Two times this past winter and fall, I had incredibly close calls with almost hitting a deer in my car. Too close for comfort. As I reflected on the past two years, I thought about what does a near miss do to us? What does danger leaping out at us do to our coping abilities and how do we move through and past it?
For most of you, in the example of the deer on the highway, you would grit your teeth, tense up, slam on the brakes, and grip the steering wheel tighter. But what happens right after that? What happens when we become on guard to danger? I can tell you for certain that for weeks after each encounter and still yet at night driving now, I am more cautious and on alert. I have become a danger watcher. I am more on guard.
When we encounter consistent difficulty, our bodies stay in fight, flight or freeze longer producing cortisol levels and adrenaline that are not sustainable long term. Both can cause health problems if we don’t regulate ourselves back to a calm state. How many of us are still not in a calm state since the pandemic began? How many of us are on danger watch?
We must let go of our white knuckle grip on the wheel, stop tensing up and get ourselves out of fight flight or freeze. Here are a few things that can help you to stop being a danger watcher.
Get moving, keep moving and move on. This is not just a mental activity. Moving on from difficulty or trauma means that we have to pick up our whole selves, body, mind and spirit and move them all together in a forward motion. Sometimes in order to do this, we must also leave something behind or tie up loose ends, draw closure to something or just let go. For many, making this closing act a physical one is helpful. Say goodbye to the pandemic. Write a letter detailing how the pandemic made you feel and bury it in the yard or burn it in the fireplace. Actualizing our transition gives a clear signal to our body, mind and spirit that it is safe to move on. Give yourself permission to go.
Take care of yourself after and during a difficult period can be tough. The demands of the world get harder, time and resources are less, so how can you give yourself time and space to have self care? I have many people ask me this often. Self care doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be 30 seconds of breathing or 5 minutes of meditation or a walk at lunchtime. For some people it means clearing your plate of other “noise” that just isn’t as important. Stop saying yes to things and focus on you. That is not selfish, that is self care.
I was a nanny in England during a semester abroad and my favorite kid in the family was Freddy. He always rode his bike without looking forward or where he was going. He was a dreamer. Always looking around and up while hurling himself forward into many crashes. Or like the child learning to ride the bike that stares straight at the telephone pole he doesn’t want to hit and rides toward it each time. We must be careful what we focus on each day. Are we looking at the danger? Are we looking behind us at the danger? Are we just looking for more danger? Alter your focus. Think good things. What is something that you can look forward to? What is something good in the future you can plan? Make plans. Good ones. If that is overwhelming, then think of one good thing each day. It is not the length of focus here that matters, it is what we focus our attention on that matters.
On the heels of getting moving, move toward a group of people that you want to be more like. Ask someone you admire to mentor you. Give to family in need. Take a risk. Take all that cortisol and adrenaline and apply it toward something new and exciting and good. Why not?
Trust yourself. You have been through difficulty before. You’ve seen others survive trauma. You got this. You have the skills, the gumption, the resilience and skills to bounce back and get back up. You got this. In the first few nights of having my first born, in the dark of late night hours up dealing with his colic, I kept reassuring myself that I knew many people, competent and otherwise, that had accomplished this thing called parenting. So that meant, I must have the skills to accomplish this, I just didn’t know it yet. Dig into yourself and trust that you will figure it out. You always have.
I write about this often. Assume positive intent. Assume good is coming. Assume that a new season will be better. It helps. It changes our body chemistry and brain wiring and gets us out of fight flight or freeze. Think on good things and good things will be right around the corner. And even if that corner might seem farther away that you think, you just might smile or belly laugh along the way to it when you sit in a positive mindset. And that will make all the difference.