Discovering Our Strength, Desire and Truth During a Pandemic
by: Sean Williams, Deep Eddy Psychotherapy Scheduling Team
Living during a pandemic such as the current COVID-19 virus is a ripe time for looking outward and feeling fear. However, a pandemic is also a ripe time for turning inward and discovering our strength, desire, and truth. Dr. Irvin Yalom, one of the developers of existential psychotherapy says, “Though the physicality of death destroys us, the idea of death may save us.” But with so much turbulence in our current circumstances and so much fear in our minds and bodies, how do we channel this pandemic for our personal growth and the growth of the community? We need regular practices of regulating, observing, listening, and acting. Today’s first post is on regulating.
To begin the journey toward creating the life we want during and after this pandemic, it’s crucial that we find ways to establish a felt sense of safety within our bodies. When our nervous system is activated in a sympathetic state, we react with our primitive reflexes of fight, flight, freeze, and fawn. Sometimes our lives truly are in imminent danger and that’s why we’re neurobiologically wired to protect ourselves in whatever way we need. However, without ways to signal to our bodies that, “I am safe now,” we can get stuck in one of these reactions and miss out on creating an authentic and meaningful life even within uncertain times. You may even take a second now to reflect on if you’re stuck in one of these reflexes:
Fight – Are your shoulder blades, abdominals, fists, or jaw clenched? Are your thoughts ruminating about something that feels threatening? Are you feeling angry or short-tempered?
Flight – Are your legs tense or restless? Are your thoughts obsessing over how to escape from a specific context or person? Do you feel anxious or afraid?
Freeze – Do you feel disconnected from your body? Is it hard to hear your thoughts or feel your feelings, as if they’re in a fog? Do you feel frozen inside like a deer in headlights?
Fawn (Care-take) – Are your eyes and thoughts consistently scanning for signs of distress in someone else rather than assessing your own well-being? Does your talking without pause actually create a wall to protect you from others instead of lending toward real connection or intimacy?
Noticing that we’re activated is a powerful first step to safety. After noticing we’re in a sympathetic state, we need practices to bring us back into a parasympathetic nervous system state in which we feel like ourselves. The Internal Family Systems therapy model describes this state of our full selves being online with these eight words beginning with the letter “C”: calm, clear, curious, compassionate, confident, creative, connected, and courageous.
There are many ways to practice feeling safe in our bodies. Here are a few:
- Moving your body to release some of our retaliatory impulse toward the perceived threat and discharge energy
- Deep breathing to tell our brain we are safe and can relax
- Naming three things you can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell to get back into present reality
- Affirmations such as “I believe in myself,” ‘I am safe,” “I am in charge of myself”
I’ve made a regular practice of running a few flights of stairs when I notice myself getting activated. You might walk out to your mailbox and back, dance to a song or two, or do your preferred yoga pose. Find your thing that helps you re-center into your power, your body, and your emotions.
Facing all that a pandemic like this brings up in us can be overwhelming. Having practices of regulating our nervous systems can be incredibly soothing. In my next post, I’ll describe how having a practice of observing your thoughts and feelings can help you have conscious choice as to what you buy into and let run your life. Until then, consider experimenting with one of the above practices.