Not this number of times. Patch emotional symptoms once — no problem. Keep “Netflixing” worries daily for months and repetitions will eventually escalate them. Band-aid may suffice to extinguish a burning match, but not a volcano. It is like entering a pandemic lockdown one month late. We know how this ended. Let’s fireproof that match.
Fireproofing the match (addressing the causes of stress) is making sure the crisis (external circumstances) can’t ignite it. Vs. merely extinguishing a flame and waiting for it to be rekindled by the next Facebook post full of uncertainty.
This is “where the fun dies”
As we are long past junior high here, had a fair share of neuroscience, mindfulness, Emotional Intelligence reading, let’s remind ourselves (long sigh here):
it is not the crisis that forces us into heavy feelings, we do: our attachments, clinging to viewpoints, medieval habits, etc.
No blaming, guilt-tripping, or criticizing implied. We have all been there. Enjoying “the fun” of “natural” fear and anger “inevitably” arising in response to the collapsing world. Especially, if we are “not along” in this mainstream suffering. As a result, our viewpoints and desires get reinforced further by habituated emotions, polarized. Tolerance wears really thin. Any speck becomes the last drop. Welcome to the tipping point.
Unlock the new level
Congrats! Sufficient motivation is now achieved (it pains so much we have to do something about it). We are now ready to stop blaming the world and unlock the possibility of personal change.
Got it, no problem! Let me try a few tips, “rewire” some stories real quick, do a bit of mindfulness, and voila!
This is when we do a few years of imitating progress. Faking it until we… verify this was not the way to make it. How do we know that? Undesired reactions to the same stimulus keep repeating.
The internal causes are still there: obsolete views and ego-centric motivations that created the problem. They are hard-wired into every past situation that dictates our current reactions. Hence, it may take a bit more than 15 minutes a day and a guided meditation app to make a lasting change.
Worldview-agnostic, systems approach
Our minds maintain “the hologram of everything”, a worldview. Each person we talk to is not a neutral mix of sensory inputs (sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste), but a virtual copy linked to all kinds of previous experiences, emotions and future projections. A colony of bacteria on a skeleton in front of us becomes “mom”, “dad” or “spouse” with a history of interactions.
Our current stressful responses to crisis-related situations are dictated by “the hologram”. Notions we have used 20 years ago + our emotions, thoughts experienced are tightly linked to the “holographic” stack of past situations in our memory. We may no longer be afraid of a monster under the bed, but the worldview that makes any unknown a threat may still be there. Or at least it was when it created a habit of fear in response to uncertainty.
Hence, we cannot make a lasting change to a single story [that supports stressful reaction] without:
- Updating the entire system of views that has created this story [starting with a notion of “I”]
- Change of our perception and responses in numerous past situations [in accordance with the most recent, ecological worldview that leaves no causes for the destructive reactions]
Why “worldview-agnostic”? Well, even the most advanced non-egocentric worldview will eventually become obsolete. Any theoretic map is just a map. A provisional set of directions to accommodate a certain phase of personal change. Once we have accomplished this phase, embodied the new principles, our conceptual reliance on this map becomes an obstacle.
The worldview-independent approach offers no causes for adversity. We see even the most advanced hologram, as just that, a subjectively perceived hologram. The actual centering becomes possible. We are able to step back from any crisis situation. Observe our biases, understand them, and remain independent from them. Make conscious, constructive, compassionate decisions.
Embodied worldview-independence [litmus tested via non-production of destructive emotions] is where actual free-thinking and personal freedom starts. We cannot be manipulated by fake news if we are free from self-deception, hot buttons that can be pushed to trigger emotions and misguide our perception.
Finally, we can truly and sincerely embrace the global diversity of viewpoints. Agnosticism, other secular, spiritual, or religious worldviews are just that, — provisional systems of views one can use, but doesn’t have to depend on. Especially, if they are maps for a phase we have already passed, failing the litmus test of “non-production”.
Back to earth
What are the practical and effective steps we can take now to tackle crisis stress? Address causes of fear, anxiety, anger? Actually reframe stories that manage our reactions during social networking, news reading, remote work, sick days. Restore balance, focus, creativity, resourcefulness, peace of mind.
Daily emotional regulation
- Process of handling destructive emotions. The practical steps we can take to tackle undesired emotions and restore balance
- Getting started: gain enough momentum. The most difficult part of working with a strong and persistent destructive emotion is getting started — putting enough effort to “emerge” for the very first time.
- Daily emotional hygiene routines. Maintaining balance, preventing afflictions from maturing, stockpiling, and causing major interference: morning state-of-mind check, dreams inventory, maintaining balance throughout the day (monitoring, etc.), unwinding before sleep.
- “When will it all end?” or in praise of monitoring. Pandemic prompts for better vigilance, awareness of destructive emotions, and thought loops. Let’s simply stop the next chain reaction ignited by “how do we live further?”
- “Lazy” flying hours and the right exposure. Sometimes, we just don’t have the strength to dive into emotional regulation routines. Actually, pretty often in these pandemic times. However, we can at least lie down in the direction of “better us”.
Examples of handling specific issues:
- How to extinguish fear, anxiety and tackle contributing issues? Fears of getting ill, or related troubles are artificially created and can be extinguished if we address their causes: our dependencies, habits, memories of traumas, obsolete stories, etc.
- Untangling depression. Despite looking seemingly “passive” (e.g. uninterested, unwilling to do anything), depression is a set of highly aggressive mental activities that usually can be tackled.
- Stop harmful mental control. A clinging to a single desired way the situation can progress is a mental grasp that attacks all deviations from the “positive” scenario and limits our options.
- Dealing with grief. How do we maintain what’s available of our balance when we lose (or are afraid of losing) someone? To understand what is happening to us so the grief does not leave permanent scars and hurt our lives more than it has to.
Reframing stories that manage our emotions:
- Pandemic: Emotional Intelligence boot camp? The deterioration of our safety, well-being, and control over our lives highlight personal issues that would otherwise remain latent, out of reach. This presents a unique opportunity.
- Social networks, devices, virtual communication. The greater part of social networks content we interact with is far from ecological. We come in contact with a number of emotionally agitated, “toxic” people. However, it is in our hands to neutralize or at least mitigate the impact of such encounters on our state of mind.
- Remote work — underestimated state-of-mind obstacle. Remote management, sales, any communication rely on our state of mind as much if not more than in-person meetings. External factors like “Who said what? What people actually heard? Was video/audio OK?” may actually be of lesser importance.
- Emotional contagion. It is not always “just us”. Our perception, state of mind, thoughts, decisions, and resulting actions may be influenced by the fears and distress of others (partners, co-workers, even our “support network”).
- Crisis management: a mindful approach. Ignoring our compromised state of mind and enforcing external-only solutions normally leads to less desirable outcomes, to say the least.
- Fake news and manipulations. The last mile of any information is human perception. If our minds are not clouded by active biases it is easier to reveal inauthenticity. However, there is no quick-fix. It takes becoming authentic to read if another person isn’t.
- No-harm tipping point — emotions help us find our feet. Every human’s patience threshold is tested daily. Our feelings hold the key to composure vs. destruction.
- Burnout. Caring for our state of mind may, indeed, seem an excessive burden that our busy schedules cannot accommodate. However, it may offer the answers we seek to prioritize and manage our workload sensibly.
- Procrastination safe mode. Mindful procrastination allows us to share the abundance of energy, not the last bite of emergency rations.
- Resilience and ability to adapt. Resilience, an ability to adapt are organic outcomes of an established (actually functional) ecological worldview and emotional regulation routines.
- Mind-first approach to sick days. Sick days offer a unique opportunity to address both agitations that preceded the ailment and the ones it provoked.