“It’s dark because you are trying too hard.
Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly.
Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply.
Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them… So throw away your baggage and go forward.
There are quicksands all about you, sucking at your feet, trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair.
That’s why you must walk so lightly.”
— Aldous Huxley
It’s easy to freak out. When everything seems to constantly change, our emotional system naturally gets put through the ringer.
That is why it’s particularly important to take care of yourself and actively spent time connecting to yourself, so you can process all this newness.
Since many people are disrupted in their normal routines at the moment anyway, it is a good time to build some good new habits.
Here are 7 things you can do to Keep Calm:
1. Move Your Body
When we are stressed and our sympathetic system kicks in, one of the responses is to freeze. We tighten our muscles. We go into tension mode.
So move. Get up. Move around the room. Even shifting your physical position allows you to also shift your mindset more easily.
Gently shake your body. Vibration is loosening muscles and also relaxes us (that’s why we rock our babies).
Do some forward and sideways bends.
Staying flexible is key, if you want to be flexible in your thinking.
Run in place. Do some burpies. Drop down to 20. Exert yourself for a moment (or 7 minutes). It will take your thoughts off of whatever is going on as the increasing exhaustion will force you to focus on it.
2. Practice Gratitude
It’s easy to think everything is changing, when we face transformational moments like the current one. There are real threats to our future. It’s not about not taking them seriously. We have to look fear in the eye.
But the earth is still spinning, grass is still growing, water is still flowing.
Most of your life is still the same. You likely still have a home, a bed, probably — at least for now — food on the table.
There are a lot of things to be grateful for.
Thinking about something you are grateful for, whether it’s people in your life, all the things you still do have, or whether it is that you are here in the first place, that you can sense, feel, think, that you can breathe.
Take a few breaths of gratitude. With each inhale, think of something you feel grateful for, with every exhale think about something that you can bring into the world — even if it is as simple as a smile.
3. Take Charge of Your Thoughts
Depending on the research you look at, people have between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts a day. The majority is repetitive and self-defeating. We wonder and we worry. Being bombarded with information from helpful to downright nonsense all day long thanks to our media and communication channels doesn’t help.
The most important thing about your thoughts:
They are YOUR thoughts.
You can CHOOSE to think what you want — or not even think at all.
When you find yourself with troubling thoughts, first ask “Who is thinking this?”, “Who says?”, “How can I know this?”. This is a first measure to remind yourself that thoughts are yours to have, not the other way around.
Write them down. Write a whole list of thoughts that worry you in one of two columns (or use this worksheet). Ask for each, where that thought is coming from, and what its validity is. Then write a replacement thought in the second column. A valid thought that you can get behind, but that doesn’t freak you out like the original thought. E.g. “The world is falling apart” becomes “We are in the midst of a transformation, which is also a great opportunity.”
Spend some time practicing not thinking at all.
Allow yourself to simply be without having to think. Set a timer to create a container — until the timer goes off, no thought is allowed. This way, when thoughts come up, you can let them go with a simple “not now”. This helps to create a set point for your thinking.
Lastly, be mindful of the information you share. Everything you share will have ripples, and as people are a little on the edge, focus on sharing practical and calming resources rather than today’s number of infections or other information that will expire quickly.
4. Take Care of Your Community
“When in doubt, focus out.” — This was one of my favorite memes from a leadership course I took years ago.
When we think about others, we don’t think about ourselves.
Especially during times of social distancing, it is easy to feel isolated and disconnected.
So, focus on your community:
- Who could use a helping hand (e.g. neighbors, older people or other parents)?
- Who is probably even more freaked out than you right now?
- Who in your community could use a soothing word or two?
- Who out there could use YOU right now?
There is a beautiful gesture going around, where neighbors are posting signs in their entrance ways offering to support each other with going shopping or taking care of things around the house. Other neighbors and parents are creating WhatsApp groups to stay in touch (make sure to use these for forwarding useful things rather than spreading more fear). Or, of course, use that 19th century technology called telephone and simply call someone.
This is a great time to reach out and (appropriately) “touch” someone.
5. Express Yourself
As mentioned above, thoughts tend to repeat themselves. We keep going back to the same few sentences running around in our heads. So write them all down. Once written down on paper in front of you, your brain relaxes, because the thought has been captured, and you can look at the thought with more emotional distance.
Write, paint, draw, dance, sing, do whatever you can to get things out of your system.
Nobody has to see the results (or hear you sing if you are worried about that). This is not about creating the next amazing art piece (who knows, it might happen). This is about you processing what is on your mind.
Creative expression is not just for artists. It is a natural (and necessary) human activity.
Release yourself of all judgement and get it out!
6. Envision Positive Futures
Especially in unfamiliar situations with lots of unknowns that trigger fear, it is easy to imagine all the horrible things that could happen.
But it’s just that. Imagination.
Nobody really knows what the future will hold.
This might all get worse and we could perish as humanity before we know it. Or, we might use this moment to shift into a new level of humanity, one that lives in conscious integration and inter-dependence with each other and with this planet — also just as possible.
We can choose whether we buy into dystopia, or actively imagine a world that could work for everyone. For you.
What would your most desirable future look like?
Spend time with positive visualization. If you imagine the future, might as well imagine a good one. As your brain barely knows the difference between imagining and experiencing something, you might as well activate all those delightful emotional and physical responses, which strengthen your immune system, rather than the ones that drag you down and make you sick.
7. Surrender and Focus on the Opportunity
This world has long ago become too complex for any one person to understand it. Give yourself a break. You won’t figure it all out. You can’t figure it all out. It’s okay. You can let go and surrender to the unknown.
Especially when you are used to being the one that everyone else comes to for answers, it is important to remember that it’s totally okay to say “I don’t know. Let’s find out together.”
In times of VUCA, we need people who can facilitate emergence.
There are a lot of things that are needed right now. There are a lot of things that will be needed in the future.
When things are in transformation, completely new possibilities open up.
When you stop looking back and let go of what has been, you can look into the future and create what is needed for life.
Think about how you can contribute in new ways, how you can use this opportunity to bring your gifts and talents, your unique perspective and insights to the world, into life.
Life needs you now more than ever.
Let’s create the future together.
For a list of resources on using the opportunity of this current situation, see this article.
The future belongs to those who create it. That is why I work with change leaders and their teams to create future-ready cultures and organizations…. Through my work with LUMAN and other projects, I provide frameworks and operating metaphors to support leaders around the world in their individual evolution and in growing innovation capacity in their teams and organizations. I have worked with startups, NGOs and with global brands in a variety of industries around the world. More at http://philiphorvath.com.