Taming the Dragons of Worry, Fear and Loneliness
Some limitations can actually inspire creativity and a willingness to explore the question of what-could-I-do-with-this. But the limitations of the seemingly never-ending pandemic are having the opposite effect for many people. I’ve felt it myself, despite the fact that I live in a rural area where I can move about freely. But it’s the face-to-face socializing and the physical touch that I miss.
Cabin fever is a good name for what we might feel. Wikipedia describes it as the “distressing claustrophobic irritability or restlessness experienced when a person, or group, is stuck at an isolated location or in confined quarters for an extended time.”
Stir crazy is another term for it. Did you know (again, according to Wikipedia) that “the stir in stir-crazy does not suggest movement or agitation, as one might presume, based on the verb stir “to move around briskly” or “to be emotionally affected”; here, stir is a slang term for prison. The origin of stir is uncertain, but some sources suggest it as a shortening of the Romani noun, sturiben or “prison” or the verb, staripen, “to imprison”.
We’re told that biologically we’re social creatures, that we do better psychologically together rather than apart. Most of us are familiar with studies on the effects of isolation and lack of physical touch as well as the consequences of solitary confinement. Add to that the strong conditioning, especially in the US, of self reliance and independence, which makes us chafe against being told what to do or not to do.
The third element that few people talk about is overthinking. Since we’re taught to overthink, overanalyze and over-interpret, it’s an almost automatic respond to get caught up in our thinking when we’re prevented from following our normal routines, socializing with friends and family, or losing our jobs or lack of access to basic necessities.
Overthinking is the bane of our existence. The word bane means to destroy, ruin or harm. Have you ever felt like you were trapped in your own thoughts and you couldn’t get beyond them? When I’m lost in my own overthinking, all I can see is what’s wrong with the world (or myself) and it leaves me feeling powerless to do anything except wait for things to pass. Not a very good strategy. Plus, thinking like this (which means having feelings like anger or frustration or hopeless) triggers stress hormones in our bodies. And that just makes our lives worse.
Obviously, there can be consequences when we don’t adequately take precautions in potentially dangerous situations. And when we’re in that kind of situation, overthinking prevents us from seeing how to best respond. If we imagine the worst, there’s no room in our minds for imagining both a more positive individual response and the overall outcome so of course we end up feeling sad and lonely.
Can we actually stop overthinking? We know it doesn’t do any good to pretend or suppress troubling thoughts or upsetting feelings — they’re still there behind the facade of fake positivity.
When we’re negatively affected by external circumstances, the stress response, with it’s biochemicals like cortisol and adrenalin, kicks in. Among other things, it depletes our immune system, causes insomnia and a host of other physiological reactions. Interestingly, when we imagine the worst or dwell on what’s wrong or could go wrong, the same stress response is elicited. Brain scans have shown that although there’s a slight difference in what the brain perceives through the senses and what is imagined, the same chemicals are released whenever a situation is interpreted as stressful. And as we know, those chemicals have consequences in both our body and in our actions.
So here we are with a situation that IS dangerous. It’s not just our imaginations. But our imaginations (complete with both insecure thoughts and feelings) are making it worse for us. What can we do to make our lives better?
Taming the dragons of our feelings starts with recognizing that those unsettling feelings are just not helpful. We all experience difficult emotions, but the crucial difference is that rather than letting them define what’s true for us or determining our behavior, we can put some much-needed distance between our reactions and reality.
When we take this more impartial perspective, we recognize that as human beings we’re all susceptible to the same kinds of feelings. With all dangerous conditions, there’s an energy around them, a morphic field. Think of the energy field around cancer. Most of it is full of fear and it’s difficult to navigate without being affected by it. The same is true of any potentially life threatening conditions. But what if we could interpret it differently for ourselves?
In any situation, we can be aware of the energy of our thoughts and feelings and not let them determine our behaviors. That’s the value of taking a stop and noticing what we’re thinking and how it’s making us feel. When we notice when we’re feeling insecure, that’s the clue that it’s time to shift gears.
We can become aware that thoughts and feelings are neither permanent nor personal and that they don’t have to determine our behavior. We can all get triggered by external events, but as we shift our attention from what we think we can’t do, we’re able to see what we can, in fact, do.
When we see this, we regain our ability to stay psychologically and physically healthy, engaged with friends and loved ones, as well as with those things that make us feel alive. It just may not look like what it used to look like. And that may give us the opportunity to respond with creativity, intentionality and more of a sense of agency .
Even if you’re feeling worried or frustrated or lonely, you can still turn your attention to other activities that will, before long, shift your energy and allow you to feel more connected and hopeful. Some simple examples might include any one or combinations of the following:
Reach out to loved ones and friends. There are so many ways to do this! Phone, email, zoom, sending a letter through snail mail. A few months ago I started sending postcards that I had collaged to my friends. It brought us a mutual sense of lightness, fun and connection.
Create a routine if your former routine is gone. If we are creatures of habit (and most of us are) a routine can help us feel grounded.
Do something meaningful for yourself or someone else. This can provide a sense of purpose or direction if you’re feeling unmoored or lost.
Make art! Using your hands to create something is very therapeutic. And it allows our feelings to be expressed that may be hard to find words for.
Practice self care. This is not a silly indulgence! Most of us have ways to find comfort and soothing when the going gets rough. Do whatever you know makes you feel better: relaxing baths, favorite teas, music, dancing, watching uplifting movies or even taking virtual tours of museums online.
Laugh. Did you know laughter has significant effects in reducing stress levels? According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter enhances our oxygen levels, stimulates our hearts, lungs and muscles, improves our immune system, relieves pain and improves our mood. Who knew?
The worst thing we can do is let ourselves slip into hopeless or despair. It’s more important than ever to use our creative ability to keep ourselves active and engaged in positive and uplifting activities. And whether you’re aware of it or not, the effects of our efforts not only help us but they buoy the spirits of everyone we’re in contact with. And that’s what we could all use right now.
I’m Nina Lockwood, and I’m devoted to the exploration of creativity, love and our limitless potential. To find out more about me and what I see is possible, find me at ninalockwood.com, LinkedIn or Instagram (@nina.inspired.life).