No One Comes Out Unscathed
We all go through seasons in our lives of prolonged stress. Death of a loved one, unemployment divorce, accidents, illness, our business gone bankrupt etc. Hardly anyone will live past 40 and not experience one of these. At those times when we are being pushed to our max in terms of internal resourcefulness, research is proving the power of habits in either worsening our situation or bettering it.
For Better or For Worse
This article in Time magazine shares how our habits can either exponentially improve or hinder our stressful situations depending on the habits we have built long before the crisis occurs.
It explains how we lean on our habits for better or worse in a crisis. It makes sense to me that in a crisis our natural overwhelment leaves us with no bandwidth to think through small choices like “Do I eat the burger with fries or the Caesar’s salad?”. That is where our habits take over and we just choose what we are in the habit of choosing.
My Own Struggle
One summer day years ago, my mother was with my dad and caught on that he was experiencing signs of a stroke. She quickly admitted him to the hospital. The tests confirmed that his body was at high risk and all the signs were there. The doctors for that week were taking precautions and on standby. I felt like I was going through my day at gunpoint. Any minute my dad could have that stroke and the doctor’s technology and advanced equipment could or could not save him.
As Fear & Panic Breath Down my Neck I Keep Moving Forward
Having followed a morning routine full of activities that activate those feelings of wonder, reverence, clarity and gratitude created a momentum that helped me stay ahead of those feelings at least for the morning. The stress was delayed for that time as I went through the motions of my routine and intentionally stayed in the moment as much as I could.
I saw the reasons for fear and panic on the horizon as thoughts of “Oh my God, my Dad is going to die!!” crept in as I watched the sun rise on my morning walk. Like a crazy woman, I’d literally catch myself saying out loud to those feelings “I will deal with you when I’m done” and I’d return to the moment. I’d soothe myself by saying “Right now I’m just walking, everyone is fine, just walk and breathe”
The Glories of a Cultivated Backbone
It was definitely a muscle that was worked long before that week and that I got a lot of mileage out of. This practice of returning to the moment allowed a little breathing room for new ideas to come and loosened the grip of those panic-driven thoughts. Most importantly I didn’t turn into a puddle of mush and drop the ball on my responsibilities. My son was small and he still needed diapers changed and meals to be made regardless of my inner turmoil.
Teeter Tottering Storm Girl
Years prior I remember being a fragile young woman where in comparing myself to svelte and pretty classmates on days we did class presentations would send me in a tailspin of overeating and self berating for weeks. Like a juggler whose balls would all fall one by one, I’d fall back on homework and my own hygiene. My self care was in it’s early stages in these years and I’d teeter totter between completely stopping it in times of self made crisis like those and coming back to it when the storm internal cleared.
Fake it Till You Make it? Maybe Not
It’s easy it is to make impulsive and damaging decisions from a place of overwhelm and frustration when you’re in a situation that calls for more steadfastness and calm then you have. Trying to do a new activity that “calms, soothes and centers” while in the grips of panic is futile. That primitive biological response of fight or flight is pretty hard to over ride in the moment.
Invest in the Insurance of Self Compassion
We can create habits that soothe the severity of our fight or flight responses and help us to make sound decisions in the moment by investing in 3 types of helpful habits today.
We can build any of these habits into our day or week and look at them as forms of self compassion insurance, where in over time their benefits accrue and in times of crisis they save us.
What if we had inbuilt in our days habits of contemplation where we practice thinking about what’s most important? Charles Duhigg the author of the best selling book The Power of Habit shares here in an interview with Kira M. Newman from The Greater Good Science Center how his research for his latest book Smarter, Faster, Better shows that the happiest and most productive people among us have routines of contemplation built into their life. The result being that in times of stress that muscle that they worked as a default in their day, in a sense, becomes activated and they make better decisions in the moment.
Some examples of contemplative exercises include:
The jury has been out for years on how exercise helps us control stress. In case you needed a little more convincing here is an article from Harvard Medical school on how exercise helps us relax.
Some examples of exercise include:
Long walks outside
Long bike rides
3)Habits of Working With Our Hands
Great article from the BBC News that makes the case for the value of working with one’s hands. It shares how in an ever growing, knowledge-based economy where the value of the work done becomes increasingly abstract, the tangible experience of satisfaction from a more manual job is becoming increasingly attractive. A great case is that of Matthew Crawford, a PH.D graduate that began working as a mechanic. He shares how he enjoys the satisfaction that he couldn’t find in the work he was professionally trained to do.
Some examples of working with your hands are:
Braindumps by hand, not typing
Self Care Always Has Your Back!
We can’t do much about the world, but there is much that is in our hands that can make all the difference in how resilient we are in tough times.
Structuring these type of self care habits into your day can provide you with things guaranteed to evoke feelings of comfort, stillness, rest, play, delight, inspiration etc. when the world has you frazzled.
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