This has been a year of the unknown, the uncertain, the unpredictable. Granted, life is always unpredictable, but this year is especially so. I know so many people posting about how they are so excited for 2021, or for this year to be over. It seems like the new year will bring with it new hope, or a clean slate. I don’t believe this is true. Unfortunately, the things that are certain are not super exciting. It is certain that we don’t know when the pandemic will end. It is certain that we don’t know how the elections will pan out, or what the future under our elected leaders will look like. It is certain that a new year won’t magically put a bandaid on all of the suffering we are experiencing as humans. That might sound bleak, but knowing that all of this is certain is helping me get grounded right here, right now.
We’re all so anxious for this period of time to be over, and that is a valid feeling. I'm so excited to be able to travel back to Belgium to see my cherished friends. To drink a beer in the old market without wearing a mask, or worrying about if interacting with them will put them in danger. I’m excited to actually pick a date for the wedding celebration that my husband and I had planned back in March without worrying if we’ll have to reschedule again.
Right now, I see the world as being shaken at its root. The root chakra is associated with our tribal power - essentially our connection to our sense of belonging. And right now a lot of that is being challenged. We’re becoming increasingly divided (politically and ideologically) from those we considered to be our fellow citizens. We’re losing our sense of connection from people we grew up knowing to be our brothers and sisters. Not only is our sense of belonging to a nation being challenged, but our literal geographical connection to others is almost non-existent. We are literally isolated and therefore disconnected from our tribes. Whether we have a small isolation pod or we’re out here on our own, we are disconnected not only from loved ones, but from all of the members of our community that come into our lives on a daily basis and shape the world we live in.
How do we get grounded when the earth beneath us is shifting and disappearing with no end in sight? I’m reframing the way I’m taking care of myself and what I need in order to feel supported in this era of change. It is easier said than done, but I’ve found a few practices (with the help of my therapist) that are helping me find meaning in my days, when so many of them have felt meaningless and uncertain.
Seeing a therapist: This was a game changer for me. I had a therapist in grad school and it was essential, not only for getting through the stress and anxiety that comes with writing a master's thesis, but also for enjoying my time there. I use BetterHelp for online therapy (I live in a remote part of the country, so finding a therapist was a bit of a challenge). Some employers offer mental health care in their health insurance plans, and there are some amazing resources that provide counseling on a sliding scale if finances make access to mental health care an obstacle.
Meditating: About a week into meditating daily, I noticed a complete shift in how I experience my days. I went from stressed, isolated, and sad a lot of the time, to only brief blips of sadness or anxiety. Not only that, but I can manage these moments a lot better. Meditating combined with therapy was probably my best decision over the last several months.
Knowing it’s ok if I don’t do yoga asana every day: We all have goals and want to stick to them, and some days it just doesn’t happen. Knowing that my yoga practice will always be there is a comfort. I know that just because I wasn’t able to practice today, that doesn’t mean the day is ruined. It just means that I didn’t do yoga today and my mat will be there tomorrow.
Self-regulating with breath work: There are times when I notice I’m getting particularly overwhelmed, and learning how to identify those moments has helped me in managing them. Whenever I notice that feeling of emotional overload coming in, I acknowledge it, and I take several even breaths. I get up from my desk and make myself a cup of tea, and when I’m ready, I use my breath practices to help me navigate these emotions.
Getting grounded: I mean this one literally. I put my hands in some dirt. I water my herbs in my windowsill and I prune away the dead leaves. A few minutes of taking care of my herbs (Easy to care for herbs only! None of that complicated Rosemary stuff.) leaves me feeling more at ease. So far I have found that basil, chives, and mint are pretty reliable to grow in my windowsill.
Moving slowly and with intention: This is something I’ve been doing a lot of recently. I never realized how fast I move, and how quickly I race through thoughts. Moving more slowly while I cook, washing dishes slowly, and slowing down while I walk my dog, I notice more. I breathe easier. The knot in my chest gets a little looser.
Reaching out when I need help or comfort: Sometimes I can self regulate. Sometimes my breath control works. Sometimes playing with my dog helps. And sometimes, none of those things do. So I confide in my husband, call my old roommate, facetime my mom, or text my therapist. Connecting with people, even remotely, helps me when I can’t help myself.
Returning to activities that I did as a child: This one might surprise you, but I have found that reading books I loved growing up (Harry Potter), making some of my favorite childhood food (Kraft Three Cheese Mac’n’Cheese anybody?), and watching shows I used to watch (currently going through Gilmore Girls), have been a comfort to me. With all of the change happening, it’s nice to return to parts of me that I have missed. Paying attention to my inner child reminds me of the things I love, and how the world has derailed me from the person I was meant to be. I’m not saying I want to live in the past, but I do want to remember the things that gave me joy, especially when I’m feeling disconnected from myself and others around me. As we get older everything becomes centered on how to do well at work, make money, pay off student loans, get that promotion, keep a job during a pandemic, make sure that everybody in our lives feels loved and tended to. That doesn’t leave very much room to be the person that we actually are. So ending the day with a few chapters of Harry Potter is a good way for me to remember who I am when the world underneath my feet is so turbulent and unpredictable.
There is so much uncertainty right now and so it’s even more important for us to take care of ourselves, whatever that looks like. I don’t believe that these times will last forever, but I’m going to try my best to take care of myself until the shaking stops.