It seems so clear, doesn’t it? If that person would just follow my advice, they would get better, stop obsessing about that lost relationship, get their projects in on time, or not wake up hungover every Sunday. If they would just listen to me!
If I could just stop myself from blurting out those words that turn them against me, follow a healthy eating plan, meditate for an hour every day, and stop being so afraid all the time, my life would finally work.
Who is really in charge? If our conscious mind and our higher level of brain development was making the decisions, our life would look a lot different from what it does now.
This reminds me a bit of how we expect children to be self-regulated in circumstances that are challenging for adults. Use your words. Calm down. Worrying about it won’t help. It’s not bad advice or wrong. The issue is that these are all cognitive brain insights and advice.
The root of healing fear, anxiety, over-eating and other addictions is that we need to heal our nervous system and unconscious mind. Haven’t we all been frustrated with ourselves when we’ve “fallen off the wagon” in some way?
Our primitive brain and survival system have a long memory and one goal – to keep our body alive. They scan for threat and danger. When our past experience has been that we were hurt, that is the filter we use now. We bring out our old protective strategies from childhood even though our adult life circumstances are very different.
There is a role for our conscious mind and it is true that we need to heal the associated traumatic memories stored in our body. Learn and use down-regulating practices like those below. This helps calm catastrophic thinking, stops panic attacks and gives us space to heal.
Now let’s address the urge to fix other people. Have you ever noticed how much we like certainty? One impulse (compulsion?!) when we feel anxious or afraid is to move into control. Unfortunately we often take aim at other people. In a certain way, it makes sense. Our adult child is drinking too much and we are worried they will drive drunk, slide into street drugs or lose their job. The solution is clear! Don’t drink so much.
Our partner’s social drinking has turned into everyday drinking. A close friend has been eating her way through the pandemic. Another is procrastinating so much they are in danger of losing their job. Our sister has always used shopping to relax only now she risks getting Covid-19 as she wanders the mall for hours.
Stop drinking. Go for a walk instead of over-eating. Get onto a schedule and get your work done. Slow down on the shopping. The solutions are obvious but don’t address what drives the behavior.
Although we have good and bad days, overall our nervous systems are struggling to regulate and we feel off kilter. Some of the events in our world are truly alarming. The fear, grief and loss of the global pandemic. Racial injustice and murder. Right-wing terrorists plotting to overthrow the governor of Michigan. The political scene in the US is like a mob and just as unpredictable. If only they would see reason! Who would do that? Who are those people on the “other side”?
With so much fake news, how can we know what is really happening? Not knowing what is going to happen is the most dangerous thing and we will do almost anything to avoid uncertainty. Whether that is wishing we could inspire people to vote or to stop harming themselves, we’re all stirred up!
We all know what to do when someone is afraid. Calm ourselves. Take a deep breath. Check catastrophic thinking. We need a mixture of non-shamed zoning out and practices that help us get grounded and steady.
“The greatest gift you can give the world is a peaceful mind”, my meditation teacher Swami Veda Bharati.
That might be a bit of a reach for us right now but we can all do something to come inside, let go of the chaos in the world for a few minutes and reassure ourselves. We can put our hands on our heart or hold our own hands, pet our dog or hug someone we love. And yes, resist the temptation to tell them what to do or to shame ourselves when we aren’t able to manage this crisis perfectly. That is just not how it works!
Connect with ourselves and others as much as possible and in creative ways. Resist the urge to get on our high horse and shame people for how they are coping. Be kind. Be kind. Be kind.