Sore throat and now what?
Last week, with a sore throat and some headache, I self-isolated, as so many of us sensible people have done and still do to protect ourselves and others.
I didn’t speak once to my neighbours on the other side of the creek, I didn’t go by bike to see my namesake in her nineties up the road to bring some eggs and have a chat, which we love, I didn’t bike to the local shop just to be among people or meet up and have a coffee together with someone… My life started changing dramatically.
“Up until yesterday, things have been ok, then it became too much for my youngest last night. As I started coughing the day before the self isolation recommendation came into place, I have been doing that, and been extra vigilant with hand washing at home and wiping surfaces, and we have changed our sleeping arrangement, which is really what got her to go along with no hugging!” PowerWood FaceBook Group
Our (loved ones) health
My fear and worry increased when I learnt that having a compromised auto-immune system makes us more vulnerable, and that one of my best friends who has Bronchiectasis would be at high risk. Many in our PowerWood community are, like me, struggling with auto-immune related issues or chronic diseases. We all get more triggered and experience more fear when the threat comes closer to us personally, which might be heightened when it also affects our children emotionally.
“I am worried for my parents and other older people. My parents are in their 60s/70s with health conditions but are still working and going to the theatre etc. My son is a worrier, so it’s on his mind. I’m using the Awareness Mantra to avoid negative thinking.” PowerWood FaceBook Group
“I am so worried for my mom. She’s 85 and has serious lung issues – this will not end well for her. My 15 year old is panicked as well. She is out of school for at least 2 weeks and probably 6. She also gets how serious this is, just lost her other grandmother in October, and is scared. I don’t know – just feeling overwhelmed. Meanwhile, because I work for Child Protective Services, I have to go to work…” PowerWood FaceBook Group
When we have young children, we might get especially triggered when:
- We read that babies and preschoolers can become seriously ill as described in Children and Coronavirus: Research Finds Some Become Seriously Ill (DR 17-03-2020).
- We learn that whatever age we are at risk, in France 40% of people in intensive care are below 60 years old (RD 16-3-2020).
“Feeling anxiety to some degree, as we have been self isolating with temperatures since Thursday. And several of the family have auto-immune/health issues, including us.” PowerWood FaceBook Group
The more a health threat hits home, the more fear and worry we will experience.
“Feeling sad now that I’ve made a decision not to see my parents until the government says it’s ok for vulnerable people to socialise again. On a selfish level, there goes my only source of babysitting. My husband is now working late and has a lot of planning to do based on the latest government advice. I’m grateful he’s not freelance anymore. I think I’d better apply the Awareness Mantra ! 🙁” PowerWood FaceBook Group
Being part of the PowerWood Community, and being intense, hyper-sensitive and hyper-reactive, our stress-response, or anxiety, or both might be more quickly triggered than in the general population, especially in our children who have not yet developed coping strategies to handle those overwhelming emotional reactions.
“Although the majority of my work is online the Coronavirus has affected me too. I don’t socialize as much, I don’t hug anymore, I fear for some elderly people I love dearly, more travel restrictions might impact me embracing (?) my children… it all feels quite scary and unreal and I manage with many Awareness Mantra and 4-7-8s !
We (and our children) might, due to our intensity, sensitivity and hyper-reactivity, experience high levels of fear, anxiety and /or stress, feeling extra vulnerable and fragile health-wise.” Simone de Hoogh 15-03-2020 PowerWood FaceBook Group
If we or our children are having a combination of imaginational and emotional overexcitability (OE), which often causes them to experience what they imagine as real in the here and now – and comes with a heightened compassion for others, it might make us or our children worry about many things. These may include people they love and the more vulnerable and not so privileged people in our society, heightening the anxiety levels, triggering the stress-response further.
“My OE child is clearly more stressed. She said recently, fiercely, “I don’t want to hear any more about this coronavirus!!!” PowerWood FaceBook Group
In crisis, we are evolutionarily defined by our stress responses. These help us overcome any huge obstacles and to do whatever we can to minimise any future effects of a crisis. Sadly, when we are in a stress response we don’t have access to our critical thinking ability nor to our compassion because we are stuck in our primal part of the brain, the amygdala.
“On Friday I panic bought my bare-root roses and top soil 😃. If I will be stuck at home I have gardening to do!” PowerWood FaceBook Group
Panic buying will therefore be a common occurrence if we encounter empty shops where we live, as it is a hugely appealing way to create the false sense of safety and of being in control about something at least when we are in the Cycle of Emotional and Sensory Overload.
So if we did, please be kind about it to others and ourselves, apply the Awareness Mantra followed by the 4-7-8. This will help prevent further not helpful thoughts about ourselves as we need all the energy we can get to cope with this crisis.
I ‘have to fix it’!
I also shot into my stress fixing mode and tried to prepare without panic buying, and let’s be fair, not being in charge of the groceries does the trick with toilet paper and is not so urgent because we have eggs and vegetables from our own garden.
“I’m crazy worried. Have spent part of my career in a hard science genetics lab and the bulk as a child welfare social worker, so I have an intellectual appreciation of what is happening and the potentials of what will happen – especially to the most vulnerable. I have a very intense concern about social justice and doing right, so this has really trounced on that.” PowerWood FaceBook Group
My way of panic buying (satisfying this stress response) was thinking ‘I have to get an egg incubator’! By staying with this Thinking Loop I was able to keep my fear at bay that I would run out of chickens and their eggs, without running off to actually buy an incubator.
Fantasising about building a glass house so we can grow the whole year round our own salad and other veggies was another helpful Thinking Loop that kept me from overwhelm.
New world forever
It dawned on me that the world had changed forever. Yes, forever!
It also occurred to me that this might be just the tip of the iceberg, what more is in store for us humans as a consequence of how we use the Earth, as described in ‘Tip of the iceberg’: is our destruction of nature responsible for Covid-19?.
We are in this together
We are all filled with insecurity, anxiety, fear, anger and frustration – about the future, about finances, and about our own health. This is especially the case if we have underlying health issues or are worried about the health of our elderly person and/or vulnerable loved ones. We may be wondering “are we able to catch the balls that life is throwing at me right now? Am I able to hold the space for my family?”
When we think, feel and act in a stress response, stripped from our compassion for ourself and others in a not helpful way, it can affect the world around us. And the opposite is also true, meditation, for instance, can decrease violent crimes in areas (Source).
In a crisis, it is helpful to have a focus, and our priority needs to be counteracting the energy of this huge sense of communal overwhelm. We can do this by:
Cuddling, because Oxytocin makes us feel safe
Children feel safest when they are being held by their parents. Unfortunately, when they grow older, especially when they hit puberty and possibly not at ease in their body, they might avoid being touched, not knowing they are denying themselves the easiest way to become more calm.
We as parents can look for ways to stimulate oxytocin production in our children. For example, if you watch television together, make sure you sit beside your child and casually put your arm around them. Don’t let yourself be put off by grumpy remarks or shrugging shoulders. The Cuddle Alarm is a great way to support us in getting the Oxytocin flowing.
Power of the smile and laughing
Have you ever noticed that smiling is contagious? Smiling is one of our deeply ingrained neurological pathways, if someone smiles at you, there is a huge chance you will smile back, and smiling gives you a better feeling about yourself and about others. The 9 Superpowers of Your Smile gives a good overview of the research-based advantages of smiling, and the possible pitfalls.
Smiling and laughing together can make a huge difference in communicating effectively with a child, teenager and even your partner :). You might want to find funny short videos on YouTube or explore the Reddit app on your phone, look for ‘r/funny’ and share the funniest with your child, have a good laugh together.
Power of music and singing
Listening to,or making, music is a valuable tool to calm any upset. Many people use music as a way of communicating and to enhance their feelings of being part of a community, even when physically apart e.g. Balcony singing in solidarity spreads across Italy during lockdown or Online choir spreads joy and togetherness during coronavirus outbreak. Singing together connects, helps good breathing, gives joy and pleasure and calms everyone down.
Power of movement
Dancing together, making snow angels on the carpet, playfighting, making weird movements, playing a game of making silly faces at each other to make everyone laugh out loud are all ways to heighten feelings of wellbeing and will strengthen our Baseline.
Any physical activity is beneficial for mental health and wellbeing it can even be an alternative treatment for depression. Even a short burst of 10 minutes’ brisk walking increases our mental alertness, energy and positive mood.
Participation in regular physical activity can increase our self-esteem and can reduce stress and anxiety. It also plays a role in preventing the development of mental health problems and in improving the quality of life of people experiencing mental health problems. (Source)
The article Five Surprising Ways Exercise Changes Your Brain says exercise primes you to connect, makes your brain more sensitive to joy and makes you brave. Moving with others builds trust and belonging and it can transform your self-image. Couldn’t we all do with some of those benefits!
Power of nature
Find reasons to be outside in the garden or nature, take a walk through a park, find cycle paths that go through natural environments, go for a walk on the beach, go on a holiday in a natural environment. This study, described in this article The More Trees We’re Surrounded By, The Lower Our Stress Levels, confirms our gut feeling that green spaces really help humans to relax. How gardening can help build healthier, happier kids explains many benefits of gardening, better test results, calming ADHD and that it can also help to strengthen the immune system of our children by getting dirty: Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Your Child from an Oversanitized World.
Power of compassion and gratitude
Being kind and offering to elderly and vulnerable people what you have an excess of energy for (remember always give from abundance, otherwise better not to prevent exhaustion) as a way of expressing our gratitude for everything we receive have also been found to offer better physical and psychological health.
According to one of the world’s leading gratitude researchers Robert Emmons in How Gratitude Changes the Brain – And How to Make it Work For You:
“We’ve studied more than one thousand people, from ages eight to 80, and found that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits, for example: stronger immune systems; less bothered by aches and pains; sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking; higher levels of positive emotions; more joy and pleasure; more optimism and happiness; more helpful, generous, and compassionate; more forgiving; and feel less lonely and isolated.”
How we can support ourselves
A crisis can lead to trauma
A crisis like this where we are forced to adapt to a new situation but cannot oversee how it will affect us, our loved ones, our country and the world in the long run, can be experienced as traumatic, especially in our community due to our innate intensity, sensitivity and hyper-reactivity.
Processing forced changes like this takes time – we are shifting our perspective to the new reality, making sense of the new situation, making it our own, so we can develop a plan how to move forward as a person, as a family and as a community member, besides needing to get a handle on our own (and our children’s) emotional reactions.
(Tool within the Multilevel Emotion Regulation Theory (MERT)
Separately raising awareness of
- what has changed in our objective reality (often the trigger in the Involuntary Mechanism), and
- our emotional, imaginational, intellectual reactions (often the automated reaction in the Involuntary Mechanism) triggered by our stress response
is a helpful way to increase our awareness of the distinction between the two, and how we can address the separate parts.
Complimenting with awareness
Every time we are aware that we are having an unhelpful thought (any thought that is repetitive and expresses a feeling), feeling or action we can apply the Awareness Mantra by saying:
“I’m proud and grateful to be aware I have had a not helpful thought, feeling, action.”
Following it up with the one-minute 4-7-8 breathing exercise. The Awareness Mantra will strengthen our Baseline because we are complimenting ourselves on our awareness, and the4-7-8 breathing exercise. will help us to reset our brain and prevent any further unhelpful thoughts about ourselves or others from draining our energy unnecessarily and when we need it the most.
“I also struggle with the no hugging and not feeling confident to socialise or visit vulnerable family and friends. But I am trying to keep positive and doing practical things to make this time as comfy as possible. Very strange times. Xx” PowerWood FaceBook Group
Finding practical solutions
The crisis is catapulting us into unexpected situations. We might suddenly be home with the kids, have less income or even have lost our job, be unable to visit our parents, find ourselves separated from older children because they are stuck in another country, worry about being able to pay the rent or the mortgage, or wonder how we are going to cope with being at home all the time, etc.
These practical challenges need addressing too, but only when we are ready and no longer driven by the stress response. This is because when we are overwhelmed and in a stressful situation we rarely have direct access to our creative ability or critical thinking part of our brain, both of which are needed to be able to address new situations. Therefore, applying the Awareness Mantra about our emotional stress-related responses will help open access to the creative and practical parts of our brain that can address the new situation practically and plan ahead. But first you need to give yourself time to process.
We can use our awareness to flag up that it is time for implementing a tool and strategy.
To me, the awareness of the growing restlessness and anxiety in myself was a heads up that I was hugely triggered by the world-changing events. Of course, that will be the case with most of us in a crisis.
Further information about the Awareness Mantra and more in Overwhelmed By guilt and shame when parenting? Congrats!
© 2020 Simone de Hoogh
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OE (Overexcitability) is an element of a Developmental Theory –Theory of Positive Disintegration by Dabrowski- that is one of the underpinning theories of MERT (Multi-level Emotion Regulation Theory) developed by Simone de Hoogh. Overexcitability explains and allows us to look at ‘extreme’ behaviour as a valuable asset in our or our children’s life.
A HUGE thank YOU to the son and daughter of Ernest Hartmann’s who gave PowerWood permission to use and put the full academically approved questionnaire about the Boundary in the Mind on PowerWood’s website.