The loss of balance
Recently, I have noticed my son has been dragging his blanket all over the house and pulling it over his head … to be fair, I want to do the same.
Waiting for certainty is a draining process.
I hear people around me constantly self-reassuring that this lockdown is about to end in a matter of days and that we are all going to be back to normal. Will we?
We don’t know.
Uncertainty drives our brain into a continuous deep state of surviving. A state of alert, in fact.
The new slogan ‘Stay Alert’ is a continuous reminder that our senses need to remain highly vigilant right now. Before the crisis, we were so focused on our busy-ness, trying to find a way to destress, to hurry slowly, to meditate more … Our lives were already on the edge.
Yet, we had our balance, carefully crafted and functioning.
But a crisis like this is different. We don’t know when it’s going to end.
What is affecting and testing our mental health during this crisis is not just the continuous exposure to danger: it’s the sense of loss. We have been thrown out of balance. We have lost that equilibrium which we carefully planned and organised, that delicate balance of life and work, freedom and boundaries, purpose and ambition.
More powerfully, David Kessler, talks about grief. What we are feeling right now is a sense of collective grief (fascinating article on this here).
As we lose this balance, we also lose our capacity for thinking clearly as we wobble everyday into uncertainty.
Paradoxically, to stay safe, we have been asked to be socially distant whilst all we want is contact with our loved ones. So, we compensate with overdoses of Zoom calls to keep a sense of normality and productivity.
Hence the question that strongly comes up to my mind is: how will we function once the pandemic has ended? What’s the impact of this stress, fear, guilt and anxiety long term?
We don’t know.
I am pretty sure our bodies are ‘keeping the score’ as Dr Bessel Van Der Kolk would say in his book ‘The Body Keeps The Score’.
As we have no control of the future, there is no point of taking any action in things we cannot control: we know we would feel extremely frustrated.
I have put together a few strategies for you to try and develop more resilience. If you are anxious, or know someone who is, I hope this can help:
- Allow emotions to come. Don’t deny them as they are there for a reason. Allow time to address feelings, to stop and listen, however uncomfortable they might be. What are they trying to say? What are they trying to prevent you from doing?
- Create your Stress ID. Or in other words, recognise your stress warnings and symptoms. The more aware we are, the more we know how to prevent stress. For example, if you start being irritable, notice if that might indicate a warning of stress. If you feel lethargic, might be you have already pushed your stress edge. If your neck and shoulders feel stiff and sore, know that that is your body warning you …
- Keep your thoughts in the present. And if they wander to the future, pull them back. When we stop and focus on the present moment, we allow space and time for the mind to think strategically and positively again, as we notice what we have here. It’s when we stop and listen to the here and now that gratitude for these moments of reflection and slowness, might come in.
- How does success would look like for you during this crisis? We cannot control the future, but we can control how we live our present. So, yes, in a very coaching style I’d say ‘define your goal.’ Think about what you can do today, in the present, that will take you closer to where you want to be tomorrow.
- Please, please, please: do some exercise. It’s not just good for you physically, but it helps your mind stay healthy and feel safe. Choose whatever works for you but make it part of your routine.
- Walking meditation: listen, I know that sitting down to meditate is not for everyone. There are moments I cannot do it, either. In fact, most of the times, I do walking meditation. Choose a green space, if possible, walk and start noticing your breath. Breathe naturally, without forcing. Then, start connecting your steps to your breath. Keep going finding your own rhythm.
- Talk to someone you trust. A coach, a therapist, a friend, family … but share and ask help to process the stress you are experiencing. Sometimes all we need is a space to be listened to and find clarity. Creating a network of support is one of the strongest pillars of resilience.
- Find drops of joy. Create pockets of joyful moments during your daily life. For example, listen to music (I am addicted to the ‘80s at the moment!), read a book, colour, write. My husband spends every day learning 10 minutes of Chinese through an app called Duolingo. I see that as a sort of splash of colours into his daily routine.
- Reduce social media and news exposure. I said this last time in the previous issue of Kokoro Beats. But it’s essential to our survival. Our brain is overloaded by information: not just on the pandemic, but also on ways to survive to it! So, choose your source of information and your wellness toolkit carefully (thanks for reading this, by the way!)
- Finally, practice self-compassion. As Kristin Neff says, use kind and love words towards yourself. Talk to your inner critic with the kindest words possible, because our minds and bodies won’t forget these moments. They will keep score.
Stay well and safe.
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