Perspectives: Have You Hit A Wall?
A meme went around on social media just before November 1 in preparation of returning to Standard Time from Daylight Savings Time and gaining back that hour we lost last spring. The quip was that no one wanted even one more hour of 2020. Most of us have had all we can take of this year.
While 2020’s challenges are one thing we can agree on and even laugh about, the good news is many people have found ways to cope with the crushing limitations of COVID-19 lockdowns, the loneliness of working from home every day, and the uncertainty and unrest all around us.
While “routine” is the problem, it can also be the solution—at least it has been for me. Since I began working from home on March 16, I’ve gotten up at the same time as any other work day, showered and dressed like any other work day, and told my husband to have a good day as I headed to work—about six steps from my kitchen into the dining room where I set up operations to ride out the lockdown. Starting and ending work at about the same time as normal has been helpful, too. Taking a break to check on my husband working at the kitchen island and occasionally eating lunch on the patio have been nice pluses, too. While I don’t have my two large monitors or stand-up desk, I’ve made it work. We all have made it work in our own ways.
But some people are able to handle this ongoing uncertainty and transformative change better than others. Claudia St. John, president of Affinity HR Group, PPAI’s affiliated human resources partner, recently wrote an article in which she talked about hitting an emotional wall—something that’s happening more frequently as our resiliency is being challenged in sudden and unexpected ways.
She offers these steps to help us improve our emotional intelligence, a key to managing our emotions and improving our lives and the lives of those around us.
Step 1 – Self Awareness: Oftentimes, we don’t realize our emotions have hijacked us until we’re in a full-blown state of fight, flight or freeze. We may find ourselves lashing out at others or freezing from anxiety or fear. These are indications that our brain has been stimulated by a stress signal, and stress hormones, like histamines, cortisol and epinephrine, are flooding our bodies. Chances are, however, that before you were in an extreme emotional state, your body was sending you signals that you were feeling fear, anxiety, sadness or anger. Start paying attention to the signals your body is sending to indicate you are having an emotional reaction to something around you.
Step 2 – Self Regulation: While being aware that you are in an emotional state is a critical part of improving emotional intelligence, it’s not enough to help you manage stress. The second most important step is to do the things that you know calm you. Ask yourself, “Why am I stressed? Why am I feeling this way?” Simply asking these questions will force your brain to redirect the stimulus from your amygdala (the primitive part of your brain responsible for releasing those nasty fight, flight or freeze hormones) to your higher cortex (the part of your brain responsible for cognitive thought). Next, identify ways to self-soothe and calm yourself down. Some common techniques include taking deep breaths, going for a walk, meditating, listening to calming music, looking at photos of beloved people or places (or artifacts such as artwork, rocks, shells and pottery), exercising, spending time with friends, spending time alone, redirecting thoughts through a mantra or soothing saying.
The important thing here is to start your calming techniques as soon as you feel your body responding to a stress signal. If you wait too long, your amygdala will pump those hormones into your body where they can hijack your emotions for up to eight hours. So the faster you can recognize and redirect your emotions, the faster you will be able to move on from them.
Step 3 – Practice gratitude and grace: It is said that the brain cannot process fear and gratitude or anger and gratitude at the same time. This is why, in times of stress and uncertainty, so many therapists and counselors recommend keeping a gratitude diary. It’s a daily record of three to five things you are grateful for. You can be grateful for something small, like securing a perfect parking spot, or for something big, like the love of a dear friend or your children’s health. Whatever it is, that gratitude brings health and emotional healing.
Grace is equally important. It is a kindness that you can show to others, whether they have earned that kindness or not, and it is a kindness you can give to yourself, particularly when you find yourself feeling guilty, insecure or in a state of self-loathing. There is no point in treating others with grace if you fail to do so for yourself. The more self-love you can show yourself, the greater the capacity you will have to love others.
I hope Claudia’s tips are helpful and I’d enjoy hearing other techniques you use to stay sane and productive through these unpredictable times.
Tina Berres Filipski is editor of PPB.