Have you ever taken a whitewater rafting trip? That’s what Covid-19 virus days are feeling like right now.
Three weeks ago, I was lazily drifting down the river, enjoying the view. A thundering sound ahead jarred me to attention. Coming around a bend and I’m heading directly for some Class V rapids…and I’ve lost my paddle!
A river of uncertainty. Banging up against rocks, twirling around in unpredictable eddies with each news cycle.
So many of us (2/3 of the nation?!!) following a ‘stay at home’ order. News that seems to get more complex and dire every day. My normal ‘I’ve got it all together’ brain process is way off kilter.
I was trying to go about ‘business as usual.’ I already do most of my work from my home office. This is no big deal, right??!
Last week I tried so hard to get ‘normal’ stuff done. I focused on my writing. I spent hours on it. I was all over the place, wandering around in my thoughts. Why won’t anything make sense? Why can’t I F***ing write????
I found a way to put a name to what I’m feeling in the work of Dr. Dan Siegel, professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and executive director of the Mindsight Institute. Dr. Siegel contends that when our mind is out of harmony, when we feel disintegrated, dis-regulated, then we wind up in either Rigidity or Chaos.
That seems to capture perfectly our Rona-virus times—or at least my current experience. What we think we know—my lazy quiet river, life as I knew it— feels like it is dis-integrating and the stress of trying to keep it together is dis-regulating. Like a raft tossed back and forth by the current.
We may try to hold on at all costs to what we consider ‘normal’ (Rigidity) or become overwhelmed when it’s too much to take in (Chaos).
I find myself ping-ponging between Rigidity and Overwhelm. In either state, my brain is flooded with stress chemicals and it messes with my ability to choose a positive action that is appropriate for these radical times. Possibility and opportunity elude me.
How to get back on track? One of the first skills I focus on when helping others enhance their own personal leadership is recognizing when we are ‘out of whack’ and putting a name to it. Without that, it’s hard to effectively choose something that might help get back to harmony and integration.
When we are feeling in Overwhelm, one thing that can help is to find some structure.
Make a big list of everything swirling around. Pick one thing to do, one tiny piece of control. Don’t worry about anything else right now, just that one action. Then choose another. Then another. Completing an action, no matter how small, generates a feeling of achievement, a dopamine rush. It infuses us with confidence that we can handle the next thing that comes.
When we are in Rigidity, one thing that can help is connecting to the bigger picture.
Everyone is being affected by Covid-19 and everyone is adjusting. What can you do to feel connected to this bigger picture? Make a point to ask work colleagues how they are holding up. Call people you’ve not talked to in a while, just to check in. Find ways to connect others, like this family in Maryland.
Connecting to others, even at an appropriate social distance, can boost serotonin and generate a feeling of well-being. It can also trigger the production of oxytocin, a hormone which can protect the heart by lowering blood pressure.
I’ve made a list of friends that I’m calling every day to check in and share stories. I probably won’t be floating down a lazy river again any time soon, but this at least feels like it has steered my raft back to the middle of the river again.
What has become ‘dis-integrated’ for you during Covid-19?
What ‘side of the raging river’ do you find yourself on—Rigidity? Chaos?
What strategies have you used to get your raft heading in the right direction?
I hope you and your loved ones are—and continue to be—healthy and well.
Photo: That’s me under water while whitewater rafting on the White Salmon River, WA, 2010.