When it feels like you have no control, focus on what you can do

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by Michelle Dalley

On Saturday we were busy getting ready to travel to Palmerston North to see some friends for an overnight stay, when we heard the announcement from the Government, moving us to Level 2 alert status. So, we stopped our preparation and changed our plans, choosing to stay at home instead. It felt pretty good to let the plans go and suddenly have a sense of spaciousness for our weekend.

Today our country entered Level 4 lock down and we now have a new reality – for me, in some ways there’s a sense of spaciousness and in others a sense of restriction. Over the past few weeks I’ve had a mixture of thoughts ranging from “it’s an overaction, it’ll all blow over” to “whoa, this is going to be a disaster; will my family and friends be safe?; and “what does this mean for me and my work?”. Sound familiar?

Given the circumstances it’s natural for us to feel fear, worry and anxiety. Yet, there is a difference between wise concern and unwise concern. When our brain’s fear circuitry runs out of control, we’re not able to make wise decisions about our concerns – we’ve seen this in the news with people panic buying toilet paper in New Zealand, even though we manufacture it here and there’s no supply shortage.

There are reasons why we react like this in times of uncertainty and threat. As human beings we have core needs of safety, connection and satisfaction (achievement) that we’re continually trying to fulfill. We are also literally hard wired for survival; when we perceive threats, both real and imagined, we start taking action to protect ourselves; and of course, the Coronavirus threat is very real, and should be taken seriously. Our challenge is that our inbuilt survival mechanism can take us to a place of panic, skewing our perception and leading us to make unwise decisions or actions. Conversely, we might also have a reaction to want to avoid and not accept what is actually happening. We’ve seen displays of this with people who fit the criteria for exposure to the virus, yet they’ve not been self-isolating or social distancing.

So, how can we help ourselves to come from a place of being able to make wise decisions in these challenging times? There are many things that we can do for ourselves and I want to focus on three actions in this blog:

Practice regularly calming your nervous system down

This is definitely the time to regularly pause throughout your day and practice strategies to calm your nervous system and emotions. Use mindfulness techniques – there are many apps available that can guide you through short and longer practices. I personally like Insight Timer (which is free) and Headspace (paid). I recently did a Facebook Live with a guided mindfulness practice of accessing Inner Peace – here’s the link.

Use breathing techniques such as “Coherent Breathing” where for 3-5 minutes you breathe from your diaphragm making the breath in and the breath out even lengths e.g. count to 4 on the inhale and 4 on the exhale – the length of the count doesn’t matter as much as getting both the inhale and exhale even, in a way that doesn’t feel straining.

Both mindfulness and breathing practices will help your autonomic nervous system to calm down, which will enable you to think more effectively.

Moving your body regularly also helps to keep you calm. What movement and exercise can you include in your day, such as stretching, yoga, walking, running? There are also many online exercise videos that you can stream or download.

Action: identify strategies to help you stay calm and schedule these throughout your day.

Focus on what is in your control

There is so much happening, so much information being shared and so much that we can’t do anything about. Yet, there is also plenty that is within our control. You may be familiar with Steven Covey’s circle of influence concept. I use this a lot myself and with my coaching and resilience clients. Imagine you have three circles: one represents your “Circle of Concern” – all the things that you’re currently worried about. The next circle represents the things from your circle of concern that you have some ability to influence through your conversations and relationships – this is referred to as your “Circle of Influence” and the third circle represents the things that you can fully control the outcomes of – this is referred to as your “Circle of Control”.

Thinking about the Coronovirus here are some examples of things that might sit in your Circle of Influence: having conversations with your elderly parents about encouraging them to stay at home; talking with your employer about what you need in regards to your working from home situation; talking to and demonstrating to your children about how to practice good hygiene.

Here are some examples of things that might sit inside your Circle of Control: staying in your bubble of people; choosing what material and social media you are reading and how often you look at it during the day; starting your day with a morning ritual that puts you in a good headspace – see our blog on morning rituals; setting up good self-care routines that you make non-negotiable; identifying little projects and daily activities that give you a sense of purpose and satisfaction, choosing your mindset – accepting the situation we’re in, having compassion for yourself and others and taking personal responsibility.

Action: Take some time to map out your Circle of Concern, Circle of Influence and Circle of Control. Then whenever you notice your mind wandering to the concerns that are outside your control interrupt those thoughts, do some actions to calm your emotions and focus in on the things that are within your control and influence.

Stay Connected with others

One of the best ways to boost your immune system and your resilience is to stay connected with others.  Remember, that connection is one of your core needs as a human being and it’s closely linked with your sense of safety.  When we feel supported by others, we feel safer.  Make sure that each day you have time to connect with people you care about, whether it’s through phone calls, video meetings, messenger, text or email – keep in touch.  If possible, use video (e.g. messenger, zoom, skype) as it’s the closest thing we have to face-to-face interactions when it comes to the positive benefits and neurochemistry released in our body – so this will have the biggest impact on boosting your immune system.

Action: schedule in times to virtually connect and catch up with family, friends and workmates.

For more tips and resources on how to stay resilient in these challenging times check out the Ignite Group NZ Facebook Page.

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