Well, dear readers, like many of you during this intense time of physical distancing and social isolation, I have been on a constant search to find things to occupy both my time and mind in a serious effort to stay engaged, educated, and uplifted. I have literally found myself needing to DOUBLE my self-care activities and time spent doing them every day in order to stay mostly balanced and emotionally sturdy so that I can do my job of helping others navigate this unheard-of-until-now worldwide collective trauma called the COVID-19 pandemic. If you haven’t read them yet, click here for my tips on how to practise self-care during this challenging time.
In this article, I want to share two incredible resources I’ve been tapping into to get me through the ups and downs of our ever-changing landscape. The first is in the form of a podcast (I’m totally addicted to podcasts in general but now listen to about two per day) and the second is an incredible book I am reading.
Become “Unlocked” with Brené Brown
I’m guessing you’ve heard of the fabulous Brené Brown who has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy and is the author of five #1 New York Times bestsellers: The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, Braving the Wilderness, and her latest book, Dare to Lead, which is the culmination of a seven-year study on courage and leadership.
If not, you have to watch her Ted Talks video The Power of Vulnerability which I hear is the most-watched Ted Talks video of all time. Brown is a fierce advocate for courage and vulnerability and I am so grateful she practised both in order to bring us a fabulous new podcast which is already on my top three favourites list. The podcast is called “Unlocking Us” and the first one is absolutely amazing and so apropos to the times we are living in presently. It’s called “Brené on FFTs” and I laughed so hard I cried.
Being a down-home Texan, this woman swears like a trucker and I think that’s both wild and courageous and makes her extremely relatable. FFT’s consist of “effing first times” –how hard it is to be new at things, from small incidents to global pandemics. In a nutshell, when we have no relevant experience or expertise, the vulnerability, uncertainty, and fear of these firsts can be overwhelming—but showing up and pushing ourselves past the awkward, learner stage is how we get braver.
In this podcast episode, she states, “I think it’s safe to say that this pandemic is a collective FFT.” Listen to the entire podcast to learn Brown’s three-step strategy for addressing first times to getting through COVID-19: normalize it, put it into perspective and reality check expectations. It really helped me and I’m sure will help you as well.
It’s Okay to be Freaking Out Right Now
Another amazing resource I wish to share with you is a book I had ordered a while back, but sat gathering dust on my bookshelf for at least a year. I believe in cosmic timing- that we are drawn to the lessons and messages we most need when the time is right. I was in between clients last week, looked up at my bookshelf and this book silently whispered, “You need to read me now”. And let me tell you- the time could never be better for us all to read, The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self-Not Just Your “Good” Self- Drives Success and Fulfillment.
This is basically a treatise on why it’s dangerous to become too comfortable and outlines the very good reasons why we should regularly push ourselves far out of our comfort zones. Speaking of comfort zones, I learned the following from the chapter entitled, The Rise of the Comfortable Class:
In the west, the insatiable need for comfort is a relatively new concept: it only started in 1990 when Bill Clinton became President of the USA. That’s when NASA shared its secret formula for helping astronauts sleep comfortably in outer space- memory foam- which around that time became available to the masses as the world’s most comfortable mattresses which literally moulded to the shape of the person lying on it. It was also around this time that the terms, “comfort food” and “comfort zone” entered everyday parlance.
And lastly, this is when the incidences of road rage sky-rocketed like never before. Why would people need comfort food/zones, and for traffic to be easy and stress-free? As the authors put it, “While people were getting better sleep, enjoying more convenience, and expecting greater happiness, they were also adjusting to a life without too many trials or hardships…”
This is where things get really interesting to me as a therapist…psychologists came up with the term “experiential avoidance” to describe what was happening to people psychologically in the 90’s. It can be defined as, “attempts to bury unwanted thoughts or feelings, to hide from them so actively that we have little energy left over for being present as life unfolds” (Kashdan and Biswas-Diener, pg., 36).
During this pandemic, I’ve noticed a general theme every client seems to present: most of us right now are what Tara Brach describes as being “emotionally hijacked by our limbic system”- we are in a constant state of fight, flight, or freeze. Our nervous systems are on overdrive because we’re all in a constant state of fear propelled by a global health threat which we still don’t understand, have a vaccine for, or have much control over at this time. When we get overwhelmed like this, our impulse is to escape in any way possible from the difficult feelings such experiences elicit within us.
Many of my clients have fallen back into various addictions in an attempt to numb themselves to the helplessness and fear they are facing. Others with trauma histories are experiencing PTSD-like symptoms because the pandemic is triggering earlier traumas. And let’s be clear here- this pandemic IS a trauma for all of us- an on-going, ever-changing collective trauma. And if we don’t take care of ourselves as individuals, it’s going to get a whole lot worse.
So, what do we do? Resist the urge to bury the tough emotions like panic, dread, confusion and anger. Now is the time to get serious about developing a daily (twice daily is ideal) mindfulness practise to help you sit with the feelings you most want to escape, accept them, investigate how they affect you and what you need to do to feel better. The best practise I know of to achieve this and go from fight, flight or freeze to rest and digest is the RAIN meditation.
I am finding my footing and staying grounded these days by doing many rounds of RAIN when I start to freak out and when I start worrying about loved ones and those vulnerable to COVID-19, I practise the Loving Kindness Meditation. Both practises take me out of reactivity and feeling like a small self-who’s all alone in the world to a sense of wholeness, compassion and connection to others and the world around me.
I’ll end with a Pema Chodron quote I love:
You are the sky. Everything else- it’s just the weather.
In other words, the Corona virus and your emotions are the weather- always changing. And remember this- the sky can hold a space for all kinds of weather and so can you.