As a marriage and family therapist much of my time is focused on thinking about how to help others optimize their mental health. The dystopian nightmare of 2020 has left me with more questions than answers. So much has changed in such a short period of time. 2020 has been hard for just about everyone, in every category imaginable.
How it has impacted each of us differs in just as many ways, but a commonality is we’re all experiencing varying levels of stress, anxiety and grief that ebbs and flows. While we are all in this together, our experiences are far from linear. We may be in a different emotional place from those around us at any given time; this is how grief works.
Mothers appear to carry an enormous share of the emotional load through this pandemic. With unthinkable choices about school, work, house management, childcare, outside help less available, and so many plans cancelled, most of us even feel overwhelmed by our own thoughts at times.
My training helps me look at feedback loops between our thoughts, behaviors and emotions. Swimming in a sea of “what ifs??” makes us fearful or overwhelmed. When we are feeling overwhelmed we need to take action to ground ourselves to stop the intrusive and often destructive thoughts. Once grounded, one of the simplest ways we can direct our thoughts is ask ourselves constructive questions to focus on behaviors that help improve our overall emotional health.
5-4-3-2-1 Grounding is a simple tool to help with anxiety and panic symptoms. Stop, take a big belly breath, and focus your attention on the world around you by naming 5 things you see, 4 things you feel, 3 things you hear, 2 things you smell and 1 thing you taste. You will notice your autonomic nervous system, which controls your fight-or-flight response, settling down. It can be repeated as needed. Once you feel able, you can shift your focus to articulating your emotional flooding by asking yourself, “What fears or worries am I currently overwhelmed about?”
Then, choose any from the suggestions below to ground yourself and shift your focus:
What is actually within my control and how do I focus my energies there?
How am I incorporating my values into my daily actions? If they don’t feel aligned, what can I do to make that happen?
What do I feel most grateful for today and how will I express my gratitude?
Am I giving myself the grace that I deserve? Is my inner voice as empathetic or gentle as my outer voice towards others?
What am I doing to invest in my relationships? Have I expressed my love for family and friends?
Am I doing the things I need to do to take care of myself so I am emotionally available for my loved ones? Have I exercised today? Have I been outside? Have I eaten fruits and vegetables? Have I had enough water?
Which questions ground you best may change daily. Use any of them as tools in your toolbox, which seems to be getting a whole lot of use lately.
As we approach remote learning plans, remember YOU matter. Your mental and physical health matter. Seek help if you need it. We’re all in this together.
Author: Leah Crowling, LMFT