The Power of Stepping Away …

I’ve gone down the scroll hole. Continuously scrolling, reading, digesting – articles, charts, graphs, opinions, latest news, health advice. I feel my heart pounding in my chest, my breathing is shallow and fast, sometimes I’m holding my breath. My muscles are tight. I put down my phone. But then I pick it up again. I’m continually reaching for my phone, obsessively checking it. For what? For updates. For news … from the schools, from our government, from my community. For comfort and support. But also, just because my mind is continually searching for stimulation. I can’t sit still. I’m addicted to finding out more. I’m in full “fight, flight or freeze”. Full sympathetic nervous system response. We all are. These are unprecedented times. We know nothing like it. Our minds are constantly awfulizing, future tripping, asking the “what if …” questions. “What if our family gets it? What if we run out of food? What if it reaches our compromised communities at rates too large and quick to cope with? What if …” And we think we are protecting ourselves by trying to think about all the possible scenarios and how to deal with them. But we’re not because our bodies cannot differentiate between a thought in our mind and a real threat in front of us. It’s exactly the same physical response. So we stay in full sympathetic overdrive.

But in our sympathetic overdrive it’s just about survival. It’s not about healing, or creative thinking, or empathy, or connection. Our immune system is actually suppressed because in the sympathetic nervous system our body is only concerned about surviving the threat in front of us in the next minute or hour. It’s not concerned with maintaining health or getting over colds and flu. It’s in full protective mode.

And when we hear negative news or drama, our brain is more attuned to react to this than it is to positive news. It’s called a negativity bias and it’s designed to protect us by making us more conscious of threats around us. The only problem is now all the threats in the world are around us all the time. MRI studies show that our brains react far more strongly to negative news and drama than they do to positive news. There is a greater surge in electrical activity in our brains. Which also becomes addictive and keeps us seeking out more of that stimulation. More of those surges. Until we are worn out, depleted, stressed and joyless.

At this time of overwhelming global media coverage, it is so important that we train ourselves to STEP AWAY. Just like we are socially isolating to prevent the wildfire spread of COVID-19, we need to mentally isolate to prevent the spread of panic through our bodies and our families. This doesn’t mean not being in touch. It means limiting the time we are watching the news or scrolling social media. Switching off notifications. Perhaps just checking in twice a day. For a limited time. Because we will “want” to get sucked into the drama. In many ways it feels very exciting and satisfying in our bodies. That surge of adrenaline. That feeling of momentary thrill. That’s what happens in our bodies in the short term, but if it continues in the long term it will completely deplete us, so that in the end we will feel numb, exhausted, drained, lacking in connection and love.

But it’s hard to do this on our own. It helps to have encouragement from our family, friends and community. And it’s important to share this with our children. This thought provoking quote by Dr Becky was shared on a group I am on (thank you Theresa Cotterrell)

“Most young kids will remember how their family home felt during the coronavirus panic more than anything specific about the virus. Our kids are watching us and learning about how to respond to stress and uncertainty. Let’s wire our kids for resilience, not panic.”

So I set the intention to consciously use this time to practice all the stress management mechanisms I teach about which have been shown to be enormously effective. I hope you’ll join me and together we can turn this time of isolation into a time of replenishment and restoration – for ourselves and for our precious earth. There is no denying that we all desperately need it. Perhaps there is a gift in this time. I strongly feel that there is. A much needed and forced slowing down, a forced  simplifying of life, a forced turning inward. Some of the tools I’ll be practicing are:

  1. A rigorous gratitude practice – for myself and our family. I will be writing 3 – 5 things in my journal every day, and at one mealtime each day we will sit as a family and say 2 – 3 things each that we are grateful for each day. I will be sharing some of these online and I hope you’ll join me so we can encourage and uplift each other and our communities. These gratitudes must be big and small so that we will go through our day looking for things to appreciate – that I can hug my child, the comfort of a cup of tea sipped slowly and with reverence, the feeling of the grass under my feet or the shafts of morning sunlight streaming in through the window.
  2. Getting outside every day. Sunlight and fresh air are so important for our bodies. In lessons learnt from the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, it was found that “severely ill flu patients nursed outdoors recovered better than those treated indoors. A combination of fresh air and sunlight seems to have prevented deaths among patients; and infections among medical staff.[1] There is scientific support for this. Research shows that outdoor air is a natural disinfectant. Fresh air can kill the flu virus and other harmful germs. Equally, sunlight is germicidal and there is now evidence it can kill the flu virus.” Read more about it here
  3. Doing some sort of exercise every day – be it a walk, run, stretching, yoga, a game of tennis, dance breaks or even singing (yes it is exercise!). It’s so important to take time to exercise. Not just because it’s been shown to boost the immune system, but also because it helps us to get off that hamster wheel of thoughts that go around in our head.  It helps us to step away from our thoughts and to become present in the moment – one of my favourite quotes  (not sure where it is from but it’s so true!) “it’s very hard to sing and worry at the same time!”
  4. Practicing some form of mindfulness, meditation, breathwork or tapping everyday. Even just pausing every now and then to focus on my breath and to consciously slow it down. Then my thoughts will spin away and I’ll realise that I’m not thinking about my breath at all, but in that moment I can bring my attention back to my breath and slow it down again. That is the practice. It’s not about “not thinking” and “getting it right”. It’s about noticing when our thoughts have wandered and consciously bringing them back to focus on my breath.  I will expand more on these tools in my posts on social media in the coming weeks, but it’s important for us to have a practice that helps to calm and ground us. Again, it’s a conscious stepping off the hamster wheel, a stepping back from the future tripping and the awfulizing. I use apps such as Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer, The Tapping Solution, Breathe, HeartMath and Inner Balance. You may have some other suggestions of tools that help you. Please share in the comments below. 
  5. Finally, I will continue to hand this over to God, my Higher Power, the Divine, Allah, Mother Nature, our Life Force Energy – whatever that may look like for you. If this crisis has shown us anything, it is in fact how little we can control. And nobody has all the answers. Nobody is in control. And so I pray frequently, handing this over for the “highest possible outcome” for us all and for the planet. Read more about this, and the story of the Farmer and His Horse in my latest blog “Maybe”. We don’t know how this will all turn out. Maybe it feels like the worst possible crisis at the moment. But maybe unforeseen good will come out of it. We don’t know. We can only live in this moment at this time and do the best we can. And while I say this little prayer for the “highest possible outcome” I connect with a feeling of love and gratitude in my heart and send it out to my family, friends, those in need. It’s something so small but so powerful that I can do in this moment. And if we’re all doing this practice every day there is a lot of love that will be sent out. And that can only help to heal us all and the world.

So I send you all love at this time. I pray that we can join together and spread love and gratitude. That we can teach ourselves and our children how to build resilience in stressful times. I am so grateful that out president Mr Cyril Ramaphosa has acted swiftly and decisively to help us slow the spread of the virus. I’m seeing it as an act of love and compassion that my family and I can do at this time, rather than a reaction of fear and isolation. Please follow me online on FB or Instagram (mindfulhealthandwellness – links below) if you’d like to join me on this journey as I’ll be posting there more regularly.  

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