How do we find the clarity we need when distressed? I’m both a psychotherapist and a mom who has learned firsthand the importance of making good choices during tough moments.
Both of my sons turned to drugs and alcohol when they were teens and their stepfather died of glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer that upended our lives 11 years ago. They viewed substances as the answer to their pain. I’ve made dozens of mistakes since then, but I’ve learned to use bravery tools that work under duress and during calmer moments. I can’t just intend to find clarity and bravery; techniques to imbed that capacity must be practiced.
Consciously Breathe Into the 6 Zones of Your Whole-Being
There’s so much out of our control. The doorway to making good choices opens when we begin with ourselves.
My now 25-year-old son did not come home as promised last night. Somehow, I knew this the moment I awakened with anxiety. Because I engage in daily bravery practices, I instinctively did a whole-being scan, a simple and practical technique I created.
I took six conscious breaths into the six zones of my whole-being: emotions, thoughts, body, intuition, the energy around me, and my deepest essence. Immediately, I felt a lift from the fog of worry. This is an awareness scan we can and should use daily for a few minutes at any time, because the more often we take a scan of our whole-being the more consciously awake we become!
You can try this now. Recall a troubling situation. Soften your gaze, then take a conscious, deep breath, first allowing your emotions to arise. Exhale, not avoiding pain.
Repeat this breathing process as you inhale and exhale into your triggered thoughts, then into your activated body. Be aware of your experience without judgment.
Next, breathe in and out from the place where your intuition resides, with attention to your disappointments, fears, or anger.
Then, breathe with awareness of the energy space surrounding you. Don’t try to “heal” your triggers. Experiencing and witnessing your triggers with compassion is a bold act of inner work.
Last, tap into the deepest part of you: your essence. Allow what is for now, without trying to fix yourself or anyone else. Complete the process with a release, shaking your arms and head as if you’re shaking off snow.
Connecting the Whole-Being Through Cross Crawl Exercise: Earth and Sky
When I saw my son’s empty bed, the worry returned. If he missed his probation appointment this morning, he would go back to jail. Needing a second dose of reconnection to my whole-being and to a deeper sense of meaning outside of these circumstances, I raised my right arm towards the sky and lowered my left hand towards the earth. I call this the Earth and Sky pose. While breathing consciously, I looked up towards my right hand.
Now I could see myself from a higher, spiritual plane. My current problems seemed smaller. I knew I would get through this, no matter what happened with my son. As I glanced down towards my left hand, I felt grounded, safe, and supported by the earth. Once again, I knew what to do next.
Earth and Sky is a basic version of a cross crawl exercise. These exercises are commonly incorporated into school curriculums to help children sharpen their focus and think more clearly. Yoga poses such as Bird Dog are also a form of cross crawl; doing alternate side movements, then crossing hands and/or legs over the midline of the body, activates the myriad positive effects of cross crawl. By raising your right arm and hand up in the opposite direction of your left arm and crossing through the midline, you are lowering your feelings of distress and increasing feelings of clarity and balance.
As a psychotherapist trained in EMDR, I am a firm proponent of bilateral stimulation and slow cross crawl exercises during times of stress to lower physiological arousal and decrease worry.
Try this exercise now, revisiting the disrupting situation you envisioned in the last exercise.
Raise your right arm towards the sky and lower your left arm towards the earth. Look up near your right hand and see if you can glimpse a new view of your current circumstance.
Then look down by your left hand and feel your connection through the ground into our planet’s core.
Now switch arm positions by moving the hands towards each other and crossing through your heart’s center. Look up towards the left hand and then look down towards the right hand. Looking up enables you to find greater meaning and looking down restores a sense of wholeness to your entire being.
After Earth and Sky, with attention to self-care I donned a favorite pair of earrings. I told myself, “I am here to save lives, including my own.” Remembering my purpose, I made a cup of tea and sat down at my desk to start a productive workday.
My son called me a few hours later. In passing, he mentioned that he was on time for his probation appointment. Since I had been able to calm myself and restore my energy with the Earth and Sky exercise, I had the bravery to be able to set healthy, loving boundaries with my son.
We benefit from practicing these two techniques regularly, even when we don’t need to be brave. Longing for some sense of control, with the whole-being scan and by doing Earth and Sky, we pause and attend to ourselves for a moment instead of focusing on another person or situation.
By experiencing courageous awareness in our bodies, we don’t lurk behind denial or avoidance. We become more adept at managing our discomfort or overwhelm. Over time, we rewire our brains and new, braver instincts are cultivated, enabling us to tap into vast reserves of calmness and clarity when we need them the most. And our life gets better because we make brave choices.
Supplement these practices with 16 affirmations for courage.