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"C" is for Connection, Community, & Calm


This is Ruby, who always reminds me to keep things in perspective. She and I rescued each other 6 1/2 years ago. She is thrilled that her humans are home all the time now!


What blessings are coming to you in this time of craziness?


I am searching for words when we are all speechless. There is nothing normal about what we are all going through right now. Fear is driving the show, for individuals, families, business, institutions, markets, and governments. And, on the other hand, I am seeing outpourings of love, care, social responsibility, compassion, communitarianism, connection, and creativity.


Know that in any moment -- at the grocery store when there is NO toilet paper again, managing cabin fever with family, debating with friends about what we should be doing -- know that in any moment you can choose to let fear and self-defense be in charge, or, you can let love and connection to others be in charge.


As a health coach I am mindful that two of the most important supports for good health and strong immune function are social connection and low stress levels. Both of those are being challenged pretty fundamentally right now. And yet there are ways we can compensate to keep ourselves as well as possible.


Connect. Relax.


Here is what's been supportive to me. My family is scattered up and down the east coast and we don't see each other very often. So I started a group text with my kids, my parents, my sisters, their spouses, their kids, my aunt, and my cousins. My parents are in their 80s and though they are healthy, we are all reluctant to visit. So we've been using the group text to share stories, pictures, jokes, moments of panic, cocktail hours, and most of all appreciation that we have each other. We don't always get along perfectly - what family does? But there is comfort in knowing that, for example yesterday, when our dishwasher decided to stop working, I could text all 19 of them about it and get some sympathy emojis. And my Aunt Pam, who I rarely see, is actually quite hilarious.


Springboard Sangha, my meditation community, is doing group sits, teachings, and discussions on Zoom with groups of 20-25. New people are joining and folks who have moved away are able to come back. We also hope to offer our regular yoga and Qi Gong programs via Zoom.


What steps can you take right now to feel less isolated? To remember that we are all in this together? Who can you reach out to?


Zoom, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook & Instagram live. I find that being able to talk face to face really is worlds better than just talking on the phone. I have been surprised at how intimate and reassuring it can be to see people's faces while we talk.


I was just beginning to offer online coaching sessions when this pandemic started. Now it is all I can offer. I've been surprised by how much I like it. There is something about being in-person that can't be replaced by even the best technology. But the flip side is that my clients don't have to leave home to come here -- they can be in their PJ's. I don't have to clean the living room that is my home office (and also Ruby's favorite place to lay down), I barely have to get dressed (!) and I am still able to establish the degree of connection, intimacy, trust, and rapport that this work requires. It's been a pleasant surprise.


This period of isolation also prompted me to start online community gatherings, something I have been wanting to do for a while but kept putting off. I'd love it if you'd join us!





As for stress, allow this to be a time of slowing down. Like an extended snow day. Let some of the day to day concerns go, if you can. If you have extra time, spend it doing things that restore you (rather than cleaning out the pantry or re-organizing your bedroom - which I know is tempting when you are stuck at home!) And if you eat when you are stressed, just go ahead and eat. Seriously. It's NORMAL. (it's funny - our culture doesn't stigmatize using alcohol for stress but we stigmatize using food - what is that about?)


Calm is really hard right now. We are all impacted in different ways, our lives, our health, our livelihoods, our basic sense of safety in the world. We are shaken and profoundly uncertain.


So we have to actively cultivate calm. Watch for signs of stress and overwhelm. Pause throughout the day to feel into your body. Set your phone to remind you once an hour or a couple times a day. Are you tense? Are you shoulders up? Forehead furrowed? Jaw tight? Is your heart beating faster? Is your stomach or throat tight? Are your hands shaking? Are you nauseous or lacking appetite? Short-tempered? Distracted or scattered? Headache or other body aches?


These are signs your body is in fight/flight mode, your system flooding with cortisol and adrenaline. In this state, the body CANNOT heal, fight infection, absorb nutrients. Your hormones become dysregulated. Your mind can’t reason well. I cannot emphasize this strongly enough. Your body cannot protect you if it is stressed.


Here are my suggestions for cultivating calm


  • Carefully curate your news and social media. We all want to stay informed. But is it triggering any signs of stress? Turn it off. Unfollow.

  • Take 3-minute breathing breaks. Sit, close your eyes, set a timer for 3 minutes (or more). Deepen your breath and focus on it. Expand the belly on the inhale, long exhale. This is basic diaphragmatic breathing. If you mind wanders, gently come back.

  • Been meaning to start meditating? Now’s a perfect time. Here are some apps:

Insight timer

Calm

Headspace

Ten Percent Happier

Simple habit


  • Springboard Meditation Studio, here in Mt. Airy, where I live, has moved many of its programs to Zoom! http://www.springboardstudio.net/. Check events, news and sign up for the mailing list. Many other meditation and retreat centers are also offering free online programming.

  • Many yoga studios and teachers are offering classes online. Contact the ones you know or search for someone new.

  • Tara Brach’s podcast is my personal favorite www.tarabrach.com or wherever you get podcasts.

  • Watch comedy, make jokes, watch silly animal videos, funny memes – laughter is a potent balm to your nervous system. Try laughter yoga (search YouTube).

  • Get outside as much as you can. Ruby and I rescued each other back in 2013 after I'd had 3 surgeries in a 3-year period while going through a divorce. Every morning, for 3 years, we walked to the local dog park where she could run off her puppy energy and I could connect with the other dogs' humans. It was a HUGE part of my healing.

  • Move your body - any way at all. Ruby got me moving again when my body was still a mess. You have to walk a dog. Slowly I got stronger.


Some more reflections on movement:


With gyms closed you may be missing a regular exercise routine (or maybe you're relieved to have a break). But there are so many ways to move! Take this as an opportunity to reevaluate your relationship with movement. Were you enjoying your exercise? Do you look forward to it? Or do you do it to burn calories, change your body shape, or "get healthy?"


Why were you doing the things you were doing?


Would you prefer to move in a way that brings joy? What? Yes - you can move for the pure joy of it, like you did when you were a little kid. Try expressive dance. Walk or run outside. Make walk dates with friends (6 feet apart). Search the internet for classes like Zoomba, Nia, Open Floor, 5 Rhythms. Have some fun again.


My perennial favorite is to put on some tunes and dance around the house. Sing along if that's your jam. Mine is 1980's pop. I know ALL the freakin lyrics. I wish I could free up that brain space for something more useful, like people's names!


But I digress.


What brings you peace? What brings you joy? When was the last time you asked yourself that? Stay connected. Find things that calm you. Rest. Eat. Drink. Rediscover your joy.


With big love, Dana

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(c) Dana L. Barron, PhD, 2020

www.danabarronphd.com

dana@danabarronphd.com