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Living Richly During Challenging Times—Observe and acknowledge how you feel

It seems that this newsletter's topic is even more timely with the easing of restrictions in a number of places. According to research into human isolation—think space stations and Antarctic posts—these actions can mentally move us into a ‘third quarter’ of isolation. This ‘quarter’ is relative in time to the expected total isolation period and is characterized by ‘emotional outbursts, aggressiveness and rowdy behaviour’.

Yet we're likely not even half way, with political and public health leaders reminding us that restrictions are likely to be in place for many more months to manage the risk of a ‘second wave’.

What changes have you noticed in your emotions and energy levels in response to announcements of changed restrictions? And what effect has that had on where—or when—your focus is?

How we feel—physically and emotionally—affects how we ‘show up’ to ourselves and to others.

This time of radical disruption and uncertainty has likely intensified emotions such as anxiety and fear, and perhaps tightness in the body. Add to that a mix of other feelings including hope at the easing of restrictions, tiredness as we interact more online (see last newsletter), and isolation fatigue it's not surprising that we might experience ‘emotional outbursts’.

We might not want to face difficult emotions, or may think we don't have time to deal with how we feel. But ignoring how we feel is counterproductive. Ignored emotions—positive or negative—can nag at our focus, undermining our mood, creativity and productivity. They can make it harder for us to act as we would prefer towards others. Ignored physical signs of stress—shallow breathing, tightness—can leave us with headaches that reduce our effectiveness.

In short, ignoring or suppressing our feelings reduces our access to our full range of internal resources and ultimately our ability to be fully present in our life.

I went through my own ‘radical disruption’ a while back, being diagnosed with cancer while I was in the process of transitioning to a new role at work. I had been anticipating the change with some excitement, as it was a role that would have provided me with increased flexibility so I could be more available to my family, and address my health and fitness. Acknowledging the wide range of emotions I experienced with this disruption to my plans—including sadness, anger, relief and hope—took time and attention, but was worth it. It enabled me to be more present with my family and friends and to support my body through the barrage of treatments that come with cancer. Ironically, I was even able to improve my fitness!

I've found the following approach works well for getting in touch with how I'm feeling:

  1. Find a place where you feel safe and supported, remove distractions and allow time so that you're not feeling rushed. You may want to sit or to walk in nature. As you become more practiced, the safe place may be within you and you will need less time to work through the practice.
  2. Be quiet and listen to how you're feeling: both your emotions and your physical sensations. You may find it useful to start by mentally scanning your body and monitoring your breathing, observing the physical sensations before focusing on your emotions.
  3. Consciously acknowledge the feelings you notice. Try to suspend judgement of any feelings and simply observe them. Be patient and kind with yourself: it may take a bit of practice before you can identify and feel comfortable with a range of emotions.
  4. Journalling can help provide a different perspective on your feelings, helping identify and clarify them, and can sometimes reduce their intensity.
  5. Take action to support yourself, or to apply any positive emotional energy to your day. Ask for or accept help if you need it, including reaching out to professional support services (such as Lifeline or Beyond Blue in Australia).

If you're unfamiliar with this practice, start by checking in with yourself early in your day, and in the hour before you go to bed to support your sleep. Gradually work up to checking in more often through your day, such as before you start an important task or approach time with loved ones. Observe what works for you to sustain your practice.

Recognising and acknowledging how we feel is compassionate to our selves and those we interact with. It helps us to be more resourceful in dealing with the challenges we face, reduce the likelihood of unexpected ‘emotional outbursts’ and enable us to support others.

(Pro-tip: Recognising how you're feeling can also have some unexpected practical benefits. For example, feeling slightly irritated helps in finding more errors during an editing task!)

Drop of water bouncing off a rippled pond
Photo by Levi XU on Unsplash

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