With JOY IS NOW on break until March 20, I thought I'd use this time to adventure in my favorite realm of wide focus. I live by the act of wide focus and thinking from a place of wide focus is something I learned from my study of psychoanalysis. Even in science, exists the capacity to create space and potential in the abstract realm. And this assumed dichotomy between science and the abstract is one of my favorite things about the study of human emotion and behavior. With psychology there is always the opportunity to gather more information from a shift in perspective. Amen.
I'm calling this adventure of wide focus the In Between. Let's go.
I imagine I am not alone in my feeling of dread right now. And while heavy and something I would very much like to excuse myself from feeling, dread makes sense right? If not dread now, then when? Are we waiting for a zombie attack or alien invasion in order to be present in our sense of dread? For me at least, I'll say that there is currently enough uncertainty going around for me to sit in some dread. So here I am. And maybe you are too.
What I would love to do is exclaim a clear, “no thanks.” Or, “I'll pass.” As if we could unwelcome the current events we do not like to think about and avoid the feelings they inevitably bring to surface. But we don't just get to say, “I'm done.” With connection to others comes all the things. Good and bad. Human begins are capable of great things. And we do not get to choose which definition of great is met for each and every one of us. We get the love. We get the hate. We get the ideals we align with and we also get the ones we think are utter shit. And because of our innate need to connect as social animals, we are impacted by this full spectrum of greatness.
I've been asked a lot lately how to navigate daily existence when it feels like every single day more fuel is thrown on the current worldwide dumpster fire. And you might be surprised to learn, I ask myself this question each morning. More? Really? WTF? I'm barely getting through here. And then two things happen.
The first is, I remember exactly who I am. And yeah this is a tall order. When people ask me the single most important thing we can do for our overall health, my answer every single time is know thyself. And this takes a lot of work, but it's worth it. Because knowing thyself not only positively impacts you, but it also ripples out to everyone in your life and even further. We are all connected, remember?
So how do you know thyself? My first answer would be psychotherapy. It helps. It's proven. And I think it is really the best way to understand our desires, motivations and behavior. But it doesn't always have to be that. The key ingredient of any introspective work is to engage in processes that ask us to participate in the act of wide focus and simply noticing. And this noticing and curiosity can happen in any number of ways.
When life feels chaotic and I remember exactly who I am a few things happen. I remember that I am open. As an artist and a creatively minded person, my mind and perspective is open. I look. Observe. See a lot. Take it in. And Interpret. And this feels all sides of great. Who I am makes me capable of some pretty cool shit. But it also makes me incredibly vulnerable. And that's okay. Because my sensitivity benefits me way more than it does harm. And it took a long time to learn this. So, yes, I am going to feel a lot. And feel it deeply. Whether it is in the direction of the kind of great I would prefer or not. And this insight might seem small, but it is actually a lot of information and I use it to support myself and my family when fuel is poured on the collective fire.
Most importantly, knowing myself requires that I honor basic safety. And in doing so I create some real strong boundaries. About some super basic stuff. I take that love of wide focus and I look at my life from real far away. I go macro. Big time. And when I think I cannot get any more distance, I try to go even farther. And this ultra wide focus helps me concentrate on the often forgotten importance of basic safety. During times of stress I start here. (Maybe these boundaries will help you too).
Water. I make sure no matter what that I am drinking enough water. I need more than the average person, so I make sure to drink the amount that works for me. Every day. I also know from JOY guest Dr. Wallace Nichols that being in the water, near the water, listening to water sounds has a direct impact on anxiety. It has been proven that humans and animals feel a deep level of safety when they are near water. Also proven is that communities and geographic regions where water is scarce are more prone to times of social unrest. The threat of scarce water has a very deep and unconscious impact on our capacity for stress. Knowing this, I wash my hands a lot in lovely warm water. I use a soap that smells good. I shower. Soak my feet. Walk to the creek. Stand at the ocean. Listen to rain sounds on the Calm app. Basic stuff. And none of it takes over my day.
Food. I eat three good sized healthy meals and snacks a day. And believe it or not, this is hard for me. I've learned that when I feel overwhelmed I can only have nutrient dense and healthy food choices in the house. Otherwise I'll eat potato chips all day and then be further overwhelmed with a tummy ache. I prioritize eating meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And check in with myself via a timer about snacks. I make sure those around me are doing the same.
Sleep. This one is hard, right? But make no mistake sleep is super important. And let's be real, sleep does not come easy certain times in our life. Especially women. I do best on 7-8 hours of sleep a night, but expecting that as a nightly reality is hilarious. I do the best I can. And when I cannot sleep due to hormones, anxiety, the kid, the dude, the dogs, windstorms, loud coyotes, barn owls, general wilderness, panic inducing dread, etc. I allow myself some grace. The body is incredible at rejuvenation. When I cannot sleep, I find short amounts of time during the day to simply lay down and close my eyes. Napping is seldom a reality, but I can always find 10 minute chunks of time to get on my back, and close my eyes. (Closing your eyes is key. Limit as much stimulation as possible). And I have found this makes a huge difference in keeping my cortisol in check and just making me feel better.
Movement. We know exercise helps with all the things. And I know for me during times of stress I need to create some real boundaries around exercise. Too much and the overall stress on my body pretty much negates the good that is intended. So as much as I would like to punch it out, run until I cannot breathe, I think small. I walk. stretch. Skateboard. I don't go big. Even though I want to. Stay gentle.
Exposure. Here's where the boundaries really come in. I learned during my experience with PTSD about a decade ago, that as a creative mind who is very much stimulated by visual information, I need to be very intentional with what I take in visually.
As soon as another dose of fuel is put on our collective fire, I immediately filter my visual stimulus. For me that looks like unfollowing news outlets on social media. Oftentimes even the newspaper is too much. So I go old school and get my news from reliable sources on the radio, or news podcasts.
I do the same with visual entertainment. Euphoria? Uh no thanks. Not now anyway. No news channels. No violent movies or streaming shows. I stick with comedies and relational dramas like Ted Lasso, Billions, and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Joy. Maybe this is joy for you, or delight, or awe. I schedule things I love into my day. For me that can be many things. Music. Art. Fashion. Food. Friends. Grant yourself something that brings you joy. And do it. Even for just 5 minutes. Most songs are under 3 minutes. You can do that.
Here's where we get tripped up. Always. Don't fool yourself into thinking all of these boundaries have to be all or nothing. It takes a wide focus to understand the importance of the basics, but get really small when it comes to making them happen. Even 5 minutes can be a lot. A short walk can do the trick. A little more water, an extra snack. A 5 minute conversation with a friend who makes you laugh. YES. Do not negate a wellness boundary just because it does not meet ALL of the wished requirements. When it comes to anxiety and stress management closeness counts.
And is it a privilege to be able to take care of my basic needs and safety? Hells yeah it is. And that's precisely why I do it to the best of my ability. Managing my stress and meeting my most unconscious needs through a feeling of safety has a tremendous collective effect. I am more clearheaded with my family. Friends. Clients. My perspective is wider. I have more capacity for abstract thought. To be flexible. To embrace change. And to change my mind. When the world is chaotic, focusing on our own locus of control is the best place to start. Your wellness contributes to the overall collective wellness. It really does 100% start with you. We are a collective. For better or worse. Contribute how you can.
I should say that meeting a deeply rooted unconscious need for basic safety is not an opinion. The above rests on science. And are ways that I have leveraged this science to work for me and what satisfies my own constant internal measurement of safety. Assessing safety is an unconscious primitive drive. A survival instinct. It looks different in modern times, but as animals we will always assess for safety. It is an important part of who we are. So when you are faced with circumstances beyond your control (basically most circumstances, wink wink) try to take a wide focus. And when you think you are there, step back even further. Try shifting what feels like anxiety to a need for basic safety. Remember that safety is the foundation of it all and look for ways you can reinforce your basic safety. Water, food, sleep, limit exposure, and joy.
Are you in a leadership role and looking for ways to provide a similar feeling of basic safety in the workplace? Email me. I know how.