Self-Regulation Skills in a Crisis: Four Tools to Calm Down Now
Self-care staples include eating well, sleeping well, and connecting with friends and loved ones. Now is the time to double-down on these basic practices—and to make sure you're not spiraling into a black hole of stress.
When we’re dealing with a lot of change, feeling upended is normal. We might be feeling anxious, fearful, sad, scared, angry, irritated, even joyful and grateful—or swinging wildly from one end of the spectrum of emotions to the other. Facing big change, our bodies essentially go into our sympathetic nervous system: into survival mode. We feel that there is a threat we have to face (and there is). Many physical symptoms can come up with anxiety, including nausea, shortness of breath, and muscle tension, especially around the shoulders and jaw. If you are experiencing some of these symptoms, you are not alone! And there are plenty of ways we can work to self-regulate and help to return our systems to balance even while we are in a crisis.
When our bodies are anxious, our minds will often create something to be anxious about to match our internal feeling state. It might seems strange, but the thought can come after the feeling. That might mean we start obsessing about some relatively small fear, like, maybe, running out of toilet paper. We can start catastrophizing: extrapolating the current situation into the absolute worst possible scenario. We’re doing this because our bodies are trying to protect us from something that might go wrong, and there’s nothing wrong with having a plan B in place. But imagining that worst future can make our bodies react as if it’s actually happening. That essentially doubles our stress. If you’re projecting yourself into the future, slow down. Take a deep breath. Put your hands on your heart. Feel your body. Focus on the ways in which you are relatively safe right now.
Regular old self-care is key right now: Eat healthy, use good sleep hygiene, stay in touch with your friends. In addition to that, think of these four things:
- Be tender with yourself. Acknowledge that of course you’re going to feel upset, scared, anxious, nauseous, and so on right now. We don’t have to fix any of those emotions. Just giving ourselves some time and some space to feel them as they are is incredibly powerful. Imagine the part of you that is hopeful and rational is gently, tenderly holding the part of you that is freaking out right now. What can you say to the freaking-out self? How can you care for her right now?
- Help. Studies have shown that people are less likely to have PTSD after a disaster if they find some way to help. We all have skills and strengths. Think about what you have to give and help someone else with your skills. It will make you feel a lot more in control and help to remember that we are in this together.
- Change your perspective. Everything has changed all of a sudden, which means we are in a new reality we don’t fully understand yet. Look for the opportunities here. How can you be encouraged to look at your life in a new way in this new circumstance? What are you learning about yourself?
- Try. Try to rest. Try to sleep. Try to eat healthy. Try to exercise and not to drink/smoke too much. If your attempts aren’t working super well yet, that’s okay. That’s to be expected. Just do what you can, understanding that it will take some time to process everything. Be as kind to yourself as you can while you are processing this change.
Read more from Julie Peters here.
Julie did a Facebook Live talk on this topic on March 23rd. Watch the broadcast here: