As the fear and shock of the global pandemic starts to become a bit more normalised now, I’ve noticed that I’ve started to become really reflective.
Don’t get me wrong - there are still moments of anxiety, overwhelm, joy, gratitude, or downright panic - but as the new weirdness becomes normal, the sheer magnitude of the moment is beginning to dawn. The whole world is changing; it's been sudden, abrupt, and discombobulating - and that’s on a good day!
As I adapt (as we are all are having to), I'm finding my centre in this storm, and the immensity of its implications now seem to be what dominates my thinking.
When we are so starkly faced with our own and others mortality, the mind goes to what matters, to what is really important, and to what suddenly isn’t. There are so many examples; new and unexpected heroes like the shop workers who are making sure we can eat, or those we’ve always known to be essential, like everyone working in the NHS, being loudly applauded for the incredible jobs they’ve always done. This time is sharply redefining the new essentials we need if we are going to get through this. Things like self-care, compassion, responsibility, generosity, and common decency are what is going to help. And what no longer serves us - ego-driven "me me me" behaviours are being exposed for the negativity they bring both individually and collectively.
So, in a time when what is important is suddenly at the top of our agenda, we are bound to be asking ourselves deep and fundamental questions. Before, self-reflection wasn’t necessarily a priority, because we were all so very busy. This time gives us all the unprecedented opportunity to go inside - when we can’t go outside.
As a Neuroscience Coach, I am acutely aware that our brains don’t do well with eternally imposed "have-to"s, because the brain is hard-wired to seek autonomy. Naturally, we don’t love being told we must stay in. I am also aware that not everyone is where I am at mentally - for some, the shock isn’t over, the panic is still close, and anxiety and powerlessness are still the predominant feelings. To help with that, we can make the conscious choice to use this time as well as we can, because not only will self-reflection help connect you with your core feeling and anchor you, as the winds of change throw us all around, self-reflection is also good for our brain.
As Dr Dan Siegel highlights:
“Each of us need periods in which our minds can focus inwardly. Solitude is an essential experience for the mind to organise its own processes and create an internal state of resonance…”
Internal resonance is when we are in harmony. When what we feel, think, and do are all aligned. It is what evokes the feelings of calm and peace. And I think all of us could do with a lot more of those at the moment.
So what are the best ways to self-reflect?
Journal or talk into a voice recorder about how you are feeling. It is very important to NOT JUDGE the feelings; just capture them.
Art in any form allows us to express ourselves and overcome the challenges we are facing.
Quietly sitting without distraction and simply noticing what thoughts arise in your head.
Our emotions are absolutely fundamental to which brain system is running the show. The feelings themselves are giving us valuable information. If we are feeling sad, we are experiencing our grief about something, and that is a healthy thing. If we are feeling grateful, we know the things that smile us and make us feel nourished. We need to feel what we feel, because at the most basic level, our feeling are hormones and chemical reactions.
However, when we judge our feelings ("I shouldn’t be feeling so anxious," for example), the brain perceives it as a threat. This ignites a chemical cascade that puts us into fight, flight or freeze. In this survival mode, our higher thinking is turned off, and all we can focus on is the next potential threat. Not a healthy way to be too often.
Self-reflection accesses how we truly feel, and if we don’t judge what we feel, and instead take the information our emotions are giving us, we have the opportunity to tune in to what we want to take forward, what will determine our next steps, what our bottom lines are, what we celebrate and what we what less of.
At a time when we are having to re-evaluate everything, being in-tune with who you are in your purest form means you get the chance to come out of this with what is most important at the forefront. It also means we can achieve the happiness all of us desire, because, as Yung points out:
“Happiness and contentment, equability of soul and meaningfulness of life – these can be experienced only by the individual.”
Using this time to identify our own happiness, contentment, and what is meaningful in our lives, allows us to use this time wisely, so that together, we take the best of what this crisis has brought out in us.
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