Vulnerability, Isolation and Connection
Slowing down and stopping runs counter to every fibre of our being that wants to act, to do, and to help. Paradoxically the way we are being asked to help right now is to yield and stop participating in the machine of doing and consuming and to lighten our footprint on the world for a minute.
Humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone
In an era of smartphones, streaming and social media it’s easy to forget our struggle with being still and sitting quietly has been around a while. French philosopher Pascal wrote of man’s inability to sit quietly back in the 1600’s. When we are faced with the prospect of doing less and feeling more, there can be a strong compulsion to do something and that compulsion can be at the root of a bigger problem. You might be compelled to grasp for more of something (alcohol, food, substances, devices) to numb and distract. Alternatively, you might push others away with denial, shutting down, or lashing out, in an effort to avoid discomfort.
Flattening the Stress Curve
Being left alone with rumination and anxiety for company is not an attractive proposition and many of us are being forced to cease a lot of the ‘doing’ that has kept us a safe distance from ‘being with’ difficult emotions. Time, space and silence can be a treat to relish but it can also elicit a perfect storm of triggers. All of the thoughts and feelings we can avoid and ignore when we are busy can rise to the surface in the void created by the shift in daily structure.
As we face access to fewer structured daily activities – the parameters of our ‘work day’ have blurred beyond recognition; our social structures have shifted on their axis; and many of our usual habits and routines have been upended – so we are faced with the prospect of the noise in our own mind for company. Without activity in the world to occupy us, and with the demands of living (and working!) in close proximity with our significant others, it is all the more valuable to be able to find moments of peace and a way to restore balance in our internal landscape.
Our current circumstances require us to reduce our reactivity to strong emotions that might wash over us. We can expect waves and it is helpful to recognise and acknowledge when fear, frustration or anger threaten to swamp us or throw us off course. Tapping into our inner resources, taking a moment time to quieten the alarm, establish safety, and soothe our vigilant nervous system, can minimise the destruction of reactive response. Self-isolation reinforces just how important it is to treat ourselves with self-compassion and to nurture our inner coach rather than our inner critic who berates our efforts.
Connection – Nurturing Healthy Relationships
A desire for connection and understanding is deeply wired into our human psyche and we are neurologically primed to seek out nurturing relationships. The coronavirus outbreak means we are changing the way we foster and sustain those connections with one another. Currently we are physically isolated or distant from many of our support network and we are prompted to find creative ways to connect so our physical distance does not become socially isolation and loneliness. Through considered use of social media, phone and video calls we can share online activities like virtually walking together, shared coffee chats, virtual book clubs and film discussions, and joining others at events streaming live.
Our relationships have potential to contribute to our resilience but being forced to shelter in place can also be a stressor. Increased physical proximity combined with work demands, financial pressures, children’s needs, and limitations on space can impact the quality of our interactions. Many interpersonal difficulties stem from unfulfilled needs, unmet expectations, and inattention. Failures in communication and understanding are common experiences and most of us will deal with the fallout at some point. Normally we might tag team with our partner and step up for one another to buffer stressful periods. Right now we are experiencing a stressor simultaneously and it is possible neither one of us has spare bandwidth to offer support. Remember a new ‘normal’ needs to be developed over time. It is entirely natural to find it challenging to adjust to new patterns of communicating and contact.
Practices that regulate and balance our nervous system need to be part of our life as much as physical exercise is vital to a strong and healthy body
Breathe – Soothe the Nervous System
The power we have right under our nose is quite incredible and taking refuge in moments of slow, conscious diaphragmatic breathing can work wonders to settle a rattled nervous system. By bringing our full attention to our pattern of breathing we have the capacity to shift emotions and energy in our body. Place a hand on your abdomen just above your waist and feel your rib cage expand and your belly rise as you inhale a long, slow deep breath in through your nose to nourish your body with oxygen. Feel your abdomen fall inwards as you gently exhale through pursed lips and release whatever you are holding onto. Continue to breathe in slowly and deeply expanding your diaphragm, then gently take long slow exhales to let go of tension and reduce stress. Practice gradually slowing your breaths and repeatedly return your attention to the movement of the breath in and out of your body. Allow thoughts and sensations to come and go without without judgement or frustration. Make a conscious effort to tune in to your breath whenever you become aware of emotion building in your body. Before you react, stop, calm your nervous system, and find a little clarity.
Move – Allow Your Emotions Space to Move Through
Distressing events can overwhelm our coping capacity and prompt feelings of helplessness. We can be so shocked and taken aback by experiences we fail to fully process them. Our ability to feel the full spectrum of emotions and experiences life throws at us becomes diminished. Emotions can be stored and stuck in our bodies causing disruption to the functioning of our digestive system, our immune system and our nervous system. These emotions can be triggered by another experience that comes along and elicits the body to react before the mind has recognised what is happening.
Movement helps to release our stored emotions and release the cumulative effect of all we have experienced on our bodies. By discharging stored emotional energy we can reset and reconnect in the present moment. So, I strongly encourage you to find what moves you. It might be playing music, singing your lungs out, dancing like nobody is watching, swinging, rocking and rhythmic movement of your body, walking, running, cycling, bouncing, stretching, breathwork, or having a good cry. Repression or over expression of our emotions has an impact on our physical and mental wellbeing so it is important to schedule regular opportunities to release the pressure to avoid overwhelm.
Nourish and Connect
Now more than ever it is important to nurture a sense of safety in relationships. Feeling emotionally safe allows us to share our innermost feelings, thoughts and desires without undue fear of judgement, criticism, contempt or stonewalling. Our communication skills are vital to convey understanding and respect in our interactions. Try to be honest and transparent in communication rather than expect others to be mind readers. It is more important than ever to clearly express our needs and watch out for the dreaded ‘shoulds’ littering our exchanges – should tends to come with a hefty dose of judgement and criticism that can trigger a defensive response. Ignoring or failing to articulate our needs can allow frustrations and resentment to simmer and increase the potential for flashpoints.
It is not helpful to get caught up in comparative suffering. Rather than evaluate, tally, and rank one another’s pain try to remind yourself that each person’s feelings are just as valid as the next. Let’s keep our struggles in perspective whilst allowing ourselves and those around us to feel and express them. When you, or someone you love or care for, is struggling, practice compassion and show a willingness to sit with the discomfort rather than jumping to react and fix. Relationships suffer from inattention so it is helpful check in and reflect regularly;
- What did I contribute that I am proud of?
- What gesture or activity provided some pleasure?
- What can I be grateful for?
- How did I foster security and closeness with others?
Use your reflections to consider how you want that balance to look tomorrow.
Book a consultation call, a wellbeing walk, or a virtual session if you need another perspective or help to shift any patterns that have you stuck.
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