In light of everything going on in the world, it’s easy to feel completely out of control. So today I’d like to go over some ways you can take back control of your emotions. As our fear and anxiety increase, our sense of control decreases, and we can feel powerless and full of worry and be scared of what could happen next. There are so many unknowns, that we can find ourselves pondering the what-ifs, imagining worst-case scenarios. But one thing we need to remember is that we are all going to have our ups and downs throughout this ever-changing time in our world. We are truly going through the emotional cycle of grief, as we would if we did lose a loved one-and many of us have. We are grieving the loss of our everyday normal lives, or what we felt safe and secure and comfortable in. We are also grieving the loss of the plans we had made for vacations, graduations, weddings, concerts, ball games, and birthday parties. Let’s look at this cycle and where we may have potentially experienced these feelings in the past so that we can draw and learn from this experience and gain wisdom on how we can take back control.
In 2017 I was in a really bad automobile accident. As in literally hit by a truck while my car was at a complete stop on the freeway. The driver of the truck, which was a commercial truck about half the size of a semi, was distracted and didn’t even see that traffic had stopped, which means he never slowed down. I walked away from the accident but was immediately in pain and was in 3-4 doctor’s appointments a week for almost a full year. What I lost that day was my sense of control in my surroundings. You see, we all must have the illusion of control and an inherent trust in others in order to move through the world with confidence in our everyday lives. We believe that we have control of ourselves and our vehicles and we follow the rules and expect others to do the same. But in an instant, someone can deviate from following the rules, and break that trust. Anyone who has been through a trauma or has been a victim of a crime has been through those feelings. You begin to be extra cautious, scared of what could happen, and that sense of dread and paranoia lingers long after the event. For some, it consumes their life, and for others, they are able to work through it on their own or with professional guidance. And if they do work through it, slowly but surely they stop looking over their shoulder, aren’t as nervous in similar situations, and that sense trust and sense of control returns.
This virus is very similar in that as we are navigating through this situation, we have lost our inherent sense of trust that we can go to the grocery store, get gas in our cars, eat at a restaurant with family and friends, and it will all be okay. Working to gain a sense of control over the things you can right now is key to reducing your anxiety and fear. Changing your perspective to recognize what you can do and what choices you do have, will give you back a sense of safety, security, and ultimately control. If you are reading this, you likely are fortunate enough to have your basic needs met-food, water, and shelter. So if that is the case and you find yourself struggling, it’s time to work on that next level I have been discussing your sense of safety and security. Giving yourself that will give you peace, which we could all use a little more of right now. In order to do that, you first need to make sure that you and your loved ones have everything you need at home. If you have lost your income, search for the programs that can help you and actively work to be able to take care of the basics so that’s not as much of a worry.
Next, learn to let go. Take the what-ifs and worst-case scenarios you have been imagining and allow yourself to brainstorm and come up with a game plan of what you would do if that happened, so you can be mentally and physically prepared for what you will do in each scenario. And then release it knowing you can handle whatever comes. One way to quiet your mind and to practice letting go of those negative thoughts is through mindfulness and meditation. Distance yourself from those thoughts and feelings, and everything that is going on in the outside world. It’s basically like taking a mental time out. The one thing that no one can take your control away from is your own thoughts. You are the master of your mind, no matter what.
Practicing gratitude is another amazing way to feel better every single day. Search for the things you are grateful for, and that you are in control of, the people in your life, and what you can do and the choices you have. I promise you, there are many. One great mindfulness exercise is the 5-4-3-2-1 method. It’s often used for people who have panic attacks. First, look around the room and find 5 things you can see, right now at this moment. Then find 4 things you can touch. After that, find 3 things you can hear. Really pay attention to the things you don’t always notice right away. Then, find 2 things you can smell. You may need to grab a candle off the table, or spice from the cupboard. And finally, what is one thing you can taste right now? Take a drink of water, or pop in a piece of gum-it can be anything. What’s important is that you bring yourself into the here and now and that you aren’t worried about the future or the past, you are focused only on the present.
On any given day, we are all going through that grief cycle. When this all began, you may have found yourself in shock and denial, confused and afraid. Then perhaps you got angry, frustrated, and irritated about the situation. That turned to depression and detachment, and you were overwhelmed and felt helpless and unmotivated. Then you were reaching out to others, sharing our stories, and trying to find meaning in it all. And then maybe you accepted the way things are, looked for options, and planned our next outing to get the essentials. And finally (and some of us are still working on this one) you found security, empowerment and creating our own meaning and purpose out of all this chaos in the world. That’s what I want you to take away from this today, that last stage of grief is possible for all of us. And whether you go through this cycle in order, out of order, every day, or every week, or seemingly every hour-you are not alone. Reach out if you need support, and learn to support yourself through this unprecedented journey we are all on together. Focus on finding that meaning and becoming stronger, better, and wiser because of it. Because truly, the one thing you can control in this situation, is how you react to it.
If you’d like to explore further what having the support of a mental wellness coach looks like, let’s talk.