Our experience with the Novel Coronavirus shifts everyday. Some of us are feeling new levels of fear, anxiety, stress, and/or scarcity. But what is really behind these feelings? Is the crisis the cause or just an accelerant? Can we cope better if we develop more emotional resilience?
To help me investigate these questions, I reached out to Anat Peri. She’s a transformational coach with over 15 years experience in development work. Her focus is on helping people see their emotions as allies so that they can find the success and happiness they desire.
Anat describes suffering as a state when you are in an argument with reality. It is your rejection of what’s happening either externally or internally. You might be resisting the truth, spending emotion wishing it was different or that it would go away. When we deny the present moment experience, we create suffering.
What is Emotional Resilience?
We can’t always control our circumstances and the emotions they evoke. However, Anat says that we can build our capacity to be with any emotion. When you know how to be with an emotion, you can handle it and be resilient through any circumstance.
Emotions vs. Sensations
There is a difference between emotions and sensations. To understand the difference, you have to look at the context we give to emotions. We label our emotions (happy, sad, scared, frustrated, etc) based on the language we learned as kids but emotions are actually ‘energy in motion’. Before we knew how to label these emotions, when we were kids, we simply experienced the energy in motion by crying, screaming or laughing, etc. When we started to understand what we called these sensations, or feelings, we also started to categorize them as good or bad. Laughing is good. Crying is bad. That’s when emotions moved out of being a feeling or sensation and became a thought. We moved them out of our body and into our head.
Emotional Paradigm Shift
At the time of recording this episode, the world is in the grips of the Novel Coronavirus and COVID-19. The pandemic has forced many people to deal with new or heightened emotions. If we think of emotions as energy in motion we can change the way we address these feelings. We can move from the head reaction and return to the natural body reaction. When we feel our emotions in the body, we can process them much better and faster then when we let our minds take over.
How to Deal with Intense Emotions
Shifting your emotional response from your mind back to your body can be challenging since this conditioning has existed from infancy. Anat shares an exercise in this podcast that starts by seeing your emotion as a child. The next step is to be the mother to that child and offer up unconditional love and acceptance. You don’t have to fix that emotion, you just have to sit with it in love.
Another approach Anat shares is to go deeper into the feeling and really explore the sensation of it; experience it in all its forms. Does it have a temperature, a color, texture? What size is the vibration? Is it moving?
Why Numbing Doesn’t Work
Many people ignore their emotions by distracting themselves with busy-ness, self-medicating, or overeating but that does not allow you to deal with that emotion. This is why so many people are experiencing difficult emotions right now because as our lives slow down, we are forced to confront the emotions we’ve been numbing.
Anat suggests you think of yourself as a garden. The things that you don’t want to feel, those emotions you’ve been avoiding are weeds. Many people simply trim those weeds with numbing behaviours (watching TV, eating ice cream, working long hours, etc). But, when you trim the weeds, they just come back uglier and stronger. This can cause additional anxiety, stress, sleeplessness, and other issues.
The key to keeping your garden weed free is to deal with those weeds from the root. You have to figure out what the sensation is that has translated (by our minds) into this emotion. Sometimes these roots are very long, so you have to keep digging until you get down to the very base sensation.
90 Seconds of Feeling
Once you know what that root cause is, the next step is to experience that emotion. This can be very difficult as we are fighting a lifetime of conditioning that tells us feeling this sensation is bad. But, once you really get to the root sensation and you really step into feeling it and give it permission, the process only takes 90 seconds. After that, the body has processed that feeling and you can move on. If you don’t feel that release, then dig deeper – you haven’t reached the real root.
Creating a Sense of Safety
During times like these people want to feel safe within themselves. In order to do that, we need to stop letting our ego and our mind control our experience.
There are three things Anat suggests we do to cultivate feelings of safety:
When we feel safe, we hold our body a certain way. The first step in feeling safe is to sit the way we would sit if we are feeling safe.
When we are scared, we breathe differently. So, in order to cultivate feelings of safety, we have to breathe as if we are calm. Watch for inadvertent shifts in your breath like rapid, shallow chest-breaths or holding your breath. Switch to rhythmic, deep belly breathing.
What we tell ourselves triggers a response. Instead, Anat suggests you replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts or mantras.
Put these three steps together to ‘prime for safety’. Anat says to sit in a meditation position with palms up, take some deep breaths into your diaphragm and imagine breathing your whole body. Next, repeat your positive mantras. You might say, ‘I’m safe to be in my body. I’m safe to experience this. I’m safe to feel. I’m safe.’ Keep repeating these mantras until you feel your whole system relax and you feel yourself drop out of your head and into your body; into yourself.
Anat shares more techniques for feeling safe and for processing emotions in this episode which are well worth a listen.
Experiencing the Now is Freedom
This inner work takes time and commitment. Facing your ego, your inner critic, the stories you tell yourself and a lifetime of conditioning is not going to go away without a bit of work. But, the work leads to freedom. You can start to access this freedom right now by giving yourself permission to be with exactly what is happening right now. You’re not denying it anymore and that makes you free.
We wrapped up this episode with Anat sharing one of her favorite exercises to breed positive emotions. She calls it gratitude popcorn. Think of making popcorn. The kernels don’t all pop at once; there’s a few that pop right away and then slowly the others start going and then suddenly they’re all popping. She says gratitude can be like this. If you start by being grateful for one thing (say what you’re grateful for and say thank you), then the next thing you’re grateful for will pop into your head. Pretty soon, your gratitude will be popping like popcorn. By the end, she says she feels elated from the positive vibrations she’s generated with her gratitude.
For Now and For the Future
We are talking about emotional resilience now because so many people don’t know how to react to how the COVID-19 pandemic is making them feel. Using the techniques that Anat shares in this episode, we can build up our emotional resilience which will serve us now and in the future.
Related Podcast Episodes:
EPISODE #49 Demystifying Coronavirus w/ Inna Topiler
EPISODE #052 6 Ways to Improve Your Life When Self-Isolating
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