If you are like many people right now, 2020 is not the year that you expected. With so much uncertainty and unexpected change, feelings of overwhelm, dread, irritability and frustration may be more present and intense for you than in previous years. You are not alone. Being a human is hard, and being a human facing the realization that a lot of our previous routines and norms may not be “normal” for a long time to come is even harder. Add onto that our current social and political climate, increasing cases of Covid-19, fighting against racial injustice and climate change and it begins to feel as though nothing is known or in our control.
Breathe. These things are hard, yes. These things are heavy, yes. These things require us to be able to show up and do our best work toward change and justice, yes. Breathe. Even as you are reading this, take a deep breath, slowly in through your nose. As you breathe out through your mouth, drop your shoulders and begin to release the tension that you may hold in your neck. Repeat this process a few times. Allow some of the stress that you have been holding in your body release and melt away, even if just for a few minutes. Finding these little breaks are one of the ways that we find calm in our day and gain strength and focus to keep moving forward.
In early childhood and family therapy, we often reflect with parents that children need to feel a sense of control and agency over themselves in order to feel calm and to help them grow and develop. While we typically think of this in reference to those early childhood years and then again in adolescence, I think if we are honest with ourselves we never really outgrow this need to feel in control. Pre-Covid, you may have found a consistent rhythm, routine and process to your day that helped you feel in control and know what to expect. You never imagined that there may be a Friday in March that you go home for the weekend and never return to your office, or that you children were suddenly on the longest Spring Break in history. A lot feels different or “off” right now and we often don’t know what is coming next which can lead to an increase in irritability, feelings of depression or sadness, anger, anxiety, poor sleep and changes in eating patterns, to name a few.
Though I wish we had a magic wand to be able to make quick sense of this chaos, we recognize that for many of these areas, we are in it for the long haul. Learning new tools and identifying ways to feel more in control in your day to day life can be a strategy toward not only surviving, but thriving in this chaotic place. Here are 3 small ways you can increase feelings of calm and control without ever leaving your home:
-Celebrate the Small Stuff: When working with families to help children increase feelings of control in their world, we tune in to the small ways they can control their day including choosing what they wear, offering a choice when it comes to snacks, entertainment, even the order in which they do their morning and bedtime routines. As adults, we can lose touch of some of the ways we have choice within our day, even when it feels like nothing is in our control. I would encourage you today to tune in to each small decision you get to make and help it build a feeling of agency over each hour. Choose each meal and snack with intention, take a break if you are feeling sore at your desk. Wear comfy pants for that online meeting and maybe even fun socks or slippers to add a little bit of joy. Read for 15 minutes for fun. Sit on your porch for 3 minutes between meetings. Have that second cup of coffee and breathe in the smell and warmth. If you work outside your home right now, choosing your commute to work, the radio station or podcast that you listen to in the car, how you nourish and feed yourself while at work and how you choose to spend your time at home after work are all ways that you can focus on what you can control, rather than what is out of your control. Finding control and choice doesn’t have to be in big things to have a big impact. Creating a rhythm to your day where you tune in to your decisions and pick what you need for you can bring calm and joy to what may have otherwise felt mundane.
-Attune Your Attention: Take a moment and ask yourself, what is getting your attention right now? Is it notifications from your phone, or maybe a picture someone posted on social media? It may be a news story, a joke or a recipe you are mulling over for dinner. You may find that this is difficult to identify as many are finding attention and focus difficult these days, and that is okay. We don’t have to battle within ourselves to be perfect here. I simply want to remind that while we don’t have control of many of the things outside of our mind, we do have some control over the notification settings, news sources, social media posts, and entertainment where our mind spends time and gathers input data. Choosing where you focus your attention can help reduce stress, comparison, anxious thoughts and help you feel more in control of the roller coaster we can feel from the 24/7 news cycle and social media highlight reel. It is good to stay informed, and we can do that while also being intentional about taking breaks, choosing reliable sources and focusing more on our inner work and home than the world within our smartphone. Your peace is worth it!
-Practice Mindfulness:As you work to celebrate the small stuff and be intentional about what has your focus, practicing mindfulness can help you tune in to your world and tune out distraction and chaos. Mindfulness blends being present in the moment with the practice of self-acceptance and self-compassion. As mindful.org explains, “mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” Mindfulness can be a breathe of air in a suffocating schedule of busy. It can be choosing to take a deep breath every time you walk through a doorway, choosing to focus in each step of a recipe in the moment as you cook rather than being 15 other places in our mind. Mindfulness is choosing to pay attention to your body and be present within yourself whenever possible. It is a way of life, rather than a new task you have to learn or an agenda item you must add to your to do list. For many of us, myself included, this can be difficult at first because our minds are so used to being on hyper drive. One simple grounding exercise that I practice often when I am feeling disconnected from myself and my surroundings is known as the 5,4,3,2,1 tool and you can learn more about how to use this tool here.
Now let’s return to our exercise from earlier. Breathe. Take a deep breath in, slowly through your nose. As you breathe out through your mouth, drop your shoulders and begin to release the tension that you may hold in your neck. Repeat this process a few times, allowing your body to release some of the tension and stress that you may be carrying. Feel the relief of letting that tension go. In this moment, you are choosing to spend a few minutes reading a blog about self-care. You are choosing to breathe in and out. You may be considering ways to practice mindfulness today on your commute or thinking about which comfy pants you can wear to your home office. While simple, these are all ways that you can focus in on one thing at a time, celebrate the small ways you can control your inner world and find moments of peace, even when the outer world feels like chaos.