Have you read the wonderful children’s book “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt”, by Michael Rosen?
Because we, the world, are going on a ‘wellbeing’ hunt.
Currently we are facing our own “swirling whirling snowstorm” aka CoVid19, and just as Rosen, so beautifully teaches children to draw on the strengths of perseverance, adaptability, discernment and collaboration, we also “can’t go over it, we can’t go under it. Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!”
The current world-wide pandemic, our ‘snowstorm’ that does not discriminate, has triggered our primitive stress response of fight, flight or freeze, challenging each of us of how we will “go through it!”.
This situation is testing our immune systems as well as the social fabric of society.
How do we “go through it”?
Can we, as a global force, turn on the opposite of the stress response and elicit the relaxation response to counter it’s impacts on our systems?
While we have had many losses, importantly the loss of life and livelihoods and a huge loss of close connection with family, friends, colleagues, our community; we share a loss of our sense of certainty in what tomorrow or our longer-term future will look like.
This uncertainty is likely to trigger your primitive stress response and you will respond to this pandemic with fight, flight or freeze.
Your stress response has different disguises
For some of us this may show as breathlessness or erratic breathing, increased heart-rate or agitation in the body. A restlessness, perhaps difficulty sleeping, or not being able to sit still. Chewing nails, grinding teeth, indigestion or changes in appetite, tapping feet or other subconscious habits may present.
For you it may be an emotional response like being ‘short-fused’ and quick to anger, impatient, hypervigilant or a lack of empathy toward others’ circumstances.
You may have a cognitive response where your focus and attention are reduced or fixated, or it may impact on your interest in things or your memory.
Or perhaps your response is more behavioural? In our avoidance of the reality of the situation we can often turn to the need to soothe through binging on food (calling all chocoholics!), alcohol, television, shopping, social media or even sleep.
Ongoing stress has ongoing implications for us all
Once we hit ongoing or chronic stress we will find more long term implications such as a change in our relationships and our physiology!
These changes may be changes in your tummy or bowel functioning, your hair, nail and skin growth and strength. Even our reproductive systems and our immunity can be impacted, and our immunity is something we are relying on to get us through this.
The stress response is of course designed for immediate, short term action to a trigger which poses a pressing threat, however it isn’t designed for ongoing stress. As you can imagine, if these changes are long term, we will compromise our system and create more health and mental health difficulties than CoVid19!
Acceptance is the important first step
Firstly, be your own detective and start to observe yourself – not critically – just observe and take notice of what you may be turning to as a management strategy to your stress response.
Just as in “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt”, we too need acceptance of this situation, as it is through acceptance that we will find the committed, valued action to “go through” this.
This is our new reality for 2020 so far, rather than denying or avoiding it, we need to accept the situation and how we are feeling about it, then we will have taken the first step in reducing our stress response to bring more clarity to our minds and calmness to our bodies.
Avoidance equals inertia, we need to go “through” this snowstorm
Avoidance strategies, and these can sneak up on you, keep you in a state of inertia – unable to move forward and live life the way you want to; this is the message of “we’re going on a bear hunt”.
We need to go through it!
- Activating your relaxation response – discovered by Herbert Benson, (a mind body pioneer at Massachusetts Medical Centre, Boston), not only reduces the impact of this stressful situation, it has also been shown to counter the negative impacts of the stress response mentioned above. You can activate your relaxation response through deep abdominal breathing, using a mantra meditation practice – repeating a calming word such as relax, peace, calm. Using imagery meditation of tranquil scenes from nature, mindfulness meditation to soothe and calm, or through physical techniques such as yoga, tai chi or mindful movements.
- Physical health strategies, which we all know, but tend to be the first thing that drops off when we are stressed. As I emphasize with my clients and families, you need to protect your body’s ability to cope by giving it the energy it needs. Plenty of water to help the mind and body function well; sleep – vital to rest and replenish tired, stressful minds and bodies; good whole foods by eating the rainbow rather than the stodgy beige or white carbs and sugars we go for; and of course, move your body! Moving and stretching your body through either an at-home exercise/yoga routine, dancing, gardening, any type of activity that gets you up and moving. Remember, sitting increases your levels of anxiety, so in lockdown, get up and get moving regularly!
- Emotionally – laughter and positive emotion will help you frame the day more positively, allowing you to connect with others and also increase your gratitude. Research suggests that experiencing positive emotion enables us to connect better with the present. It opens us up to take in more information that we can store and use at a later time. Positive emotions are a great coping mechanism, not to avoid but to help us process information clearly. Humour is definitely good medicine, providing we ensure we aren’t harming or enjoying something at someone else’s expense and dignity.
- Connecting socially and more deeply with others will improve your empathy and wellbeing. We may not be able to physically connect, however we can stay connected and hearing others’ stories and understanding their perspective and their impact, will increase your empathy and your own overall wellbeing. We are designed to be social creatures. While some of us prefer not to be too social, we still need to connect. CoVid19 has stolen that from us, so we need to be active in our own social connections.
Following the health recommendations, no matter how we feel, to fight for our own safety and wellbeing and to work for the greater good has been the strength of the human race….
We can’t go over it
We can’t go under it
We can’t go around it
We need to go through it….together!