When we are mindful of our struggles, and respond to ourselves with compassion, kindness, and support in times of difficulty, things start to change. We can learn to embrace ourselves and our lives, despite inner and outer imperfections, and provide ourselves with the strength needed to thrive.
Liz Gilbert wrote recently that another word for “over-reacting” is fear. For those of us who might not resonate with the experience of overreacting, we can each resonate with the experience of fear. And so, rather than expressing contempt for someone demonstrating what we think is an overreaction (enter the toilet paper and dry good shortage in my neck of the woods), we can express empathy for our common experience of fear.
I know fear.
You know fear.
Sometime in the last 48 hours there was a shift in my experience of the coronavirus pandemic. Fear set in.
I felt it when I went to the grocery store and someone paused several feet from me while Oakley dodged back and forth in the aisle, not allowing a straight passage for this neighbor to walk. Last week she might have patted him on the head and made a joke about his emergency vehicle sound effects. This week though, I trust she’s adhering to the recommended 6ft distance between folks to limit exposure to both herself and my crew, were one of us to be ill.
I felt it when I thought of the lovely kids music class that begins next week, and how much I love watching Jo come alive amidst a slew of other little people and their caretakers while the music teacher shows them specific moves to each song, and incorporates instruments we don’t have at home.
“Should we cancel this next round of music classes?” I asked myself mid-morning.
“Will Mr. Mark and Ms. Leah be devastated financially if all the parents in all the classes think like I did just now, and cancel?” I wondered as I thought about my non-salaried neighbors.
There were many more examples of ways I experienced fear yesterday, most of it coming in this last example of uncertainty and curiosity about my own social responsibility in the wake of coronavirus infiltrating my community in Colorado. And this is not the note where I tell you about the way I acted like a frantic mom when I was living primarily out of fear… next time, folks.
And so, I am awake in the early hours of the morning, reminded of other seasons of fear and uncertainty I have walked through.
I know I am not at my best when I make decisions out of fear.
When I picture myself in fear, my eyes are closed and I don’t want to come out from under the covers (literally or metaphorically!).
Truth, however, frees me up to see the variables as they are, and puts me back in a position of choice and agency, which are the things that seem to be the scariest to lose in times such as this.
So I gave myself permission to ask a big scary question, and sit around long enough to hear the answer (you can stay under the covers for this exercise if you’d like)!
What am I afraid of, really?
For me, I am afraid…
- My kids or I will be sick and the symptoms will be so minor that we didn’t know it as coronavirus and unknowingly pass the virus along to someone whose immune system is impaired or unable to cope.
- I will spiral into anxiety and the baby I’m growing will be impacted by the increased amount of cortisol (stress hormone) in my system.
- My mom will get infected and not survive.
- My friends and neighbors who depend on hourly wages and community engagement to financially survive will be devastated as we’re advised to stay home for extended periods of time.
Although I can’t control many of the outcomes I am afraid of, doing this exercise frees me up through the emotional granularity tool, “Name it to Tame it.”. When I’m in a heightened emotional state, I’m experiencing that primarily in the right side of the brain, and once my left side is engaged and can name the emotional experience as such, the right side (and therefore both sides) may calm down and make sense of the experience.
For me, I follow this exercise with self-compassion:
- “Leah, it is normal to be afraid of these things. This is a part of life. Other people are afraid right now too.” (experiencing common humanity)
- “What do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself?… May I be patient as we navigate uncertainty.” (I do this with a hand on my chest to physically offer kindness to myself as well).
I pray that you and the one’s you love and neighbor are able to find peace amidst uncertainty in this unusual season; that you would allow yourself the gift of fully experiencing the emotions that arise and the practice of self-compassion as you move through them.
I’d love to hear from you as you practice these tools alongside me. Common humanity can be such a healing salve!