It’s been a while since I brought in an expert article and I’m happy to say that my friend and colleague, Michelle Gale, agreed to write something for me to share with you. Applying decades of training and experience as a clinical psychologist, counselor, and coach, Michelle helps women develop meaningful careers and rich, full lives. She has spent her professional career helping others meet and overcome personal challenges and limitations so they can go on to build thriving lives. Michelle herself is a force to be reckoned with – she’s a straight shooter, and a committed and powerful force for change. I’m delighted to have her share her thoughts here.
Emotional Resilience in Fierce Times:
4 Things You Need to Know
by Michelle Gale, Ph.D.
When we’re in crisis, we tend to shut down, bury our feelings, and get stuck in survival mode. Instead of facing the grief and despair we’re experiencing, we try to numb the pain by staying busy, losing ourselves in entertainment, or engaging in addictive behavior.
But unacknowledged pain doesn’t just fade away. It goes underground and resurfaces as depression, anxiety, addiction, insomnia, and other physical and mental health issues.
So there’s a hefty payoff for dealing very deliberately with a crisis like the one that’s upon us now because it enables us to find constructive ways to channel our pain, keep legitimate self-concern from blocking compassion for others, and remain receptive in unyielding times.
Open Yourself to Awareness
What happens when you slow yourself down and move deeply into your body? What is it like to let go of the muted hysteria by which we’re surrounded and ground yourself firmly in the flow of your own being?
Take a moment to tune into what you find there. You may be experiencing a single emotion—impatience, for example—or a mix of things, like apprehension, sadness, and anger. Put a name to what you’re feeling. If you’re stumped, here’s a list of emotions from which to draw.
Now pinpoint the source of your feeling. What are you impatient, apprehensive, sad, or angry about?
See what that feeling is asking of you. If you were as responsive to yourself as a loving parent would be to a child, what would you do now?
Show Yourself Compassion
If you’re not already adept at self-soothing, this is a great time to learn. Practice doing simple soothing things. This may mean making yourself a cup of tea, listening to some music you enjoy, taking a hot bath, or writing in your journal.
Each a little message to yourself that you matter and haven’t been abandoned.
Let’s distinguish between being frightened and running scared. At a time like this, fearfulness is appropriate. Running scared, on the other hand, ties us up in knots and shuts us down. So if you’re running scared, give some attention to gently reopening your heart.
Start by breathing into your belly. Then go with whatever’s most noticeable: If you’re all cramped up, move. If you need to express yourself, write, draw, or dance. If you feel isolated, reach out. And so on.
As you respond to your needs, you’ll gather momentum. Use it to move, step by step, back into the center of your Self. If you find yourself having to do this repeatedly, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It means you’re successfully managing the ebb and flow of a profoundly challenging time.
Cultivate Your Creativity
We’re socialized to think of creativity as being about mastery instead of self-expression. But creativity is part of our inheritance as human beings. In fact, the entire universe is teeming with it.
Creativity brings us to life and gives us a way of grappling with problems we wouldn’t otherwise know how to address. It enables us to stop managing the impression we make on others and make something that expresses what’s really important to us instead.
In Creation Spirituality, philosopher and theologian Matthew Fox writes, “Creativity is not about painting a picture or producing an object; it is about wrestling with the demons and angels in the depths of our psyches and daring to name them, to put them where they can breathe and have space and we can look at them.”
Essentially, creativity is applying a childlike mindset to daily life, giving ourselves permission to explore and time to play.
Aim for authenticity rather than originality, because trying to be original can hamstring you. Authentic self-expression is moving and comes across as original. And when your goal is authenticity, there’s no applicable standard. Other people and their creations are irrelevant.
Keep Your Sense of Agency Alive
In April, I learned that the migrant farm workers in Immokalee, Florida, some 75 miles from where I live, were extremely vulnerable to the virus because of the conditions in which they live and work, and had been given no means of protecting themselves. They lacked access to testing and treatment, live below the poverty line, and are ineligible for federal relief.
The governor was ignoring their cries for help. So I dusted off a mailing list I’d last used four years ago to fight fracking, and asked for help. We swung into action, calling the governor and signing online petitions. I contacted a dozen legislators with whom I’d worked in the past.
Our efforts in concert with those of the people in Immokalee created a tipping point. On-site testing has begun and plans are being made to safely quarantine and hospitalize people who are infected. While this doesn’t address all the community’s needs, it’s a crucial first step.
When the plans for testing were announced, I sat there open-mouthed and blinking for a long moment, somewhere between stunned and jubilant. There’s so much going on out there that reinforces a sense of helplessness that doing something that makes a significant difference is thrilling. Although this stuckness represents a sociopolitical failure, it’s easy to experience it as a personal one.
Which makes it critical for us to cultivate a strong sense of our own initiative and our ability to have an impact. We’re sensitive, dynamic beings in a world that treats us like objects, and it’s up to us to keep the flame alive.
The alternative to letting this pandemic immobilize you is turning it into an opportunity for growth, perhaps a chance to contribute something you otherwise wouldn’t have.
Explore the possibilities for creativity, courage (not recklessness), and generosity. Notice where your leverage lies. Nurture your appreciation for life. Cherish your feelings, which are the essence of your humanity.
Go forth with confidence.
I’m Michelle Gale, Ph.D. I’ve helped hundreds of women stop floundering and start flourishing. If you resonated with this article, I invite you to download a free copy of my eBook, Female & Fabulous: 5 Keys to Personal Empowerment for Women. It’ll help you reclaim your power, develop your confidence, and learn to be decisive, tenacious, and strong.