Tending Your Whole Person in the Midst of Extreme Stress
Have you been feeling stressed lately? You’re certainly not alone.
We are going through something on a global scale that is completely unprecedented…and it is connecting us in new ways. Experts tell us that what we are experiencing is a “collective trauma:” A situation that “violates the familiar ideas and expectations about the world of an individual or society, plunging them into a state of extreme confusion and uncertainty”.
When considering how to support and love each other during this time, it is important to realize that everyone reacts to the stress of trauma in different ways. There are genetic factors, childhood histories, personality differences, and habits built over our lifetimes that affect our responses. We need to also factor in huge differences in our life circumstances.
Perhaps you’ve heard about people checking off bucket-list to-do items, learning new skills, or volunteering on the front-lines. If you are coping by being productive, great! And if you are not, be gentle with yourself. The reality is that many people also feel tired, lethargic, angry or sad, while still others are dealing with anxiety, depression or fear. And some of us (this is me raising my hand!) are having bouts of energy and optimism sprinkled in with periods of exhaustion and sadness.
According to psychologists, all of these reactions are normal ways of dealing with trauma. Our nervous systems can become overwhelmed and certain brain functions can go awry. When we are focused on a threat, it is hard to focus on other things…it’s how we are built to survive.
So what does all this mean? We think it means that this pandemic is an opportunity for us to love ourselves and to flex our muscles of kindness and compassion. Here are some suggestions of ways for relating more effectively to ourselves and our loved ones during this time:
Anxiousness / Overwhelm:
Even as I am writing this article, I feel a little anxiety rising up. Breath-work is a great tool for calming your mind and nervous system. I just took three deep breaths…counting to three on the inhale with my mouth closed and letting myself slowly exhale with an open mouth. Much better. Slowing our breath is a signal to our nervous system that we are safe and can relax.
Watch how much time you spend listening to the news and surfing social media. During this time of physical distancing and quarantine, social channels can be invaluable for keeping in touch with your family and community. And, if you find yourself feeling anxious or uncertain as a result of social media, consider taking steps to limit your engagement. Being more mindful of your social media usage has been shown to have beneficial effects on mood.
Short-term memory loss is a common symptom of trauma. This is important to remember if you have children trying to stay on top of schoolwork. They may have more difficulty than usual with attention and recall. Or if you are working from home and finding it harder than usual to concentrate or remember things, consider taking more proactive steps to support yourself. Breaking down lessons or projects into smaller chunks can be helpful. Pick only one or two things to accomplish in a day. And, be compassionate with yourself when you forget why you just walked into the kitchen…
Short Temper / Anger:
If you find yourself bickering with your partner or other family members, or if someone in your home is experiencing anger, be gentle and patient with each other. Feeling and sharing strong emotions can present a beautiful opportunity for deepening intimacy.
One idea is to create a family circle, or a one-on-one, where each person has a few minutes to simply share what is going on with them. Everyone else just listens – this isn’t a time for ‘fixing’. Let each person be deeply held and heard through their share. In HAI’s workshops, we practice this kind of ‘heart share’, and it can be quite healing and connecting for everyone involved.
Old feelings may surface, new emotions may pop up. Let yourself (and others) fully feel what is there to be felt. Cry if you want to. Hug someone if possible. Reach out to a friend or loved one by phone, or video conferencing if you can (seeing another person can be very soothing). Writing in a journal can also be useful for processing difficult or unfamiliar emotions. Staple some paper together to create a makeshift journal for your kids for them to write and draw. Take advantage of creativity and connection as tools for release and integration.
Getting enough rest is critical to our health. If you are tired or lethargic during the day, see if you can sneak in a nap or get to bed earlier than usual. Set boundaries with your family so that you can have some uninterrupted rest.
Here are some recommendations for a better night’s sleep:
- Be consistent. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning. Keep your bedroom dark and on the cooler side.
- Stop using electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime.
- Go outside for some fresh air and, if possible, exercise for at least 30 minutes daily.
- Listening to relaxing music or a ‘sleep meditation’ (lots on YouTube) can be beneficial for some people.
In the weeks ahead, remember that you (and those around you) may experience many ups and downs. Being kind and compassionate with yourself will help you be there for others. And, if you are looking for support, be sure to stay tuned for our upcoming online offerings and workshops with the Human Awareness Institute.
About the author: Susan Chettle Rutherford has served on the HAI workshop team since 2009. She is also a writer and Certified Professional Co-Active Coach. Susan is absolutely passionate about helping people manifest lives of joy, love, abundance and fulfillment. Since she can remember, Susan has been committed to personal growth, and her biggest joy is being a facilitator of transformation in others. These days Susan is also on the Marketing team for HAI Global, helping them spread their message of love around the world.
About the editor: Kate Gillispie is the Marketing Director for the Human Awareness Institute and co-host of May I Have This Dance, a podcast about love, intimacy, and sexuality. Find the podcast by searching for ‘May I Have This Dance‘ on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever else you find your podcasts. You can also join our active community on Facebook.