DRIVEN’s Word of the Year 2020 has been Clarity, which can be achieved by each of us with a little creativity, some useful tools, and the desire to make a change. Through ten articles to-date, I’ve shared with you the beauty and importance of inviting clarity into your life and career, especially through the lens of the great predicament we’re all staring down during this year of fear and uncertainty.
Looking toward August’s commitment to Clarity, I’ll submit for your consideration that “sitting in uncertainty” is clouding our individual clarity as well as our collective vision. Ponder the common daily rhetoric, “…when we get back to normal”. Are you in a rush to see what this normal will look like? There’s an understandable desperation in these yearnings— a clear discomfort with “now”. And whereas no one would volunteer to navigate a pandemic, wishing it away isn’t going to improve our situation. What’s more, this uncertainty and discomfort has hijacked our emotions. This may manifest in perpetual personal unease, gained weight, working until exhaustion, short tempers and high anxiety. The collective results are the state of discord we’re currently experiencing and participating in. Pandemic PTSD is for real, and we’re not even POST yet!
Often, we feel stress and anxiety because we’re not in control. And while it’s true that we can’t control the future without an imaginary time machine, we’re also not going back to the past. There’s only one coordinate in time you can control: The Present. When you realize the impact you can have on your own here-and-now, you’ll become more comfortable with the uncertainty of the future.
We can’t instantly change the pandemic crisis we’re in, but each of us can choose to either respond or react to it. When your primitive (reptilian) brain, which functions on survival instinct, is perpetually stimulated, your body chemistry is running on a slow drip of cortisol. Are you feeling an undercurrent of anxiety? Impatience? Irritation? Frustration? Resentment? These are the signs that your body and brain are operating under the influence of cortisol. Besides contributing to belly fat and high blood pressure, this hormone fogs the brain. And when you’re not thinking straight, you’re not as productive, empathetic or creative as you could be. And you’re not alone.
Now what if I shared with you the fact that you can take this horrible time of uncertainty and turn it around? What if I were to tell you that you can use this crisis as an opportunity to live a more fulfilled life? I invite you to first BREATHE. Then, let’s look at what you can do starting NOW to better navigate this chapter of your life. Here are four ways to manage your emotions so they don’t manage you!
1). Words Create Worlds: A first step you can take toward Clarity is to review the seemingly innocuous words you use in everyday conversations. A phrase I’d recommend omitting from your small talk straight away is “Back to Normal”. It’s time to accept that we’re never going “back” to normal, nor will we permanently be in the current “New Normal”. Rather, we’re moving onto the “Next” Normal. To spell this out differently, I’ll remind you of the meaningful proverb, “One cannot step twice in the same river”. Much like the water that flows past a specific place, things are always changing!
When we see the world through rushed eyes, we miss the details. We’re moving too fast and haven’t learned to fully focus. Meanwhile, our brains are fogged with stress. “I can’t wait” implies, “I’m not comfortable with my now” and “We’ve got to get out of this place…”. These words are doubly toxic because we may be telling ourselves we want to get back or get through, which doesn’t jibe with our subconscious.
2). The Joys of Journaling: To bring out the emotions being harbored deep in your psyche, I recommend journaling. At first, I couldn’t believe how writing each morning revealed the many emotions I felt the previous day! The trick is to write “without thinking”. Try it out today: Set a timer for 5 minutes and scribble on a blank page. Don’t think too much about what you’re writing. Or, as a teacher once said, “Keep your pen connected to the page, and don’t stop writing.” Just noticing and naming these negative emotions will deflate their power over you.
3). Lean into the emotions you’re feeling: ….and investigate them. My dear colleague Phyllis White-Thorne gave me the best (superlative intended) advice I’ve ever received during a particular time of darkness and fear:
“There are lessons in the valley. The valley represents the low points in our lives. We are generally so anxious to get out of the discomfort of the valley that we miss the valuable lessons that we can learn during those low times. The valley is a great space in which to reflect, resolve and recover.”
What can you learn in the valley? Well, that you’re not alone. Share these ideas and discoveries with loved ones or your support community, and watch their anxieties ease up as well. But keep in mind: If you, like many others, are still unable to manage your anxiety and stress during these times, seek the advice of a trained professional. If you don’t have the resources to find someone, we do. Please reach out!
4). Be Mindful “Now”: Consider the simple pleasures of the senses: a deep cleansing breath, listening to bird songs, feeling a breeze on your face, smelling the scent of honeysuckle after a rain or a burger on the grill, tasting the tartness of lemonade. Focusing on these sensual functions serves to bring you to the present. And the good news? You can’t be in the present and worry about the future or yearn for the past simultaneously. “Be here now” is a powerful remedy for fear, and it’s completely within your reach.
While living in the great crisis of the present, you can choose to take the opportunity to tame your stress and anxiety by employing mindfulness. The Chinese word for “crisis” is composed of 2 characters. When translated to English the first character is “danger” and the second is “opportunity”— the opportunity to stay in the present, which yields a great appreciation for the tiny, magical aspects of life which can help pull you out of the darkness.
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Related: The Clarity of Practice and Habit