief 10-15 minute opportunity to discuss the issue, connect with others, and get support.
Finding Calm in the Storm
As the COVID-19 outbreak has just been announce by the World Health Organization as a pandemic, now is a time of high anxiety. Anxiety about the implications to health, financial security, and societal stability is looming very large. What you are feeling right now and how you are reacting right is natural and normal. You might be wondering how I can assert that if I’m not sure how you personally are feeling and reacting. Let me throw out a few possibilities.
Have you flown into action to bring order to a situation spinning out of control?
Are you responding with an over-abundance of levity and jokes in the face of the unknown?
Have you found yourself losing patience or temper with those whose reaction is not congruent with your own?
Are you measured and stoic during the day, but tearful and anxious when you are alone at night?
You are starting to get my point, right? Each response comes from an external alarm stimulus and each response is normal. This is how we react to try to help ourselves feel safe and regain the prior homeostasis. Reacting with our “normal” selves, however, does not mean we are acting with our “best” selves. We are much more likely to be reactive in this mode than we are to be responsive. What’s the difference? Reactive behavior is immediate and with little-to-no conscious thought. Reactivity is life saving when jumping away from an on-coming bus, but less so when we need to engage in prolonged problem solving. Reactivity makes our tongues are sharper and our feelings more tender. In this mode, we are likely to give and take offense much more easily. We can become downright angry when people aren’t falling in line with our reaction. Our unconscious belief tells us we could feel in control again if we just all got on the same page (whatever that page might be). Being responsive, on the other hand, is still being actively engaging in the current crisis, but in a more thoughtful, grounded, and impactful way. Responsiveness allows us to make more accurate assessments. Most importantly, responsiveness signals emotional resilience and allows us to maintain mental well-being.
So, how can we tend to our emotional well-being while being responsive to the current COVID-19 crisis?
Be a Wise Consumer of Information
This one is tricky. In a rapidly developing situation, we need to stay abreast of changing information so we can make the best decision in the moment. And yet, if we find ourselves immersed in reading catastrophic scenarios, re-consuming the same news, or not being able to “step away” from media and social media sources, this too makes it challenging to make the best decisions in the moment. Called “amygdala hijacking,” our rational, thinking minds become flooded with the adrenalin from our fight or flight, “lizard” minds. We literally have a more difficult time making reasoned decisions. This is a sign we need to step back from the stimulus that is overwhelming us. Give yourself a specific time each day (or couple times a day because it is developing rapidly) to check updates and then step back to process the new information.
Name It To Claim It
The “it” here are your feelings. Stop and take your emotional temperature. Have the self-awareness to name the emotion you are feeling. Not just the surface feeling, but the underlying and motivating feeling. The surface feeling might be anger, which in turn triggers behaviors of short temper or judgment, while the motivating feeling is fear. Research tells us that having greater emotional clarity about one’s fears helps to lower reactivity to the stimulus causing the emotion. Simply stated, putting a name to our emotion helps us to feel better.
I don’t mean to pray here—although if your faith practice includes prayer, then yes, this could include prayer. What I mean by saying grace is giving yourself and others grace. Put differently: cut others and yourself some slack. Be more, not less, forgiving. Assume positive intent. Be compassionate and show positive regard to yourself and others. Kindness eases anxiety.
Slow down. Before responding, or whenever you feel your emotional response kick in, take a moment to ground yourself. When you feel more peaceful, then you can reengage, reconnect, and respond. Here are a few suggestions:
- Practice a simple breathing technique for 1-5 minutes.
- Engage in self-compassionate talk, i.e. “This is frightening right now and I am having to do things I have never done before. It is normal to feel afraid. Right now, however, in this moment, I am safe.”
- Find refuge. A refuge is anything that protects, nurtures, or uplifts you. Listen to music, call a friend, read something inspirational, cook and eat something comforting.
When we are intentional throughout the day in maintaining and regaining calm, we are able to be more resilient in the face of crisis.