Dealing with change is difficult; it challenges every part of our nervous system as we seek to find stability in the unknown. Our brains are wired to look for change and to assess it as a potential threat, triggering the Fight or Flight Response and sending our minds into overdrive as we try to problem-solve our way out. The trouble is that when we are in Fight or Flight, our brain literally deactivates the rational brain (left Prefrontal Cortex) and instead stimulates the emotional brain (right Prefrontal Cortex). This in turn feeds back the state of fear and maintains the activation of Fight or Flight. As a result, we are functioning on auto-pilot, relying on our habitual self-care strategies to get us through.
The current pandemic is characterised by a state of uncertainty. It’s an unprecedented time that no one “knows” how to respond to. We rely on experts to fix these kinds of problems, but even the experts are working outside of their comfort zones. We see constant changes to recommendations, legislation and the functioning of our community. We feel like we are constantly scrambling to find the latest information to help establish a stable footing. No wonder we are feeling stressed and anxious.
So how can we adapt to the uncertainty without “knowing” all the answers? The answer lies in learning to calm our anxious minds so that we can calm our nervous system. The mind and body are linked; if we can calm the mind we can calm the body.
In essence, calming the mind during the pandemic requires learning to sit with uncertainty. One way of calming the mind is to practice mindfulness; to compassionately focus our attention on our present moment experience without getting hooked by judgement. This sounds a lot more simple than it is. Remember, our minds are used to taking control of the steering wheel, often being motivated by the urge to avoid uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. It therefore feels unnatural to watch our internal experiences without trying to distract ourselves from them.
The practice of mindfulness can be broken down into “noticing” and “naming” what we are observing in ourselves in THIS moment. Noticing the thoughts and feelings that are present, and naming them for what they are. Ah, here’s anxiety. Oh, tightness in my stomach – that anxious feeling is here. Or even just worrying. The practice of noticing and naming helps to engage our rational brain, which means we can take a step back from our emotional responses without being hijacked by them.
The next step is to pause and connect with your body and surroundings; notice what you can see, hear, smell, taste or touch. This will help to draw you out of your head, and to reconnect with what you are meant to be doing in the here and now.
Finally, you can then take mindful action; what does THIS moment require of me? How do I want to be in THIS moment. Breaking our actions down into decisions for the present helps us to focus on what is in our control right now, instead of feeling overwhelmed with decisions about an uncertain future.
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