(Estimated reading time 3 minutes)
The notion of having to stay safe is getting under my skin. There is an internal battle going on – I want to stay safe, and I don’t.
I want to wear a mask, practice physical distancing, wash my hands and not be inside in a crowded place. I want to avoid contracting or spreading COVID-19. What I don’t want is to stay in a safe mindset. What I don’t want is to live with my survival instinct consistently on high alert. I’ve spent half my life learning that feeling unsafe and being unsafe are often two different things. When we are under threat – whether that is an actual threat or just a perceived one – our survival instincts kick in. When that happens, a part of our brain called the Amygdala activates.
The Amygdala has one goal – to look for threats. If it sees one, it puts us into ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode. The Amygdala will then close the channel to the Prefrontal Cortex and get us ready for action. Closing this channel is the reason it can be hard to think clearly when we are in survival mode.
Another part of the brain, called the ‘Prefrontal Cortex’, is the center for thinking and reasoning. This is a highly sophisticated area that controls decision-making, focuses our attention, and helps us compute, analyze, and interpret information. It also helps down-regulate the easily stimulated Amygdala.Dr. Matthew Lippincott, GolemanEI, The Power of Resilience course material
If we stay in safe mode long enough, it can become the default pathway for our brain – preserving the status quo, saying no, not wanting to change anything or do anything new, feeling like we are always under threat. When our survival instinct is in an activated state, it can be hard to know when we are actually unsafe and when we simply feel unsafe, but, in reality, are not.
As the pandemic stretches on and on, I am beginning to wonder how many of us are learning a new default way of being that is not helping us live in today’s world.
The exercise below will help soothe you if you feel anxious or agitated. It will assist in activating the part of your brain that can help you think clearly and calmly. I use this technique before having to make a decision, particularly if that decision is one that has activated my fear or anger.
Find five things you can see. Really see them in more detail than you have before. What do you notice? Find four things you can hear. Listen to the sound that is furthest away. What else can you hear? Listen to the sound of your breathing. Does it remind you of the rhythmic breaking of the waves on the shore? Find three things you can touch. Try standing bare feet on the grass or concentrating on the sensation of your feet on the ground as you go for a walk. Pick up a flower and feel the silkiness of the petals or perhaps the spikes on the leaves. Now find two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. Focus intently and in detail on these things as if you are experiencing them for the first time.
Practicing a technique like this one can help you feel calmer and more able to think clearly. A modified version of this exercise can be practiced throughout you day. Every hour or so, take a minute or two to focus on one of your senses.
This Week’s Photos
One of the ways I’ve been practicing this calming exercise is by paying close attention to what I’m seeing when I’m out walking. I often capture that in photos.
The work I do as a coach focuses on personal growth. That could include but is not limited to: developing courage, clarifying values and honouring those values in your life, setting boundaries, becoming more assertive, developing self-awareness and confidence, setting goals, finding your inner strength, identifying and dealing with the thoughts that sabotage you, support in making changes or in going through transitions, and work on discovering your life purpose. Personal growth can have a profound and positive impact on your career, your work and personal relationships and your general satisfaction with life.
I’d love to connect if you are interested in finding out more about coaching with me.