It seems that every other day there is a new level of restriction. Each one challenges us to alter how we live our lives a bit more. Many of us are feeling the sense of uncertainty and remarking that “Everything is changing, and I don’t feel like I have any control over so many things that impact my life and the lives of my loved ones!”. I hate to break it to you, but everything is ALWAYS changing, and we NEVER really have control over many things that impact our lives. (Oh no, that wasn’t a nice thing to say!) Enter Fear and Panic, and their little sibling Denial. Maybe, some of us resist change? Okay, many of us resist some forms of change. Okay, unless we are Zen masters, we resist some form of change. So, we might not want to accept the idea that this could go on… “indefinitely”. “Indefinitely”, that means undefinable! We might not want to accept the idea that we are going to keep facing things we cannot prevent. That is scary (Fear). It forces us to look at what we can’t control (Panic, or Denial). And that can lure us into the painful cycle of “what if” thinking. In no way do I want to deny or minimize the real challenge many of us are facing. Job instability or loss. Income instability or loss. News of loved ones who are very sick, even dying. Our own health vulnerabilities. Heart pounding stuff. Here’s what I am saying. What we know to be true is that living in an active state of fear and panic, or even denial, is not sustainable. We are biologically set up to fight, flee, or freeze when we are experiencing a threat (real, or perceived). This is excellent if the source of threat is immediate and short-lived. It is exhausting and damaging if the source is gradual and longer-term. Beyond being exhausting and damaging, the kind of problem solving we need to contend with this challenge cannot happen in this state. “What if” thinking is tricky. In our heads it sounds pro-active, thoughtful, even smart. We feel alert and responsible when we are engaged in it; it is all consuming. So, in order to determine if your “what if” thinking is problematic, here are some things to consider:
**Your "what ifs" are starting to get repetitive.
**Your “what ifs” are based on generalizations, rumors, assumptions and the like. **Your “what if” thinking is generating more “what ifs”. **Your “what if” thinking brings on heart racing, quickening breath, chest hurting, head aching, muscles tightening, appetite suddenly increasing or decreasing, sleep disturbance (too much, too little). **Your “what ifs” are NOT generating a concrete “here is what I can do about that” answer. If any of these are true of your particular “what ifs”, you have lost your way. It is time for full stop and get centered. In order to truly take advantage of effective problem solving or to simply find some moments of peace inside of what is happening, we must bring our focus to the present. You might say, but in ‘this present moment’, my bank account is too low to allow me to pay the bill that is due tomorrow!
Okay, stop. Allow yourself to breath with awareness. Let your heartbeat return to normal. Be aware of your body and its sensations. Return here every time you catch Fear, Panic, and Denial in the form of your “what ifs” luring you away. Stay with your breath, your body, your Self. Now. Ask “Is there one thing, one step I can take to address this issue, right now?”
Allow space for Fear and Panic and Denial to rush to the front of the room to yell their thoughts out loud. Breathe again. Settle. Wait, because something else will emerge from inside of you. Hm… I can contact the person or company I owe and let them know what’s happening and request an extension or alternative. I am not the only person in this spot. It’s a pandemic. The planet is facing this now. Maybe I can close out an expense I don’t need right now, to free up funds for that bill. Etc. The point is, you are finding actual answers, not free-floating, doomsday predictions and assumptions. Those could be true, too. But, ultimately, the real issue is “Is there something I can do to address this issue now?” If the answer is “Nope!”, more focus on it (rumination) IS NOT going to help you out of it. More focus on it (rumination) IS going to wear you out. And that will weaken your capacity to sustain yourself through this challenge. So…breathe and allow Quiet, Wisdom, and yes, maybe even Peace to meet you where you are.
Resources to support you: Podcast (SoundCloud) https://soundcloud.com/blackzen/e119_march-part-v-how-to-navigate-in-this-new-normal Wisdom https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief?fbclid=IwAR1BY023Wth2yVvA_AbqIWM1KBeTpUGabn4U5jaklMJhgVjtOUmKq_P5qrA Websites (and on Instagram) Blackzen.co YourHolisticPsychologist.com Take care everybody.