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Finding Calm In Chaotic Times

Updated: Mar 17, 2020

Whew chileeeeee!


I think this past week, many of us moved from the self-protective defense mechanism of denial or minimizing the impact and potential impacts of the novel coronavirus to the reaction of oh my god; AHHHHHHHH!!! Let's go out and panic buy all the toilet paper!

For me, my main reaction to the barrage of headlines, social media posts, and others' panic about the state of the world was: who has the time, money, and energy for a pandemic right now, bro? Not I! That's for damn sure. I started to worry about all the folks who may not have homes, health insurance, or funds to buy months' worth of groceries, medications, and supplies. What about the people who live with abusers? What about the people who can't work from home or take time off from work?

It just all seems so scary, uncertain, sad, and heart-wrenching. And, I just wish we lived in a country in which all of our basic needs were met so that when we are faced with pandemics, natural disasters and other traumatic events, it could potentially feel more bearable for all of us and we'd all feel a little bit more supported.

But, alas. Since we don't live in such a country, how can we cope in this time of uncertainty? In a time where many of us are quarantined and we're told to practice social distancing. I can only imagine how much higher our levels of loneliness, hopelessness, deep sadness, and fear and anxiety will be.

BUT! We're going to try our best to get through it!

I love this handout on how, when we feel that we're in danger or feel unsafe, we've evolved from having a freezing reaction, to engaging in some action-oriented behavior, fighting or fleeing. And, most recently, we've evolved into beings who don't have to actively be in survival mode all the time. We can feel at peace, connected, and safe. We can trust ourselves and others. We can feel like we belong to ourselves and each other. We can play, sing, laugh, and dance.

These processes can be represented on a ladder, where freeze is at the bottom, fight and flight are in the middle, and safety/relaxation/calm/joy are all on top of the ladder.

This past week, I noticed myself experiencing the freezing reaction (e.g., not being present, not attuned, not paying attention to my needs) and the fighting reaction (e.g., tense muscles, driving more aggressively, feeling annoyance towards others, not sleeping as much, being hypervigilant).

Part of what's important to me in this life, though, is to be present, to feel connected with myself and others, to be kind, and to be understanding, patient and accepting. And so, I tend to be motivated to engage in self-care practices to stay up the ladder more often than not.

The handout discusses how we can practice to notice ourselves moving up and down the ladder from freezing to finding safety, or from safety to fight and flight mode. There are also ways for these states to work together, so that we can survive and thrive.

And boy, do we need these systems to work together effectively, now, more than ever. Noticing what we're feeling and thinking is important. Once we notice our emotions, how our bodies feel, and what kind of thoughts we're having, we can explore our needs.

If we're in fight or flight mode, we can practice pausing, breathing, and calming ourselves a bit. Then, we can explore possible necessary actions we can take (e.g., give money to folks who might be struggling financially, buy food for our loved ones, ask neighbors if they need help, ask loved ones if they'd like to video chat at a certain time everyday).

We can, then, move further up the ladder to find even more balance and safety (e.g., doing something calming, watching something funny, doing yoga or zumba in the living room, reading, FaceTiming with friends, setting up video chat date nights with friends, family, and romantic partners, engaging in a nourishing nighttime routine). Speaking of nighttime routines! Have y'all smelled eucalyptus oil before bed? So good!

I do want to say that being all the way down the ladder, in freeze mode, can be challenging and difficult to get out of, particularly if we're down there for days. When we're feeling depressed, hopeless, stuck, paralyzed, and alone, we may need to ask for help. We may need someone to pull us up so we can begin to climb up the ladder again. A crisis counselor can be helpful. An online therapist might also be key here.

If possible, getting in touch with a loved one, but I know that this can be tricky as many of us may not have folks in our lives we can ask for help. Sometimes, watching TED talks help me. Brene Brown is particularly powerful. Also, love Kristin Neff! And, podcasts! Oh my goodness. Tara Brach is a gem! Connecting with others on social media might also be helpful. They might be experiencing similar feelings, and it's nice to feel seen and understood by others.

I think prevention is also key. We have to practice finding ways to prevent ourselves from falling all the way down the ladder. Consistent self-care practices help.

The main factor that helped me move up the ladder this week was reading good news. NBA players giving money to employees put a huge smile on my face. Here's another act of generosity. Italians singing and playing instruments from their balconies while quarantined is also AMAZING!

More good news! Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds have donated some funds to food banks to help combat hunger during this pandemic. If you can donate, please do.

And, since I meditated probably 20 hours a day last week (lol!) and I love meditating, I LOVED seeing that Ten Percent Happier is offering FREE resources (e.g., meditations for healthcare providers, podcasts) for us to learn ways to cope and build resilience in these stressful times. YAS! The Calm meditation app is also providing some free resources!

My hope is that we can help each other. If you were one of the ones who bought 1,000 rolls of toilet paper, give some to your neighbors, for example (ha!).

I hope that we also take care of ourselves so that we can be more present with ourselves and with others more effectively. The more we take care of ourselves, the more we'll be able to practice kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and love. We need each other. Let's find ways to help each other.

Take good care of you and others around you.

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