Emotional Intelligence along with two other parts of the 5 Steps to Connect framework is supporting me right now during this uncertain and scary time with the Coronavirus. I have felt fear and anxiety as I decide whether to hold in person classes this month, if it is safe to go on our planned trip to Barcelona to meet my daughter who is studying abroad, if my 80 year old parents will be OK and should I warn them not to go to their gym? It has felt surreal as when I go to the grocery story or coffee shop everything seems normal, so I doubt myself and if I should be anxious at all. Then I watch the news reports of the exponential spread of sickness and that many fragile and elderly are dying.
The key for me to stay balanced AND real in the face of fear and anxiety is to notice and work with three fundamental parts of my mindset: 1) my thoughts 2) my feelings 3) my state, how full my tank is. This awareness has several positive effects.
1) When I notice my thoughts I can tell if they are facts, only what a video can see and hear, or story, how I interpret what is happening. When I am aware, I have choice about how I think, interpret. Thoughts are a story my mind makes up to determine if I am safe or threatened. However, my limbic system prefers any story, whether true or not, then uncertainty. The irony is that the stories I create about the future are more scary and more overwhelming that what actually is. I scare myself.
Now I know to ask, "Is the story in my mind has conjured about how terrible, awful and threatening the future with Coronavirus 'might be' the only way to interpret these facts? Can I stay with the facts right now? That none of the future has happened so there is nothing to fear, as I sit in my house in good health today. Can I just be, here in my body, right now? My body relaxes when I'm able to let go of my stories.
2) When I notice I'm feeling anxious I ask, "What message is my anxiety wanting me to know?" I experience it as a glitchy stomach, tight jaw and shallow breathing. Anxiety is wanting to keep me safe. It makes sense I feel anxious with so much change and uncertainty both personally with my daughter's school closing and in the news each day. Can accept my feeling of anxiety, allow it to just be? Can I give myself permission and time to feel it all? This is hard as my mind is constantly making up stories to justify it. Thought: "They' are canceling March Madness basketball, flights and weddings...what's next... I should feel anxious." Or my inner critic says, "You are overreacting, everything is fine, it is just a super contagious flu, you shouldn't feel this way." Notice and release the thoughts again. I have found that when I can experience my feelings, while stopping the story, they flow through me in 6-60 seconds.
3) The next step when I feel anxious is asking, "How is my state, how full is my tank?" I find the answer is in direct proportion to how centered, how present I am. When I am well slept, have gotten exercise, and good food I am better able to respond instead of react to hard news. If I am low on sleep, food, exercise, time in nature, time with friends, time doing self care, then I am less resilient. So right now, what can I do to fill my tank, even if I just have 3 minutes? Can I give 3 minutes of my full attention, without thoughts, to listen to my favorite song or notice birds & blossoms or make tea?
I am meeting myself where I am. When I'm spinning out in my thoughts. Stop, notice, let go. When I feel anger, notice and feel. When I'm in anxious with thoughts of what a scary future might look like, notice, then empower myself by filling my tank with self care.
How about you?
~Allison Livingston, 5 Steps to Connect