We are all feeling the intensity of this Coronavirus storm that has surrounded us. It is ok to be reeling in this storm of uncertainty and fear. I am amazed everyday at the impact of the news, statistics, friends’ fears and just going out and seeing people in masks! And, what I would love to share with you are some ways you can work with your brain to balance our your feelings so that you can ride this storm for as long as we need to.
Our primitive minds, I call it the Lizard Brain, the part of the brain that reacts to emotional stimuli without warning (Amygdala, knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. You are feeling it —it is a loss of safety and comfort. Uncertainty and impermanence totally activate the amygdala. So it’s totally normal to feel scared. That’s what our minds do. However, we don’t have to stay in this state of fight/flight or arousal. We have a choice and we can choose to calm our brains. We want to move our brains and bodies out of this arousal to prevent chronic stress reactions in our bodies that will impact our health long term.
David Kessler, a foremost expert on Grief and Loss, who co-wrote the seminal book On Grief and Loss: 5 Stages of Loss by Elizabeth Kugler-Ross, says we are feeling “anticipatory grief” because of the uncertainty of our situation, and this brings about the larger fear of death. We are feeling what he calls a “micro and macro level” of grief: a loss of safety collectively. This brings a heaviness to what we are feeling more than ever before.
When we feel such intense feelings that this kind of loss creates in us (grief, fear, anger, sadness, despair) our normal reaction is to resist these feelings. Resistance looks like numbing, avoiding, distracting, denying, overworking, over caregiving, helicopter parenting, etc. and catastrophic thinking. Many of us don’t realize we are letting our brains handle it all and before we know it we are down the road in our minds into scenarios of fear and despair and death. But wait, in this moment, we are really ok. So, why did we just get ourselves so worked up?
So how do we balance out our brains so that they don’t go off constantly? How do we know what to do when our collective grief hits us? Mindfulness is using your prefrontal cortex (Modern Brain) to bring balance and integration to your mind processes. Mindfulness practices and Self-Compassion Practices can bring us back from this lizard brain fear in a short few moments by focusing on an object such as the breath. And, when we are able to slow ourselves down and get back into the present moment, we can see we are really ok.
The other thing we need to practice to keep our balance each day, is to allow ourselves the opportunity to name our feelings. This is a great practice to sit and name at least one feeling each day that you are feeling. When you stop, breathe, sit and allow yourself to notice what is going on inside of you, you can release the feeling or feelings that are most present by either talking them out, writing them down, or speaking them silently to yourself while you bring in comforting touch to your body. Holding your heart is a good way to bring in soothing touch and kindness in each moment.
Learning about how to release your feelings is a great way of relieving your stress and allowing yourself to come to acceptance, the 5th stage of grief. When you can accept yourself and your feelings in this moment, you are able to see what you may need in order to keep being present to what we are experiencing.
Hang in there with yourself and your big feelings of grief and fear. The good news is we are all in this together and we are learning what that really means.