Here is some practical guidance on how to avoid feelings of panic, loneliness etc
I’m loving all the humour going around the internet about the virus…one of them states that the last time we had a worldwide crisis we were asked to go and fight for our country…this time we only are being asked to sit on the couch.
My partner and I are watching a truly appalling Netflix series…I’m too embarrassed to even share it’s title. Before the crisis we watch two or three episode most evenings. With the lockdown we’ve decided to limit it to one episode a day. The reasoning is simple. This lockdown is a marathon, not a sprint. If we limit our viewing we give ourselves something to look forward to every day.
If you want to do a lot of watching, get a bunch of series you want to watch and interweave them. Making yourself wait is a good discipline…and self discipline is very important at this time… and the anticipation makes the viewing more enjoyable when you do watch it.
Give it some thought.
I was recently out with a friend who is desperately worried about Covid 19 (and yes, we probably shouldn’t have met). Her concerns are entirely reasonable but it was apparent to me that her worrying was changing nothing positively but it was compromising her health. Stress lowers our resistance and makes us vulnerable to any sickness.
I suspect one of the problems is our habit of either/or thinking. Either I take this virus serious and worry like mad, or I think it is a storm-in-a-teacup and ignore the “new rules” and laugh at those who are worrying. Maybe we connect worrying with taking it seriously, and not worrying with not taking the pandemic seriously.
I advocate doing both – in my previous blogs I have advocated both/and thinking rather than either/or thinking.
To do this we do take it seriously and we don’t worry. We follow the guidelines for keeping everyone (not just me) safe, and while doing that we also we look for humour, we connect with our spiritual self by walking on the beach, going fishing, gardening, playing our musical instruments, meditating, stretching, practicing diaphragmatic breathing and so forth. We share the funny posts on social media. My favourite is this one. We can use time in isolation to reconnected…call or, better still, Skype someone you haven’t spoken to in months or years.
By doing this, and keeping ourself balanced and happy, we actually keep ourselves safer and come out the other side of this thing a better version of ourselves.
On that note – have a great pandemic!
There is an aspect of therapy called, “somatics”. It relates to our body’s reaction to something – the sensations we feel. We often forget or ignore what is going on in our bodies and only pay attention to what is going on in our head.
If we have had a traumatic experience, such as witnessed our child have a nasty accident, we may find ourselves reluctant to let our child out of our sight, or do things like climb trees, visit friends or all the other normal childhood things.
While we might think that we are acting out of fear or reason, there’s a strong chance that most of the time what is driving that reluctance is us trying to avoid that horrible sensation our body experienced when the trauma occurred from recurring. That sensation is our amygdala, the smoke alarm centre of our brain (the part that triggers a “fight or flight” response), firing off signals that there is danger around.
How we respond to that unpleasant sensation can make things worse, or can make things better for us. If we don’t actively notice that sensation and automatically follow what it tells us (to not let our child out of our sight) then we train ourselves to find more and more danger…and we begin to shut our lives down. If we pay attention to that sensation, we listen, evaluate, and make an active choice to ignore that sensation and simply ride through the unpleasant wave of stress, we teach ourselves that our brain got it wrong and, over time and repeating slightly stressful things, we begin to calm our amygdala down and our lives open up with opportunities we can embrace, rather than run from.
The thing to hold in mind, when you encounter these situations, is to pay careful attention to what sensations you feel. “My chest feels tight”, my heart is racing”, “my stomach feels heavy” and connect this with that thought that is occurring, which is likely to be something like, “this feels dangerous, I’ve got to get out of here”. If you can hold that thought – look around and appreciate that you are safe, you can allow yourself to ride that unpleasant wave of stress until it fades away…which it will. When you stay in the situation and ride that wave, you teach yourself that you are safe. If you allow that physical sensation to drive you away, the stress passes quickly and the lesson you accidentally learn is that you were right to run, so there must have been danger….so you unintentionally teach yourself that safe places and situations are dangerous, because your body told you they were.
If this connects with your life it might be worth coming in and getting some skills to help overcome this and allow you to live a freer life.
Bob Marley famously said ….“Everybody is going to hurt you. You just gotta find the ones worth suffering for”.
I mostly agree with him. However the notion that people are going to hurt you feels a bit harsh. Sure, sometimes people deliberately hurt you but far more often the hurt happens by accident. I’d prefer to say, you are going to get hurt by everyone, so you need to decide which ones are worth suffering for.
Hurt and offence is often taken when it is not given. It’s important (but really difficult) to hold this in mind, especially in our most important relationships. When we say, “You hurt me!” we are casting blame on other person, and implying that they take responsibility for your emotional state. The problem with blame is that it often leads to outcomes we didn’t intend and don’t want. The other person might think, “I’m not a nasty person”, so to defend themselves as being a decent person, they might cast a blaming statement back, like “You need to stop being so sensitive”…and suddenly there’s a fight happening.
A rephrase, like “I was hurt by what you said” can change everything. It is free of blame, it is taking responsibility for your own emotions and its an invitation for something healing, like an apology, rather than inviting an attack back.
Think of the times you hear of men using the excuse “She made me so mad I lost control”, as if it is his partner’s job is to ensure he feels good all the time. This is a ridiculous suggestion for many reasons but foremost is that you can never know what form hurt will come in.
No one is immune to this. An innocuous comment from my partner about her plans for the day triggered a sense of failure in me that led me to labelling her as demanding. When I reflected on how we wound up arguing I realised the problem was all me – I was feeling sensitive and read things into her comment that were not on her mind or in her intentions at all. I sorted this out with her by saying, “when you said X it bought up Y for me and I reacted badly, and I’m sorry that my reaction led to us fighting.”
Hurt happens – when we learn to see it for what it is, take responsibility for being and causing hurt, and use new strategies to prevent it to from taking us over, that we can sail through life in peace.
When I do Te where tapa wha with clients I encourage them to get quite speculative when we operate in the space of hinengaro, the mind.
While people are drawn to the big diagnostic labels, like “anxious”, “depressed”, I believe there is a lot of value in digging deeper for subtle words that describe both your current and persistent experience of life.
Scaling can be helpful, because we often feel degrees of something, rather than all or nothing. “On a scale of 0-10, how “safe” do you feel, whatever “safe”, might mean?”. “In general, a scale…how calm do you feel?” “If 0 is total failure and 10 is total success what number would you give yourself?”, is a really helpful question. A lot of us journey through life with, what Michael White called, a “failure story”, which we don’t acknowledge, even to ourselves. It sits there as a vague sense, lurking in the shadows of our lives. Often, I see a huge sense of relief for people to acknowledge that they feel like a failure. Dragging these ideas about ourself our of the shadows can give us the opportunity to attend to them. When we leave them in the shadows they undermine our lives.
When I asked one recent client if the words, “lonely”, or “alone” might fit him, he told me that he felt alone, but not lonely. This is great learning! It is in these subtleties that we truly understand ourselves at a useful level.
It’s easy to sail through life without taking the time to reflect on this question of “who am I at the moment..?” But there is a lot of value in this reflection. These “ways of being” play out in our lives, especially when we don’t acknowledge them. When we can be overt about their presence and understand why they are part of our life we can avoid being drawn into reacting from them…loneliness, failure, disappointment, fear, uncertainty or something else
Recently I had a small (and totally undeserved) explosion at my partner. When I calmed down and reflected on what let that explosion happened it was some innocuous words she said (she told me she was going into town to do some printing) that triggered a sense of failure connected with something that happened the previous week at work. If I had appreciated that I was sensitive to it, I hopefully would have reacted differently.
While this is something that anyone can do by themselves, it’s far better to do it in conversation with someone, so it can be done with genuine curiosity. It’s not about fixing anything…it’s just about having a clearer picture of who it is that walks through the spaces and interactions of your life.
Ka kite ano
Here is an article that gives another voice on the value of narrative counselling.