In what feels like my elevendieth Zoom of an endless March-long day, I was sharing some methods I have found helpful in lowering the amygdala’s deathgrip on decision-making and stress regulation.
No matter the scheduled topic of these Zooms — which were already going on in our lives as a part of our Self-Management for Actors offerings for quite some time — we spend a little time reducing anxiety, inviting executive function to come online, and popping into states of flow where we can continue to do the magic of storytelling that is WHY we’re here.
(And for those of you saying, “How could you EVER focus on creative storytelling at a time like this? I’ll remind you that EVERY person on the frontlines of battle — no matter what shape the enemy takes — ends their shift, bloodied and exhausted, and PICKS UP THE REMOTE to escape into entertainment for a few glorious moments.)
What we’re experiencing right now is so bizarre since it is both happening in isolation *and* happening to us all at once. When this is over and the real, long-term impact is known, we’ll learn we have what’s called a generational wound. People who lived through The Great Depression had it. Those who’ve experienced war have it. While many of us will come through this *physically* unscathed, our emotional and spiritual and mental grooves will have been defined by how we’re handling things right now. (Not by what has happened; by HOW WE’RE HANDLING what has happened.)
And here’s what I’m seeing the most of — that we can 100% STOP THE MADNESS about, right now: Panic language.
Look, it’s the news media’s job to use inflammatory language. Their survival is built on ratings and advertiser dollars and the more we’re hooked to their panic-inducing, the better for their bottom line.
But when WE start saying things like “shelter in place” rather than “doing my part to flatten the curve by staying safely at home” or “lockdown” instead of “choosing to stay home to help” or “isolation” instead of “lowering risk,” we are amping up our own amygdala — a part of the brain that needs NO HELP believing we’re going to die at every moment.
That’s its job. It is designed to see everything as a threat. It’s our spidey sense. It keeps us from doing stupid things that actually could result in our death. But right now, it’s getting a LOT of our attention and the nervous system is not designed to have this much stress dumped for this many days in a row amidst this much uncertainty. It’s not sustainable. It’s creating trauma.
So, just like if you grew up in an abusive environment, you had to learn ways to live in that chaos so you could survive it, we’re having to soothe ourselves (sometimes hourly). Sometimes, food is soothing (I remember the “freshman 15” in college. I’m calling this the “pandemic puff” because OMG all the crap food!!). Sometimes, focusing on how very small we are in the big scheme of things helps (this website called Pixel Thoughts, shared with our Get in Gear community by the brilliant Anna Ruben, is marvelous for that).
My best tool for weathering all this is to not become my own bully. Here’s what I mean: We have the emotions that we have. This is normal. But then we have what are called secondary emotions. These are those things like when the first emotion is grief or deep sadness and then the second emotion sounds like, “What are you crying about?!? You’ve got it so good! You have a roof over your head and food in your belly and you’re not sick and boo-hoo-hoo look at you, all sad and blue, surrounded by all your privilege. Boo-hoo-hoo.”
What a dick that voice is, right?
But worse still is the tertiary emotion! This is the one that comes along after that and says to that second emotion, “You’re right! I’m not doing enough to help. I’m feeling sorry for myself because my acting class is no longer meeting and I can’t go to the gym but I’m not stitching together masks or even kicking money into the tip jar for the pay-what-you-can meetings that are happening on Zoom right now. Oh man, I’m such a narcissist and… is that a tickle in my throat?!? Oh no, I’m getting sick! Gah! What do I do?!?”
The freeways may be empty in Los Angeles but the brain traffic is intense at times like this.
Again, thank the amygdala. It needs us to believe we’re dying. Even if we’re eating well, we’re holding onto weight (because our amygdala is telling us to). Even if we’re drinking plenty of water, we’re feeling dehydrated and our face might be breaking out (because our amygdala is in charge). Even if we’re chanting and meditating and breathing and really doing our best not to be reactive… we’re snapping at the tiniest thing with the people we love the most. Why? You guessed it. Amygdala is on the job!
So here’s what I ask of myself: “Be responsive, not reactive.”
This simple shift allows me to acknowledge the space we’re all in, emotionally, and individually, and it prevents me from letting my primal brain run the show. Executive function can come online (especially if I’ve done some box breathing or bilateral stimulation or EFT) and I can make logical, reasonable, more creative choices about what comes next.
This shift prevents me from being reactive. Or from becoming my own bully with all those secondary and tertiary emotions. Less judgment; more appreciation.
I know this may sound super granular but I promise you, it’ll make a big difference in how to weather all of this… which we’ll be doing for a while.
So let’s build some muscles for being able to come out of this with as small a negative long-term impact as possible.
I hope you’ll join me on Thursday for two really cool FREE events I’ve got going on. Seems one of my undervalued superpowers has come to center stage in light of this shift in our lives. If you’ve seen the webinar I hosted back on the 14th (replay here), you’ve witnessed the magic (Thalma called it “B-School in an hour”). Welp, on Thursday, I’ll be Tara McMullin’s guest at the What Works Network for an open-to-the-public masterclass in Responsive Offer Development (apparently, that’s the phrase for what it is I did, when I created JFDI with Bon in response to the needs of our SMFA ninjas right now).
A few hours later, I’ll do another round of this five-step process for thriving even during uncertain times via livestream at Facebook, YouTube, or Periscope and/or Twitter. That’ll kick off at 12pm PDT! And yes, there will be a replay. 😉
But come join live if you can, because I’d love to help you work out the kinks on how you can keep the thriving happening right now! Sure, we’re gonna talk about the language we’re choosing to use and how we treat ourselves… but also just some practical, roll-your-sleeves-up tactics for rolling out an offering that’ll help you get money flowing in, perhaps ending your “survival job” days forever! Nothin’ wrong with that, right?
Share your thoughts with me below, wouldja? I know there’s a lot going on right now and so much happening INSIDE as well. What we all need is a lot of grace and compassion — especially toward ourselves — and luckily living in the unknown is something we creatives always do.
We’ve got this! Keep breathing.
All my love,