As 2020 gets crazier and crazier, emotional self-care is getting more and more important. A lot of people, especially the “plugged-in” types who like to pay close attention to what’s going on in the world, are getting into some looping stress patterns over the Covid-19 pandemic that are unnecessary, unhealthy, and unhelpful.
It’s an understandable web to get tangled in; there are all these alarming news stories and statistics pouring in every single day, many of which speak of dangers which may pose a direct threat to the lives and livelihoods of ourselves and our loved ones. Some people spend hours online combing through all the latest information they can find about this thing, and as they’re doing this a tremendous amount of stress builds up in the background of their experience, ultimately culminating in depression, panic attacks, angry outbursts, substance abuse or other unpleasantness.
You see strategies for coping with this increasingly common problem everywhere online, from common healthy stress management techniques like deep breathing and meditation, to escapist claims that the virus doesn’t pose any real danger, to many people simply unplugging from their news feeds altogether. What people aren’t talking about nearly enough, in my opinion, is the simple yet highly effective practice of consciously feeling your feelings.
You wouldn’t think “feel your feelings” is something that needs to be said; it sounds not just like common sense, but like something that happens automatically without your intention or permission. We’ve all experienced emotions we’d prefer not to experience if given the choice, so we assume emotion arises unbidden like a force of nature.
While that can certainly be true, a tremendous range of our emotional spectrum is often blotted out by a basic lack of emotional attentiveness. Our culture tends to encourage us to put all but our loudest emotions on the back burner and focus on other matters, and Covid-19 happens to feed into that dynamic especially well by giving us a bunch of sparkly news headlines and statistics to focus on while this low-level background anxiety slowly builds unnoticed.
Feelings need to be felt. Not acted out on other people, but felt. They’re like small children; if you just give them a cuddle, let them cry and listen to their grievances they feel better in a few minutes, but if you deprive them of attention they’ll start acting out to get it.
At some point between childhood and adulthood, most of us consciously created strategies to stop our feelings from coming up unbidden. At some point, crying in front of your peers became embarrassing and you learned how to stop it from happening. Most of us never thought to take down those defences after they were installed. Some of us have never even re-learned how to cry again. Letting your feelings flow again will take a conscious effort from most of us.
No matter how much mantra repetition, deep breathing or positive affirmations you do, unless you’ve felt those feelings all the way through you’re just wallpapering over the actual issue. A huge percentage of the anxiety that people are currently experiencing is just a big backlog of feelings that need to be felt.
For some of you, just reminding you of that will be enough. Put down the phone and quietly meditate on it until it bubbles up. Hold your feelings like they’re a little baby newborn. Let them happen until they’re all the way done.
Others might need to try out some different strategies. Here are some of mine.
First, I always check in with my body. Am I clenching anything? Hands, bum, tummy, forehead, jaw? What else is happening? Is there background nausea, or a lump in my throat, or is my heart thumping too hard? I investigate. Close your eyes now and try it with me. Scan around for a few minutes.
Try tapping around with the tips of your fingers on one hand of the areas that you identified are tight. You’ll find spots that are a little bit sore. They feel like a light bruise. Tap on those spots for a little longer until they release. Once you’ve done that, let your fingers tap round your body and find other tight spots. Do this for at least a few minutes.
As you’re doing this, the loud buzz of anxiety releases and the actual root feelings become more clear. Sometimes all you have to do is feel them. You will probably feel embarrassed to feel them. That’s just one of the layers of defence you put in all those years ago. If it feels stuck, use your theater improv skills to exaggerate and try some feelings on until you find the source feeling. Feel them all the way through. Sometimes they feel their way to the other side, oftentimes they end abruptly with a burp, the shakes, a yawn or some other release.
If that doesn’t work, I usually hop up and do a very easy qi gong sequence a dear friend of mine taught me years ago. I think any kind of repetitive energy movement would do though. Basically I do the same movement over and over again with my eyes closed. Once the energy is moving around the body I can sense areas of blockage. I just keep looking at them until I’ve fully seen all the parts of it and then it releases, usually by a big expression of feeling like a roar or something, that usually ends in dry retching.
I know I’m done when I’m at zero again. I don’t stop until I feel totally at peace. I think that’s important to note because some people really get off on having big feelings and having their big feelings all over everyone else. Sometimes people want other people to “own” their feelings. Rather than feeling them, they try to make other people feel them by proxy. They’re usually referred to as drama queens.
The point is to release the feelings so your natural peaceful zero point can shine through again. You are the sky, the feelings are weather. Identifying as the weather will mean you are invested in keeping the weather going. Identifying as the feeling will mean you will be invested in keeping the feeling going. Set the intention to let it speak to you, and then let it pass. That’s where health is.
A lot of people are saying that the fear of the coronavirus is more damaging than the virus itself. I think that’s true, but not in the way they mean it. They’re often trying to say that the coronavirus itself a nothingburger and the fear is being used to manipulate us. I think the virus is a real thing, and also our fear will be used by ourselves and others to manipulate us. We need to clear a path to inspiration by feeling through our feelings and getting back to zero as often as possible. This will help us in the big picture by seeing what’s happening and responding with grace, and in the micro by keeping our immune systems in full relaxed readiness and not tangled up, tripping over itself, fighting ghosts and in panic-mode.
Do the internal work and the external work will follow. This is how we save ourselves.
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