There has been a lot going on in our collective for a very long time and it is coming to a head right now. We’ve faced grief, fear, shame and horror as the truths of our humanity have been revealed: #metoo, children in cages, border walls, billionaire hoarders, systemic racism, overwhelming debt, a constricted middle class, I could go on but you get the point. We have serious and valid concerns about climate change, the upcoming election and now Covid-19. These realities are all putting a serious strain on everyone’s capacity to hold what is happening and we are currently experiencing a collective trauma response.
Many in our collective have gone into a sympathetic nervous system response and are in fight, flight or freeze. We can clearly see the fight and flee happening with angry, shaming and blaming social media posts, half truths and lies shared by the media and our government, the hoarding of supplies. People are scrambling for information and resources and the information changes too quickly to keep up. The freeze response is being displayed in those who are denying that there is a problem, sending love and prayers while going about their daily business as usual without regard to how their actions may contribute to other people experiencing suffering and loss. When we are operating from our sympathetic nervous system we lose our capacity to think rationally and our only desire is survival. We have no choice but to think only of ourselves because according to our primitive brain, while in a state of activation the “other” is a threat to our survival.
Our primitive nervous system is meant to help us survive when a threat is imminent, it’s much like an on/off switch.
Threat=ACTIVATE while non-threat=REST.
Right now, many people are getting stuck. The nervous system is disconnected from the rational mind and they are fighting, fleeing and freezing while convincing themselves that their emotional responses are logical. The desire to hoard, fight, or deny are all unconscious, involuntary reactions from our nervous system; we perceive a threat and our nervous system is at the ready in case we need to react. The problem with this right now is that, physiologically, our nervous systems are either under or over-reacting to threats that are not immediately life threatening and our reaction may actually create a larger problem in the long run. There is no denial that our world is a disturbing place to be sometimes but an activated nervous system isn’t going to help us navigate.
What will help is the ability for our nervous system to work in tandem with our consciousness so that we can discern between immediate and perceived threats. Our nervous systems must evolve to this new level of interacting with the world around us; we must strengthen our capacity to be with reality so we can make decisions that will serve the highest good. Through cultivating awareness we can sense when the nervous system becomes activated and employ regulating practices that allow us to move out of conditioned reaction into intentional responding.
The bad news? The sympathetic nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system, which means it’s actions take place automatically, much like when our hearts continue to beat and we breathe while we’re sleeping.
The good news? WE can begin to bring awareness to HOW our nervous system reacts and learn how to bring ourselves back into regulation. We learn to respond rather than react to what is occuring.
How? By creating space to live in the present moment.
We can actually USE what is happening TODAY to help us build resilience and strengthen our capacity to be with chaos.
How to take conscious action in the current chaos
If you’re having a hard time regulating and you’re finding yourself in fight, flight or freeze more often than not, seek professional help. See a therapist, go to acupuncture, fill your social media feed with content from therapists and somatic practitioners and delete any potential triggers, seek out practices that support self regulation. Sleep. Eat. Breathe. Put your oxygen mask on first and don’t worry about anybody but you.
Choose how much you are willing to take on. As I said above, there is a lot going on right now and everyone’s capacity is different. Triage your concerns in order of their immediacy. If there is a covid-19 outbreak in your area then take risk reducing action based on your local health department’s suggestions. If you live in an unaffected area; you can set this on the backburner and focus your energy on politics or where you feel called. Do not buy into the collective narrative and bite off more than you can chew. That isn’t helpful to anyone.
Stay informed but don’t obsess. Check in with your local and state health departments to stay up to date on their current recommendations based on what is happening in your area. If social media is overwhelming, delete it from your phone and stop using it for a few days. Spend the time outside with your bare feet on the Earth instead. Your feet on the Earth helps to regulate your nervous system.
Take your local health department recommendations seriously and practice social distancing when recommended. We practice social distancing so that we don’t overwhelm the hospitals with sick people. Humans are pack animals; if one of us becomes sick we can infect the entire pack. If we run out of hospital beds people unnecessarily die. Social distancing is an easy way to be of service in your community.
Take the opportunity social distancing gives you to take a walk in nature, develop a home yoga practice or start researching democratic socialism, meditating or journalling. Our culture likes to glorify busy, let’s take this opportunity to dismantle that paradigm by learning how to just be.
If staying at home worrying about the zombie apocalypse gives you more anxiety than braving the aisles of Costco, get curious about how you can be productive in other ways. Perhaps you start an online social gathering to keep your community connected or if you have extra room in your budget you can offer to pay for someone else’s utility bill for the month. If you have extra toilet paper, spare a square for your friends. There are a lot of people being affected by what is happening; help where you can.
Human interaction is important for our nervous systems too and social distancing can make things hard if you crave connection. Use facebook groups, zoom calls, whatsapp and facetime to stay connected to friends and family. Curate your social media feed so you see content that is supportive of your regulated, empowered self. Connecting via video is preferred because there is an energetic person-to-person transmission that happens when we can see one another’s eyes and body language. We can co-regulate through video with intention and presence.
Practicing the above, bringing consciousness to your fear and choosing responsible action is how you build resilience. We are in the midst of great change right now; a cycle is ending while a new one is being built. We are in a death and rebirth as a collective and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Buckle up and breathe. Use your fear as an indicator that you care very deeply about something and then channel that love into building the world you want to live in. We are the ones we've been waiting for; we were made for these times.
Now is the time to lean in and TRUST.