Something that is difficult for many people right now is to be alone. Some of this is fear about how terrible it would be to be in the hospital without people we love at our side. We feel for people in this situation.
The more immediate reality for most of us is that our nervous systems are more hypervigilant than usual and that we are alone with our mind. With the higher level of fear generally, we are more likely to have catastrophic thoughts. Our inner critic might come back with a vengeance. We can’t distract ourselves as easily right now with our usual routines. We might find ourselves with strong cravings or addictions.
Here in Nova Scotia Canada, we can’t go to parks, restaurants are take-out only, and driving is limited to essential errands. Our premier is insisting we “Stay the Blazes Home”. I am fortunate to live in an area with few people and I can be outdoors whenever I like. Some people I know can only leave their home for an hour a day and some not at all. Our freedom and mobility is limited by our commitment to helping to slow the spread of Covid-19, our fear of getting the virus, and legally by Emergency Measures and Shelter in Place orders.
Many people like to get out and about, visiting with people and running errands or shopping. It is a way to connect with other people and we miss it when we can’t. Some people are home by themselves and this can be a welcome retreat from our usual busyness or overwhelmingly isolating. People with social anxiety may feel relief and at the same time miss connecting. Many people are comfortable online and many are frustrated with a steep learning curve.
Some people will find they don’t like the people they live with and this will really stand out during this enforced social distancing. Others will find ways to help each other regulate emotionally, and to use the time to have fun together and grow closer. All of us are challenged.
What we’re all working with is our level of comfort with our own mind and the energy in our body. Fear creates contraction in our body and can stimulate catastrophic thinking. We may not know how to stay present in our moment-to-moment experience, to relax our shoulders, unclench our jaw, and relax with long smooth breaths. There are many wonderful resources to help with this, so check online. In addition to joining me every day at 8AM Eastern, I recommend getting online with some of the people I have interviewed for the Radical Recovery Summit, including Annie Grace, Rick Hanson, Irene Lyon, Nkem Ndefo, James Gordon and Scott Kiloby.
As we become more skilled with staying grounded in our body and breath while observing thoughts, the stickiness starts to dissolve. Right now this is more difficult because of the higher levels of fear in our body and nervous system.
The Kiloby Inquiries use a reverse inquiry, where we take a statement that feels true to us and say the opposite. A true statement might be “I can’t stand being alone so much” and the reverse could be “I am completely okay with being alone”. The practice is to look at thoughts and remain aware of your body, breath and the energy and sensations that come and go.
Begin by noticing if your body is safe in this moment. Our nervous system operates on evidence from the past so if you are in a familiar room that feels safe, you can more easily allow your body to relax, your stomach to soften and your breath to deepen. Relax your forehead, mouth and jaw. Release any tension you have in your neck, shoulders and upper back. Right now we don’t have to think about the future or solve any problems. We can rest.
It is important to look through a lens of kindness and compassion. Human beings have a built-in instinct to be together. We feel safer when we are in the middle of a herd, not out at the edge. There is something in us that longs for love, acceptance and connection. We are scared right now.
To explore this more deeply, use the guided practice below. Work gently with yourself and back away if it gets too intense. Come back to being grounded in your body and breath.
Bring your hand to your heart. Bring all the kindness and compassion you can to yourself in this very difficult situation, with the fear and grief for what is happening in our world right now.