The signs are everywhere…….At Costco…..in the paper goods isle of Kroger…….On the news…….in the Facebook communities that you are involved in……in your email inbox.
The messages that we are currently bombarded with suggest something bad is happening…and even worse…..it may get worse before it gets better.
For many of us, these messages suggest that we should be preparing for the worst case scenario. Some folks would have you believe that there is a pending Zombie Apocalypse! Surely shit must be bad if we cannot secure one roll of TP. (No pun intended :)
In the therapy world, that is known as “catastrophizing".
Anyone who’s worked with me has heard me talk about how the human brain serves to protect us in its amazing architecture. The lower region of the human brain, known as the lymbic system, is built for managing perceived threat……real or imagined.
It’s most noble goal is to keep us safe!
Our brains are strategically wired in such a way, that when there is a perceived threat, our limbic brain can hi-jack our high brain, which is known as the Pre Frontal Cortex (PFC). The PFC is our smart, reasonable, strategic “kick ass” brain. It’s the center of our executive functioning that keeps us grounded and intentional in how we walk through life.
The problem is that the PFC is built to default to the lymbic system, because we are wired for safety and security FIRST. When the lymbic system fires, more often than not, our PFC says…”Yes ma’am….what ever you wish…..and it shuts down”.
The Lymbic brain takes control and we are then off to the races. Fight. Flee. Or Freeze.
When our world is sending constant messages that there may be “danger looming”, we are vulnerable to start functioning from the brain’s fear centers (low brain) and we can make decisions based on fear.
The question is...“How do we stay nicely grounded in our calm, reflective, centered self during this period of uncertainty, fear and confusion”?
Well, that is what I want to talk about.
Research has clearly illuminated….time and time again….that we really do have influence and impact on which region of the brain we are functioning in. It is so much more simple than we could imagine and quite powerful as well. The wisdom from eastern philosophies continues to broaden this knowledge; particularly mindfulness, meditation and even yoga.
The way we influence which brain region (high v. low) we are functioning is based on the story we tell ourselves.
No, I don’t mean you need to read a book. When I say “the story we tell ourselves”, I am referring to our narrative from which we are working. Quite simply, “our story” is our interpretation of the events and situations that occur.
These stories are what really determines how we feel, and ultimately how we respond.
For example….I decided to make a trip to Kroger last Friday. I knew that folks were out and somewhat in a panic, and there had been a bit of a “Dooms Day Prepper” mentality starting to set in. However, I was grounded and intentional enough to not be moved to panic before I hit Kroger.
Once I arrived, I witnessed the empty shelves and noticed that certain grocery items were out of stock. I think I got freaked out not by the absence of toilet paper, but the fact there was only one pack of chicken ramen noodles! (Don’t judge me.)
Immediately I thought….omg….”there is not enough”….(fear story)…..and then I began to feel the feelings of anxiety hit and started to ask myself , “Should I buy more of what I did find on the shelves?
Thankfully I had a moment of clarity and reminded myself that I would be just fine because I do have enough and I continued my shopping without panic and I was able to steer clear of the mass hysteria that began unfolding last weekend. Because "my story changed", I was able to stay in my high brain and not become anxious or reactive.
We have the option to choose to not get caught up in the panic by staying grounded in our high brains and the way we do that is to make sure our stories are ACCURATE and based on EVIDENCE.
I know that can be really challenging when the messages all around us suggest that there is danger ahead.
However, I want to challenge that story.
I want to suggest that it may not be as much danger as we suppose, but there is CHANGE ahead. There is ADVERSITY ahead. There is DISCOMFORT afoot. There is UNCERTAINTY….and lots of it. This is all true. I don’t mean to minimize the fact that there are folks who’s lives are changing drastically due to the current mandate for social distancing and its consequences. That is a fact. I don’t want to underestimate the impact that all of these changes will have on our lives.
However, I do believe that how we language those changes affects how we show up and our ability to problem solve effectively (which only happens in our high brain).
If we tell ourselves that the worst case scenario is likely.....we will be anxious, panic and eventually become depressed (which happens in our low brain).
As humans, we fear the unknown and that which we cannot see or comfortably manage. The nature of our mind is to look for and solve problems. It is so important to get more clarity about what the problems really are, so that we can solve them with more wisdom, insight and compassion. That requires us to be in our higher brain.
So, I encourage each of us to guard our lower brains. Let's be intentional and mindful of how we spend our time, who we speak with, what media we consume and how much.
Take time away from the screens.
Take a walk. Meditate. Play a board game. Do a crossword puzzle. Run. Call and love on your family. Journal. Check on your neighbors. Walk your dog. Take a freakin’ nap! Be still. Give lots of hugs and affection to the folks you are blessed to be riding this out with. Pray. Write that book that’s been in your belly. Schedule a telehealth therapy session with a therapist. Laugh...a lot.
These actions allow us to live in our high brains and many of them generate neuro-chemicals that allow us to feel better and support our immune system functioning and our physical well being. They allow us to connect to our inner selves and support our souls. These actions will support us in our goal of abiding in peace amongst the chaos.
Remember, we are all in this together. We need each other more than ever.
If you find yourself experiencing increased sadness, depression, anxiety or just having a tough go of it, contact Harmony Counseling Services for assistance.