Our bodies are so smart.
Given the state of affairs in the last ~48 hours (on top of everything else, of course) - but more specifically with the latest developments between Russia and Ukraine - it is no surprise that we may be feeling uneasy, jumpy, short-tempered, scared, sad, angry, tense, maybe we are experiencing headaches, fatigue, more/less appetite…the list goes on.
Yet, as uncomfortable as these feelings and behaviors are, if we break them down to their simplest expression they are all but data points. Literally information, messages, that our nervous system is sending to our cognitive brain alerting us that something in our environment is not aligned with ourselves.
If you think about it, how brilliant is the machinery of the human body?
We come equipped with this amazing scanning system that is constantly evaluating our environment to keep us safe: our nervous system. **round of applause!**
This “scanning” functionality goes back to the most primal part of our brain, whose main driver is our survival as a species at large.
So yes, when we feel “icky” it actually MEANS something. It’s our body telling us, in fact screaming, that there is something we need to attend to ASAP.
I visualize it as someone with a HUGE loudspeaker standing inches away from my face screaming at me information nonstop. It’s so loud, that I can’t even understand the words, or decipher the overall message. All I know, and feel, is that it’s uncomfortable, painful even. And I want it, need it, to stop. NOW.
So, we do. We do things to make it stop.
And here’s what’s so interesting, as I said before, our brain’s number one job to keep us alive. So, we all have a built-in tendency to get rid of threats/discomfort (in this case all the emotions and feelings described at the beginning of my writing) as swiftly as possible.
Going back to the metaphor of the person with the loudspeaker standing inches away from us.
It’s overwhelming. We want to make it stop.
So, maybe we fight it back (resist the discomfort), push the person away or run away ourselves (deny what we are feeling), maybe we cover the person, or ourselves, with a thick blanket to numb the sound (over or under eat, drink, work, exercise, medicate, self-harm, etc.).
You know where I’m going with this…any of these survival mechanisms provide an immediate yet temporary solution. None actually take the loud person away.
Here’s the thing. The bottom line is NOT to take the screaming person away. We CANNOT control what others do. The bottom line is to create enough space between that screaming person and us so we can strip the excess noise to better understand the message and then do the only thing we CAN control, which is to decide how to respond to the loud person (triggers) in our, and our loved ones, best interest.
We’re all familiar with the age-old airplane safety pitch of put your air mask on first, then your kids and others…Once we protect ourselves, then we are also in a better place to help and protect others.
So, what does this all mean in the context of what is happening in the world right now.
Taking care of ourselves will equip us with the necessary clarity to do what we need to do in the moment, whether that is to objectively and lovingly explain to our children what this all means (I’ve been bombarded with questions by all my children), or to find ways in which we can actively help, by figuring out how and where to donate or by reaching out to others in our own communities who have loved ones that are being directly impacted.
Taking care of ourselves perpetuates furthermore in that it raises our own awareness to identify and address when we personally need to recalibrate.
So, how do we actually do this “taking care of ourselves” business? Are there any steps, instructions? Directions, maybe a playbook?
Here’s a six-step cheat sheet you can try to do whenever and wherever:
STOP – NAME – ACKNOWLEDGE – COMPASSION – CURIOSITY - ACTION
1. STOP: …moving for a moment, and consciously take -at least- one deep breath.
2. NAME: make a list in your mind (or if you want to write it down, that works too) like a draft, or a laundry list, of everything you are feeling that doesn’t feel great to you.
3. ACKNOWLEDGE: once you feel you have reached the end of your list, stop again, imagine taking a big step back, like when you take a step back to see the bigger picture at an art museum. Now, keeping judgement or any justifications completely aside, acknowledge, in a straightforward, stark, matter-of-fact, no-emotions, almost mechanical manner, that yes you really are feeling scared, angry, resentful…whatever it is.
4. COMPASSION: now infuse it with all the emotions you were withholding in the previous step, BUT do this with one caveat: only infuse with emotions that support self- respect, compassion, love, acceptance and care. We are literally going to give ourselves a big hug, an it’s-totally-ok-to-feel-this type of hug, an of-course-you’re-feeling-like-this kind of hug.
5. CURIOSITY: once you have practiced being kind and gentle with yourself (it’s hard! but with practice it can be achieved) then you go into detective mode, the why and what is at the root of this? You start deciphering the loud words, or maybe you’ll even experience an a-ha! moment of finally understanding what were the words the person with the loudspeaker was trying to say to you. You now have gained distance from the screaming person (the triggers) and in that space you created is where the motion of getting unstuck starts, by beginning to understand the message and deciding your next steps, you have gained some clarity.
6. ACTION: now with clarity, even if it’s just a little bit, you can better forge ahead in a way that is helpful to you and those around you.
I understand this is a grossly oversimplified attempt to explain the process of addressing our emotions. Yet, it is a starting point. A beginning. A little step in the right direction. The key word here is “process”, it’s a growth process, and as such it takes time, discipline, and the humbleness to miss-rinse-repeat as many times as needed.
Growing is a journey. We each have our own process, our own speed, it’s not a competition, it’s not even a goal that needs to be reached by a certain age or stage. It’s an ongoing, life-long process.
Writing all of this is my “action”. My way of adding a tiny grain of salt to the bigger picture. It is helping me process what my heart and soul are going through at the moment. I feel calmer, and sharing it with all of you also gives me a sense of purpose in all of this.
My deep heart-felt hope is that in the same way it’s helping me, you too can find an ounce (or maybe more) of solace. That, together, we can start a chain effect, that albeit isn’t necessarily a physical, tangible chain, it does feed goodness and hope into the threads of the fabric by which our families and communities are woven.
With intent and much love,