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Self Care In A Pandemic (13) – Be Active and Not Reactive – Take Time To Process…

I’m fairly sure that if you are reading this, and are looking for ways to better care for yourself and others during this pandemic, then you are likely to have encountered some challenges along the way this year.

I mean, really, which of us haven’t encountered challenges? I’m sure we are all dealing with something. That being said, how we get through things can have a lot to do with not just our circumstances and means of help, but also how we process (or don’t) the things going on in our lives.

Let’s take for example somebody does or says or doesn’t do something to you and this stirs up your emotions, you start thinking about the situation and feel almost ‘stuck’ in your thoughts, and you *react* to things in a visceral way. There may be certain situations in life when an immediate ‘gut’ or visceral reaction is appropriate and even necessary, such as if you or someone else is in immediate danger and you need to do something instantly, but in the main, this kind of response is not helpful, to ourselves, other people, to resolving the situation, or to our wellbeing.

If you think about what you’ve had to take in this year, even if you’ve not had a lot going on in your own personal circumstances, the chances are you’ve had to process quite a lot. The fact of the pandemic itself has been a big thing for us all. Then there has been the various lockdowns and easing of restrictions, the daily ‘count’ of deaths in some countries where we are presented this in the news or by politicians’ daily briefings, social and political unrest, the situations of friends, family members, colleagues or acquaintances, our own day to day routines and the impact on our living, job, relationship and mental health situations, and so forth. Whether you have experienced the ‘big’ things hitting you this year, like grief, loss of a loved one, loss of a job, loneliness and isolation or other health concerns or you name the thing that you’ve been dealing with, or if you are somehow coping or trundling along without a great deal of change in your personal situation, either way, the fact that we are in a pandemic year will have impacted you in some way, and it is important to take note and take account of that.

The reason I say this is because living through these things in a ‘reactive’ way can be damaging to our health and can also impact our relationships and be damaging to those around us. Can you think of anyone you know who when they see a news story that raises a reaction in them, they start calling people names, or swearing, or getting agitated or anxious? There are a lot of people reacting in such ways at the moment. This impacts their immediate physical, emotional and psychological health, and most likely not in a good way.

If you are that person, soaking up the news and experiences of 2020 in a very reactive way, then chances are you are causing yourself some damage. So what’s the solution?

I’ve found in recent weeks that things have been affecting me such as work stress, or changing dynamics of friendships. When I get those ‘warning signals’ in my ‘gut’ so to speak, when those anxious thoughts and feelings start to arise, I know that it’s time to take a step back, to take a break, to take a few deep breaths and get a bit of space from the situation and focus my mind on something calming and grounding.

Doing this can produce an almost ‘immediate’ effect on our nervous systems. However, in itself, it is not enough. We not only need to get distance and calm ourselves down in the immediate situation, but we need to put in a little bit of effort to make sure we are giving ourselves the time, space and chance to process our thoughts, our feelings, our instinctive reactions so that we can move forwards positively and actively rather than reactively.

There are various ways that we can process what we are dealing with and it is probably good to have a range of ‘tools’ and techniques to hand, and it is good when we can also find ways to use what we learn to benefit other people.

So what could you do?

One thing is finding a way to externalise your thoughts and feelings. This could be by writing or journaling, for example.

Talking to someone else can also be a very helpful way to diffuse intense emotions, and can help give us a more balanced perspective, as well as helping us feel that we are not so alone in dealing with our problems, challenges and issues. If you are physically alone, perhaps you could have a few friends or family members that you can talk with every now and then, on the phone or online. And if you feel like there’s no one in your life that you know who you can turn to, then perhaps you can seek out some helplines that you can phone. I have done so in the past in times of depression, anxiety and crisis, even though I have friends and family members. Sometimes we need to just talk to someone else, because maybe those close to us aren’t available or we don’t feel comfortable always turning to them. Sometimes we just need to hear the voice of another human being and chat things through and that’s perfectly ok, and definitely not something to feel ashamed about. That’s what they are there for.

Creativity can also be a balm to troubled emotions and it can also be a stepping stone into community where you can link up with like minded people, and these days there is so much going on online, even if you don’t wish to connect personally you can still find sources of inspiration by watching or reading about what others are doing and this may help you as you seek to process or externalise or express your own thoughts, ideas, feelings and experiences. Creativity could be expressed in a variety of ways such as art, music, song, dance or play or so many other things.

Community can also be a source of easing our inner tensions, diffusing pent up emotions, sharing experiences and letting us know we’re not alone. For me, keeping a sense of connection with church and other Christians has been an encouragement, but at the same time, sometimes we need to be careful that we aren’t left feeling alone by being a part of a group, which can happen from time to time. Try to find a helpful balance for you.

Nature is also a source of calm for me, that helps settle me down and release those ‘reactive’ thoughts and feelings. It helps lift my mind and take my mind off certain negative trains of thought.

There are many more calming and soothing things you can do to gain space, perspective and help process your thoughts and experiences and it is so important to do so to enable you to act rather than react to situations.

That’s not to say everything will somehow sort itself out, but you will be in a better place to make positive decisions in your own life in response to what you are facing. I’m personally finding it necessary to reassess some of my friendship dynamics this year so as to avoid being taken for granted for example, or even forgotten about, and so that I can protect my mental and emotional health as well as that of others. I’ve found that even though I’ve been really productive at work this year, working from home, that doesn’t necessarily stave off the stress that accompanies work at times, and it is my responsibility to step back, and find a healthy balance for myself so that I can act positively rather than simply react instinctively to ongoing challenges and situations.

So what about you, friends? Does any of this resonate with you or do you find it helpful? What do you do that helps you? Whatever you are going through this year, I hope that you will take the time, and find a way to step back, process, and move forwards in a way that will contribute to your health, happiness, wellbeing and that of those around you.

Take care, stay strong, and sending each of you uplifting prayers for this day and those ahead of you. Peace. x

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