First, let’s get really clear about where we are at – we each have different experiences of lockdown and of social distancing depending on our circumstances, our jobs, our families and the degree of isolation we are feeling. To move forward we have to accept and, more importantly, respect those different experiences may evoke different emotions and behaviours. This is a time to be kind, to be tolerant, and to refrain from judging each other for handling stuff differently.
I believe there are a number of neurological things that help with this acceptance: your perspective, your self-talk and your ability to assume people are doing the best they can in the circumstances they find themselves in. I would be the first to accept this is difficult when your neighbours are having a full volume row in their garden, their dog is barking and you are trying to have a serious zoom call with a client – but hey the rain will put a stop to that, right?
Seriously though, you have two choices don’t you – well three maybe – you could scream at them over the fence to be quiet (definitely not kind or understanding), you could get really frustrated and distracted and derail your own day, or you could manage your own state – which is the only thing you actually have any control over. Feel grateful that you are not in that situation and cut them a bit of slack; even when you love people being with them 24/7 has its challenges.
You can only do this if you are prepared to get real. Being able to focus on positive aspects in life is hugely important and so is not being in denial, kidding yourself everything is ok, when your world is unrecognisable, is equally important.
How do you ever get to act courageously – which is what you need to do right now, if you are deluding yourself that the uncertainty, the isolation, the level of ambient fear is not affecting you in any way. It is, you are a human being – none of us are left untouched by the suffering of other humans, unless of course you are a psychopath.
Seriously though, none of us are left untouched by this.
I believe this is about mitigating the damage caused by isolation – we know isolation changes our neurochemistry. Oxytocin is produced in response to bonding – physically and emotionally. Babies evoke oxytocin production in their parents as well as the other way around. The resulting, often unconditional, love between a parent & baby gives us a great start in life, and as we get older we need to find other ways of creating this oxytocin production. Mostly this is from socialisation, from connection with other people – or animals in some cases.
So just as connection increases Oxytocin – which is needed for empathy, for love and for emotional safety; isolation causes stress and increase in cortisol. It doesn’t need to be actual physical isolation either. The perception of social isolation has exactly the same impact; cortisol levels rise which can reduce your higher cognitive function – like rational processing and creativity – because your brain is focused on survival activity. When you lack social contact – real or perceived, activity in your dorsomedial prefrontal cortex – the region of your brain associated with altruism and social judgement, changes and this in turn makes you less tolerant, less able to see other’s perspectives, less trusting and more judgemental.
It strikes me that this potentially makes the current situation less tolerable depending on your circumstances, and it makes it more difficult for you to emerge from lockdown as it inevitably gets lifted.
So what can you do to ensure you emerge stronger, more courageous and more in control of your own wellbeing – all of which I believe are possible.
First, focus on the things you have control over and limit your exposure to things you have no control over – to be clear I’m not suggesting you stick your head in the sand – but it might be that you don’t need to read every article or scroll relentlessly through social media just in case you miss something – this just fuels fear.
The things you have control over are those that you can directly impact: your mindset and attitude, the way you show up, how you behave towards yourself and those around you and, critically, how you spend your time now.
I am a great believer in investing in your future self and now is no different – here are a few ways to invest in yourself:
- Invest by being kind to yourself, think about the stories you tell yourself, do they help you to be the person you want to be – or do you need to change your script a little – they are your stories, you can change them. Your brain will look for evidence to support whatever you focus on so you might need to choose to consciously focus on something different to your default story – with practice the evidence follows and a new story grows.
- Invest by accepting that things may not be as you want them, you might not be as productive, as organised, as groomed even and that is ok. You are allowed to stand in your own imperfect glory
- Invest by identifying what relationships or activities enrich you and make time for them, even if they are nothing to do with work, or what you think you should be doing with your time. It’s no accident people are going baking mad – myself included. It’s distracting, it’s nourishing and breaking bread – quite literally – is one of the most connecting of human activities.
- Invest by staying fit mentally and physically in whatever way works for you, there is no right or wrong. There’s plenty of free stuff online you can do at home. Use routine or ritual to calm your mind, it doesn’t have to be clever or traditional meditation, just the things that create space for you. If you need a hand try some simple things like anchoring activities to calming – like hand washing, add in a little ritual about reminding yourself you are well and safe (if those words work for you – or choose your own). Listen to your favourite music, get up and dance, go in the garden if you have one. Remember the things that keep you feeling connected and do something every day.
- Give help and accept help – for the simple reason that this creates connection and raises your oxytocin levels. Even in lockdown there are so, so many examples of human kindness – focus on these and emulate what works for you.
- Finally invest by staying positive and grateful – even on the worst of days there are a few moments of positivity – something that made you smile or laugh, something that made you feel loved or worthy. Focus on this not the hundred bad things that might be your go-to default – it is worth the effort to retrain yourself.
Remember, courage takes two things: a willingness to act and an ability to manage fear and anxiety – even temporarily. You manage fear by focusing on your values, on what matters most to you, on where you can make a difference. You are willing to act because you believe something is possible, you can picture an outcome and that outcome matters to you enough to endure your fear.
What could possibly matter more than being the best version of yourself that you are capable of right now? – this is how you emerge stronger, this is how you care for those you love, this is how you find the energy to re-craft your business or your job, and this is how you stay mentally well.
So please invest the time and know that your future self will thank you. If you need a little help do join us in our virtual co work community.