How to cultivate a good life in the shit storm that is winter lockdown
Nobody wants to be here
Everyone is pissed off, running out of energy and steam. With no idea of the finish line in sight. We’re all left asking how long will this go on and when will we be able to return to normal? Will we ever return to normal? It’s hard to manage our energy when we don’t know the finish line. We are human after all and cannot run on empty forever.
When you’re faced with such relentless difficulty it can send us into a trauma response (and don’t under estimate the power of low level stress over a long time to create trauma in your body). The body stores trauma. And it does it well in order to help us survive difficulty. There are tuns of books on this topic like this one if you’re interested in more.
So how does trauma response work?
Most people refer to trauma response as three levels; fight, flight or freeze. But actually there are five researched and known stages. They are friend, flight, fight, freeze, and flop. Your amygdala decides the appropriate response dependent on what’s approaching you that’s unsafe. (Your amygdala is the survival part of your brain… which overrules your conscious thinking mind when it detects your safety/survival is under real threat). We’ve all been living under low levels of threat (and for some medium to high levels). Chronic ongoing stress builds up like decay on your teeth without any kind of intervention or release.
Recognising the signs of chronic stress
First we need to recognise the symptoms of low level stress. Difference in sleep quality, recurring low level headaches, less capacity to think clearly, poorer quality decision making, changes to our digestion, knotting in our tummy’s, tension in our jaws and teeth where we have them clinched. To name just a few.
Low level chronic and repeated stress can go undetected, because the symptoms creep up on us and we get used to them so we find our tolerance levels increase. And then they increase again. We learn to ‘friend’ them rather than flee or fight them.
How do you get yourself out?
The first thing we have to do is notice them and accept them. No more putting them in the closet of denial.
Radical Acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our lives as it is ~Tara Brach
This situation we find ourselves in is a shitter but it is what it is. Let go of control. Let go of trying to out maneouver it (you won’t). It’s a waste of your energy that could be put to something more meaningful. Stop trying to prove it’s wrong. These are all resistance tactics. When we don’t like things we resist them, finding cunning ways to ‘get around it’ in order to have our needs met. And I get it. I really do. We’re human. Until you know differently we default to old patterns.
There are so many things I’m craving right now that covid and our governments response to it are getting in the way of; sitting shoulder to shoulder with good friends, hugging people, holding hands, sharing food in the warmth of a favourite restaurant, going to the theatre, spa days with my besties, weekend cottage adventures, doing my work face to face, real eye contact (not the online kind urgh).
Finding peace in the bigger picture
One of the methods I’ve learnt to cope with traumatic times and deep stress responses is to place myself in the bigger picture. We can look at our lives as multi layers; The I (me as a human and my wants and needs), We (this might be your close family, wider family or team at work) and All of Us (now this level can be as wide as your brain can cope with). For me All of Us extends out to our planet — the edges of our earth and what sustains us.
Of course we must take care of ourselves, be proactive in our health and wellbeing and how we choose to show up in the world. And we are also in a miriad of relationships with others and when the group changes so does the dynamic which calls for different things from us in order to belong alone and within. The interconnectedness of all things, from plants, to people to animals to planet cannot be ignored anymore. What we choose to do to one eco system effects another.
So I find more peace when I consider myself in the interconnectedness of the bigger picture. When I ask myself and my deepest intuition, what’s going on here that’s in service of the “all of us”. It stops me from feeling the freeze or flop response of unending stress. It gives me purpose and meaning to think beyond myself. It brings me back in connection with others (even though physically there is distance).
The world is changing whether we want it to or not
I can see that smoke and mirrors are being broken as the truth about power, how it’s been abused and misused for centuries is crumbling away. I can see more people waking up to the way we consume and sustain ourselves only benefits one species whilst at the same time there are different ways we can already learn to change this. I’m seeing the imbalance of equality being highlighted like it’s never been highlighted before, black lives matters, poverty and free school meals more recently, LGBTQQ+, diversity in thinking.
We are in the eye of a storm, with nothing to do and no where to go — literally. Shut down. Our lives as we knew them are crumbling away, possibly never to return again as they were. So we can run, fight, freeze, flop or accept it is what it is and spend some time wondering what we can do differently to take good care of ourselves and those we love through these winter months.
Five ways to finding a good (enough) life in lockdown winter
Here are my top five ways to consider what you might do differently to survive and thrive through these winter months of lock down (whilst possibly making a difference to the bigger picture).
- (Embrace) Doing less.
We are notoriously crap at resting and going slow in the western world. The pace at which we live drives us to consume more, do more, be more. It’s exhausting. Burnout is on the rise as is stress related diseases b ut we carry on like fools. I’ve been there. Ive chased and pushed for that top job and ended up burnt out. It’s why I left corporate life. This giant global pause button we’re living in gives us chance to stop, to slow down, to rest, recover and reflect. The best ideas and the best creativity come when we’re relaxed, refreshed and have space for emergence. We are not computers and we are not plugged into a mainframe. Our body’s need rest. Deep rest. Get a sense of what mileage you think you’re operating at (I’ve been at 100mph before but my max is now around the 50mph before I see the signs to slow down and I can operate quite well at 30pmh but I do need layby time at 0mph to be at my best).
2. Rethink FOOD
Consider the way you consume food and what food you eat for better wellbeing for you and planet. With more time at home to cook, now is a great time to review what you eat and where you source your food from. This can feel like a mine field topic and has often left me feeling overwhelmed and like I’m not doing enough and crying for chips.
So here’s my simple advice for you. First, keep it simple. Choose one thing at a time to change otherwise you will overwhelmed with choice.
Eat more veg (buy organic if you can afford it). If you’re going to eat meat buy meat locally reared that is ethically farmed. Free range, corn fed, organic all good indicators (but free range can sometimes be misleading). Fish is more complex I find. The Good Fish Guide App is helpful.
You also need to listen to your body. Some body’s respond very well to vegan and vegetarian diets but some don’t. Id love to be vegetarian but my body needs meat. I just try and keep it to 20–30% and around key times in the month when I know my energy needs it.
Limit your processed foods. All the nasty stuff that makes you wired (and therefore less able to do point 1) is chock full into processed food. Sorry I know it tastes yummy but there’s a reason for that, it’s not real food.
Learn about flavours. We have so many amazing natural flavours from chillie to garlic to herbs and good oils like olive oil, coconut oil also add great flavour as well as feeding your body good things.
I really enjoy cooking and find that if i have a new cookbook I’m more inclined to cook things. I can recommend any of Amelia Freer’s cookbooks and my current favourite is Ottolenghi Flavour and a recent gift I received Eating for Pleasure, People and Planet (resourceful and inspiring).
3. Find a cause to support
Where to start with this one… I mean there are so many movements which are alive right now; Black Lives Matters, Free School Meals for Children, Poverty in the UK, Excluded UK, #metoo movement, Climate. And probably a whole load of local ones too.
Why support a cause? It gives you meaning beyond the I/Self. Giving to others and helping people feels good. When we feel good we feel healthier and less stressed. So it’s a win win right?
How to choose? Find something that matters to you on a deep heart level. If you care about it or have been directly affected by it, you’ll be more passionate and committed to helping out. This could be as little as donating food to your local food bank to help families struggling to provide school lunches. You can find your local food bank through Trussell Trust or donate online.
As i’m writing this blog I’m also watching The Secret; Dare to Dream. Cheesy as hell but worth a watch if you want to be reminded about the good in people. “why are you helping me” she says, “because I can”.
There is no such thing as a difficult person, there is only a person in difficulty.
4. Find ways to feel connected
One of the biggest challenges we have right now is that we can’t connect with others in the way we might want to. We are hard wired as humans for connection. We are tribal beings. We have always sat around the metaphorical campfire and shared stories. And yet here we are facing a possible Christmas with no family gatherings, or at least smaller family gatherings than we’re used to.
I’m finding this aspect of covid the hardest. I’m so nourished by belly laughter, putting the world to rights over a glass of something fizzy, linking arms on a dog walk, hugging. My work as a coach, acupuncturist and facilitators has taught me the importance of being able to look into peoples eyes, they’re the gateway to the soul. And so I feel more and more disconnected in so many ways.
This is where knowing how connected we are through our energy makes a difference to me. I used to be so sceptical. On my acupuncture training we were shown a video about some research that was done on energy. An older couple that had been together for many years were hooked up with heart monitors and asked to sit in separate parks. At certain points through the research one part of the couple was asked to recall loving memories of the other. At the same time those memories were being recalled, the heart rate on the other partner in the couple changed to a more relaxed ‘happy’ heart rate. Cunning eh? If you don’t believe that, think about your own intuition. How many times does a random friend or family member pop into your head or heart? What if that person is popping into your head for a reason? Perhaps they need you, or you need them? Why not pick up the phone or reach out next time that happens. I love sending “hey how you doing ? you keep popping into my head, just letting you know I’m thinking of you” messages. They often lead to a chat and almost always there was a reason for one or both of us.
Learnt to trust your intuition and find innovate ways to stay connected to those you love and care for. Random acts of kindness go a long way to happy heart health and feeling more connected to eachother.
5. Consume differently
I’ll keep this one shorter… what we consume we become. Consuming media channels full of hate, fear and panic? You’ll create more fear hate and panic inside you. What we think and feel we project into the world.
What kind of behaviours are helpful and resourceful? Fear or love? Hate or peace? Judgement or kindness? Holding a grudge or forgiveness? Meanness or generosity?
I have almost completely stopped watching the news. If something big is happening I can guarantee you someone will tell you and then you can go research it somewhere resourceful and useful. Watching the kind of news or reading the papers that judge, spread fear and panic — they’re not good for your health and they certainly don’t educate us to become better citizens for the future that’s coming. I feel so much better for not watching the news. I’m freer, lighter and still informed (I just do it on my terms).
Also related to consumption is where you buy. Money makes people powerful. Powerful people don’t always do good by others. Power needs to be shared. The world needs to return to a more equal place where more people can thrive than the elite few. We don’t all need to be rich to live well. When you start thinking about Christmas why not consider smaller local brands. Small businesses that are trying to make a living for their own family’s. It’s worth doing a little research and finding out which of your favourite brands are doing their best to be ethical, sustainable and treat their workers well. That way you know whatever you spend your money is going to good people trying to do good. That way the good keeps circulating our economy and perhaps it might just balance out with the bad and create better balance.
I’m ever the eternal optimist.
If you’re looking for more positivity, rest and feeling lighter clearer and rebooted this winter then you may be interested in my one day Autumn Online Retreat. Details can be found here