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Day at a time. Coping with overwhelming feelings. 24/03/2020

27 Mar 2020

Last night I watched the latest Boris Bulletin and was letting that sink in and then, beep, text message from GP practice identifying me as someone at risk of severe illness if I catch Coronavirus.

I had been feeling like I was doing okay, staying in and practicing meditation for the last week. Feeling so much safer that at the weekend I ventured out to a garden centre and to a pharmacy and food shop. Now today, I remember the reason for anxiety and fear, it helps us take the necessary action in a situation. Have I taken an unnecessary risk? I am noticing it rising in my body, my chest tight and feeling tears behind my eyes. Can I sit quietly and feel my feet on the floor, anchoring me and see what this fear feels like in my body? Where is it? Tightness in my chest and upper throat and jaw and now back of my neck and base of my skull and…. now it’s gone. But maybe I can keep gently working with it like this, like it is a scared child in a room, giving it the time it needs to come closer and show itself fully.

How to find the healthy balance of taking good care of myself and feeling calm.

……. that evening feeling overwhelmed and alone and needing space and silence to just be. I couldn’t take anything else in. I just needed to sit and be with it. Feeling the sadness and wanting to be with it. Remembering the chant of the monastics at Plum Village France, Namo Avalokiteshvara which I know connects me with all the sadness. Avolokiteshvara is a person who is known to have a capacity of deep listening, of compassion.

Here it is on YouTube. Listening itself is a meditation.

Paying attention to how I feel is self-compassion. Stopping what I am doing, the busyness and distraction, and being with what is. Allowing the feeling that is already there the space to be.

Hint: It is perfectly normal to be anxious and fearful about our situation right now. It is normal to feel sad about what is happening in the world, the suffering. The practice is to recognise these feelings when they arise and acknowledge them – anxiety is here and how I can be with it, sadness is here. Even just saying it like that “anxiety is here” rather than “I am anxious” helps create some distance, turns the volume down and reminds us that it is temporary. Research has demonstrated the benefits of this simple shift in how we describe our emotions.

Practice: Feeling overwhelmed STOP

At any point during the day when you feel yourself drifting into fear, anxiety and overwhelm remember:

Stop what you are doing, put things down for a moment and take a pause

Take a few deep breaths, feeling the sensations of the breath in the body, how the body expands as you breathe in. As you do this, bring your attention to the sensations of your feet on the floor and your bum on the chair. Notice the weight of your body supported by the chair and the ground underneath

Observe your experience just as it is, the thoughts, feelings and body sensations. As you observe what’s on your mind, notice that thoughts are not facts. Notice any emotion present, remembering that naming it turns the fear circuit down and may have a calming effect. Be curious as to how this emotion feels in the body, how is it expressed, where do you feel it?

Proceed with intentionality, with something that will support you in the moment. Maybe this is talking to a friend, listening to a favourite piece of music, taking some fresh air, having a bath, watching a comedy.

This practice can be used as often as needed during the day and is a way of responding to how we feel with kindness rather than reacting and thereby causing ourselves and maybe others more suffering.