A Response to the Inner Disruption Caused by the Coronavirus Pandemic
What’s going on inside you right now? What’s alive in you? What emotions and thoughts and experiences are you having during these turbulent times?
Most people I’ve been speaking with are split between feeling shock and bewilderment, saying things like, “I can’t believe it… this is crazy… it’s just surreal…” and more challenging feelings like fear, anxiety, worry, confusion, frustration, anger, and even sadness.
Given the unprecedented, ongoing and increasing volatility, uncertainty, and changes we’re experiencing on a daily basis, all of these emotions are appropriate, given that we’re in the middle of a global pandemic.
But that doesn’t make it easy or optimal or healthy. This is stress on steroids (figuratively and literally).
How are you handling the roller-coaster ride of emotions every day? With stressors like the following:
- Working remotely… With your kids and spouse around… While facing a potential lay-off;
- Being completely isolated all the time if you live alone and are used to socializing at the office or after work;
- Being with your family 24-hours a day and having not one second of privacy and alone time;
- When going out shopping for groceries is an act of bravery you do for your loved ones;
- Being laid off;
- Getting ill with the virus – or taking care of a loved one who has;
- Already being ill (with anything other than covid);
- Seeing your stocks and retirement funds tumble;
- Having to lay off your employees;
- Not knowing when it’s going to end or how much worse it’s going to get;
- Watching the news and being plugged in to fear and anxiety around the world every hour of every day.
What’s all this doing to you on the inside?
List of essential human needs
Each of the situations above can be experienced as a threat to one or more of our essential needs. When any of our needs is threatened from being fulfilled or met, even if it’s only an imagined threat of something that could happen, we experience stress reactions in our bodies. These reactions, which are physiological, as well as emotional and psychological, are designed to help us respond or react in a way that prompts us to protect our selves and our needs, and then we’re meant to go back to a healthy baseline – or homeostasis.
But most of us, in our society, don’t go back to a healthy baseline. We live with chronic and often toxic levels of unreleased and unresolved stress and that’s become our baseline. Hand-in-hand with this comes stressful emotions like frustration, irritability, anger, and impatience, which have negative effects on our bodies and minds, and our behaviors. They also have negative effects on everyone we associate with (even remotely), including people we love and care for.
Under such stress, we are effectively impaired. Our resilience and energy are drained and they’re not getting replenished. Our well-being suffers, as well as our performance, creativity, intelligence, effectiveness, and relationships, and that’s how many of us have lived, pre-covid.
Now, with the added stressors piling on, and especially high levels of fear and uncertainty, our minds are working overtime.
There is an internal loop that gets perpetually reinforced:
Diagram showing a negative self reinforcing stress loop
Welcome to Your Inner World
Do you have any skills or tools for coping with your inner world? How are you managing your emotions and thoughts and physiology?
The better you handle your inner world, the better you will handle everything in your outer world, the better decisions you’ll make, the better you’ll perform, the more energy you’ll have, and the better you’ll influence or support your family and your team.
So now what?
One choice is to just keep doing the same and see what happens. But if you’re already getting the sense that that’s not going to work too well, I have a suggestion. Not because I’ve been through a pandemic before but because I’ve lived with anxiety and other debilitating and crushing and draining emotional/psychological patterns and I’ve learned a thing or two about maintaining some stability in my outer world while my inner world has been volatile, turbulent, chaotic, etc.
Now is the time to learn to lead yourself from within. And when I say lead, I don’t mean become a dictator trying to overpower every negative thought or painful emotion – I mean become a loving, wise, compassionate, benevolent, inspiring and effective leader.
Even though it’ll be very uncomfortable at first, we need to take time to tune in to our inner worlds for a while and find our centers. A place of calm, alertness, strength, balance, clarity and compassion.
When we take time to go within, we feel our feelings/emotions, instead of suppress them. We observe our thoughts, instead of getting caught up in them. We recognize and embrace our fears, instead of avoid them. We get a sense of our true needs, and truly give ourselves some attention, acceptance and compassion. These are some of our most fundamental human needs. And once we do that for ourselves (regularly), we can more easily do it for others.
Many people, especially right now, driven by fear and anxiety, have almost all of their focus on the outer world. On what’s coming at them through the news, social media, their work, their network, thus creating more stressful emotions and thoughts on the inside.
It’s impossible to control the outside world so you feel better on the inside. We can’t even control our own minds, let alone anything or anyone outside our own skin (we can influence and guide, but not control).
What will make a difference is how we manage, not control: our thoughts, our emotions and our bodies.
How we practice self or inner leadership will make a meaningful difference in how we think and feel, how we behave and how we support our wellbeing, resilience, immune system and each other.
I’m going to do my best to share several approaches to self management and inner leadership over the next little while, and I’m starting with what I believe is the most fundamental, powerful, positive and transformational method, and one that can become the foundation of your daily life.
Connecting to our hearts to generate a heart-rich vibe
When I say our hearts, I mean the actual physical organ, as well as our center of love, compassion, and courage.
One of the systems I’ve been practicing for nearly 10 years, is the HeartMath System. Finally, last year, I became a certified coach/mentor. HeartMath is a set of inner world, self-regulation practices that optimize our heart rate variability to bring balance and harmony to our Autonomic Nervous System. If you want a full explanation and a stack of scientific studies and evidence spanning almost 30 years, please head on over the www.HeartMath.org.
What is Coherence?
- Physiologically, coherence is used to describe a state in which the immune, hormonal and nervous systems function in a state of energetic coordination.
- Coherence is an optimal state in which the heart, mind and emotions are in sync and balanced.
- When you are energetically centered or coherent, you have greater mental and emotional flexibility and composure, more energy, clear thinking, enhanced immune function and hormonal balance.
- Sustained coherence builds your resilience capacity and is a regenerative state that can quickly recharge your inner battery and bring more stability to your system.
- It’s the rhythm our hearts generate when in an optimal state fueled by positive emotion – when plotted on a graph it looks like a coherent wave.
graphs showing coherent and incoherent heart rate variability
How do we generate coherence?
There are three overlapping components that combine into 2 steps:
- Focus your mind on your heart,
- Breathe rhythmically – e.g. count of 5 in, count of 5 out,
- Generate a heart-based emotion like love, care, appreciation, gratitude, kindness, compassion.
Here are the instructions from HeartMath:
Step 1: Focus your attention in the area of the heart. Imagine your breath is flowing in and out of your heart or chest area, breathing a little slower and deeper than usual. Suggestion: Inhale 5 seconds, exhale 5 seconds (or whatever rhythm is comfortable).
- Focusing your attention on the heart area helps you center and get coherent.
- This first step is Heart-Focused Breathing.
Step 2: Make a sincere attempt to experience a regenerative feeling such as appreciation or care for someone or something in your life. Suggestion: Try to re-experience the feeling you have for someone you love, a pet, a special place, an accomplishment, etc., or focus on a feeling of calm or ease.
For how long?
Try it first for 2 minutes. Even if you just do heart-focused breathing for 2 minutes, you will experience some benefits like a bit more calm, balance or ease.
Earnestly though, it would be ideal or optimal to do this 3-5 times a day for 5 minutes and for a longer period of time like 15 minutes, once every day or every other day because this is not just about getting some immediate relief, it’s about building and replenishing our resilience and energy. It’s cumulative and what you practice today, will help you tomorrow. So practice everyday
The Challenge is…
What I think will be hard for most people is generating a positive/regenerative emotion like love or gratitude at will while they’re already stressed or anxious.
When I’m anxious or stressed, a part of me doesn’t even want me to sit down and it wants my to think what it wants me to think…. incessantly. Many of my clients have shared a similar experience.
So instead of forcing myself, which would not help me generate coherence, I acknowledge and accept the anxious or stressful thoughts and feelings and I let them be there. I give myself permission to do this beneficial, healthy, positive exercise for a while and that often helps to assuage the mind so I can go within for a while.
In all transparency, the way I start off generating a positive emotion – a heart-bursting, warm, smiley feeling is by thinking about my pets. When I first learned this, I had a cat named Samson, and I just imagined holding him up near my face and kissing his forehead. It brought back to me a quality of feeling I used to have as a child (but only with animals, not with people 😊).
When I coach clients in this method in person, I work with them until I can feel/sense/see a shift in their energy. We are literally changing our vibe – the frequency and rhythm of our hearts. And that’s very beneficial for our brains and bodies (and everything/everyone around us).
Once in this state of coherence, which you will eventually learn to generate at will, as you go about your day and your interactions, you will see it makes a massive difference not only for you but for those you connect with.
Imagine everyone in your home in this state more of the time… in your community… in the world.
There’s a lot more to this than I’m letting on. Check out their website for all the research and resources they offer. I especially love the new training documentary they created called The HeartMath Experience. I understand that very soon they will be offering it for free – so check back here for updates.
[Update April 6, 2020: They have indeed made it available for free for the next couple of months – please check it out and start practicing today!]
Please let me know what you think or feel about this in the comments below.