What Do You Need to Keep Going?

I can hardly keep count of the numbers of people I care about who are sharing their stories about being tense, sad, unable to sleep, anxious, agitated, or filled with rage. Bottom line, we are losing hope and feeling the dire circumstances surrounding us. We are pushed to our limits. We need strength, support, and wisdom to get through this time of crisis, and we’re not sure how to get there efficiently and securely.

It made me curious to delve deeper into what we are really looking for and what tools we can practice to sharpen our resolve, regain our fortitude and commitment, and strengthen our resilience. What I hear people asking for is more positive than negative outlooks, clarity of what lies ahead—and even with a vague notion of what the future holds—to be creative enough to motivate, stimulate, and animate ourselves and others back to flourishing.

In an article from Frontiers in Psychology and another from Biological Psychiatry [noted below] they summarize the kinds of things we are looking to generate:

  • Clarity and grounded hope
  • Balance between positive vision and confronting uncomfortable truths
  • Community and safety
  • Deliberate calm and restricted optimism
  • A sense of purpose and hope to ably face challenges ahead

As humans, we are biologically wired to have a stress response (fight, flight, or freeze) when confronted with volatile environments, unpredictable events, and constant stress. It becomes crucial that we learn and practice “integrative awareness” which is being aware of the changing reality in the outside world and aware of how you are responding emotionally and physically.

Concepts in neuroscience that are closely related to this are “exteroception” (sensitivity to stimuli originating outside of the body) and “interoception” (sensitivity to stimuli originating inside the body). When we effectively connect situational awareness with self-awareness, our outer world with our inner, this is the essence of what scientists call integrative awareness.

In a crisis of uncertainty, this process helps us avoid overreacting to challenges or jumping to conclusions just to stop feeling uncomfortable. Developing integrative awareness helps us recognize these stress responses as opportunities to pause and reflect before acting, providing the tools to proceed with intentional calm and controlled optimism. When we do this, instinctive biological reactions will start working for us and not against us. Not only will this practice lead to increased effectiveness but it is also essential to managing our personal health and energy over a longer period of time.

6 Steps to Developing Integrative Awareness

If this seems like too much to take on, just do one of the steps, then maybe you will be motivated to do another step. Each action counts and brings you closer to integration and wholeness. The basic practice is to notice and connect the outer world and the inner world. You can do this!

1. Adapt your personal operating model

The 4 keys to focus on are your priorities, your roles, your time, and your energy. These are the ways you operate on a daily basis. Make an operating model as your guide with these four listed in columns, and list what fits under each heading. This is especially crucial to do in a crisis that is expected to last for some time. After you get your model filled in, ask yourself: What does this mean for how I interact with my work and the people I may work with? What does this mean for how I engage with my family? What are my “non-negotiables” in this model (for example, eating healthy food, getting sufficient sleep, regular exercise, and meditation practice)?

2. Set your intention
Take a few minutes at the start of the day to go through your agenda, identify high priority topics, and set an intention for what you want to accomplish and how you want the experience to unfold. Ask yourself: What challenges or interruptions might I face, and what possible opportunities can I expect? How do I intend to stay focused on what matters most? How do I intend to respond emotionally? What are my non-negotiables and where can I let go? How will my actions affect other people?

3. Optimize your responses/results
While in a stressful situation during the day, notice your emotions so you can recognize a stress response, pausing to assess the situation and engage your heart’s intuition before choosing your response. The Institute of HeartMath offers the tool to focus on your heart, and breathe slightly slower and deeper until you get into a comfortable rhythm of breathing. Then activate a feeling of care or appreciation (about anything or anyone, not necessarily the issue you’re wanting to resolve), placing yourself into a positive emotional state which increases entrainment within your body, mind, and emotions bringing you greater clarity and awareness.

4. Practice reflection
Reflection is a way to process what happened during the day and to create space to listen to your inner world (mind and body). Ask yourself: What moments were difficult and what made them so? How did I feel, and what made me respond the way I did? Reflection helps you see the big picture and your own behaviors and motivation. What are my blind spots and how can I address them in the future? People have many ways to reflect. Some use meditation, some reflect while running or walking the dog. The important thing is that you make it a regular planned practice.

5. Reframe your perspective
When we’re tired from stress, we tend to see negative messages and threats more readily than opportunities and positive messages. Knowing this, is step one. Handling these situations effectively, is step two. When facing a difficult situation, try to redirect away from the negative explanation and toward an exploration of a few positive possibilities. Ask yourself: Am I jumping to conclusions? What else can be true at this moment? What is important to me right now? Build time to revisit decisions regularly, with an open, curious, and learning mindset, building on fresh information coming in and at various stages of the crisis.

6. Manage your energy
One of the most difficult things to do in times of crisis is to balance work needs with your own physical and mental well-being. In a crisis atmosphere, you will need recovery time, or at some point things will begin to collapse—your functioning, your health, or your relationships. Apart from recovery time, which is different for everyone, micro-practices that support your healthy recovery include meditation, breathing exercises, cardio-sports activities, and even power naps. Take the time you need to restore your energy and stabilize again. This is how we can get through these extensive challenges and lead us to a new inspired way to view the world.

References: Norman Farb, et al., “Interoception, contemplative practices and health,” Frontiers in Psychology June 2015, Volume 6;
Sahib S. Khalsa et al., “Interoception and mental health: A Roadmap,” Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, Elsevier, 2018, Volume 3.

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