Managing Well-Being During a Crisis

This is a transcript of what I shared on April 7, 2020, during a conference call with healthcare workers for a national organization. They said it was helpful. Please share, especially with those working in ​any ​medical service.

Hello everyone. I’m going to talk about managing well-being during a crisis where we are all grievers. I’m thankful for the leaders of your organization who value education. I’m moved by their letter of gratitude to you. I’m also thankful for all the helpers, for your courage, compassion, dedication, and grace during something we have never experienced. I’m grateful for the experts, motivated by their own profound grief to study and share their research to improve our well-being.

I will share what I have observed to be helpful for most people, including myself. It comes from working with grievers and years of education I received from world-renowned experts, including those with a Ph.D. in Psychology, Psychiatry, and Neuroscience, which is the study of the mind and nervous system. My intention is for this to be uplifting and inspiring. I won’t use jargon or share sad stories. Some will feel validated about what they are already doing. Others can implement whatever resonates. The bottom line is knowledge is empowering and can calm down fear of the unknown. What you learn can be used to influence others, including children with age-appropriate language. My dream is for children to grow up knowing how to grieve well.

There is very encouraging information about grief. It is natural, although most of us are socialized otherwise. Research with thousands of grievers by Dr. George Bonanno with Columbia University revealed that over half in his studies were resilient, which can be learned. All experts agree healing is possible. If you experience a dark, scary moment, hear my voice, and remember, there is always hope.

Sit back, take a deep breath, and release any tension from your shoulders. Being relaxed will help you absorb and retain this vital information about the dynamic between grief, thought, emotion, and the body.

Avoiding grief can lead to fear when you are in it. Grief is rarely taught in medical or behavioral professions, so many of us only know what we have been told, which often is misinformation. Grief does not just occur after the death of a loved one. It is the feelings experienced after the end or change of anything meaningful to you. It also may be felt when you are empathetic about someone else’s loss. Grief is as individual as our unique lives.

Common normal responses to grief include trouble with concentrating, sleeping, and eating. It can feel like an emotional roller coaster. If you experience any of this, know you’re OK, especially if you practice healthy behaviors to avoid ongoing pain and fatigue, shutting-down, or falling-apart.

Recognize that survival resources like comfort food, alcohol, and social media only provide short-term relief. A danger of excessively using these distractions is that they can become an addiction. Use strategies I will share with you that are proven to support your well-being long-term.

There was a time where I knew my thoughts were driving my despair, but I had no idea how to change them. I learned we can manage our thoughts by understanding how the mind works. There are two parts. The subconscious mind is like a supercomputer recording everything you experience. The conscious mind is where you are aware and can be mindful. When you are not using your conscious mind, your subconscious programming kicks in instantaneously.

Your subconscious mind programs from birth. By the time you are 35 years old, unless you make conscious changes, your life is 95% your programming. The subconscious is robotic and where habits exist. It wants to be efficient for you, but new grief can trigger past grief and cause you to overreact if the past grief was more painful. The subconscious says, “When this happens, they do that, so I will make that happen again.” The subconscious is resistant to change, which can cause intense cravings. Some then choose their comfort zone and decide change is too hard.

The amazing conscious part of your mind is easy to change. It is where you think, reason, and are creative.  It facilitates processing adversity and meaning-making. It may seem impossible that anything good can come from a pandemic, but I assure you it can. After the death of two children, I now cherish life and loved ones like I never imagined I  could. When you are conscious, you are in control to use your free will to choose. The way you manage your thoughts is to mindfully discontinue unconstructive thought and program constructive thoughts that serve your well-being.

To discontinue unconstructive thoughts not serving you for any length of time, mindfully notice them, and make a better choice. Your subconscious mind will recognize you are no longer using those thoughts and will stop producing them. Start from a place of self-love because you just didn’t have this knowledge before. Grievers are notorious for being hard on themselves, which only makes well-being more challenging. Pay close attention to idle times prone to the subconscious mind sneaking in unconstructive thought loops which can go on for hours. Use reminders to be mindful, like post-it notes or a sign. Practicing and being patient will make this easier.

Because the subconscious is so strong, to replace unconstructive programming with thoughts meaningful to you, it is critical to be prepared. Note the significant things you want to focus on. Examples include acts of kindness, gratitude lists, listening to audiobooks, and mind or body techniques. Affirmations are handy because you can use them anywhere. You can only have one thought at a time so even just saying “There is so much love” repeatedly will stop an unconstructive thought. I use this to fall asleep. Stay informed, especially from your organization, but be strategic about news. You can tape it and fast forward the blaming and arguing. Drag out pleasurable experiences and let love and joy become the majority of your 95% programming. 

Managing your thoughts is valuable because thought creates emotion. Let me say that again. Thought creates emotion! Emotion is energy meant to be felt to move it through us. It is an individual process based on thought and why it is fine if someone doesn’t cry or get emotional. Emotion can be challenging for those who are sensitive. Research psychologist Dr. Elaine Aron says 20% of women and men are born sensitive, and we can’t toughen up or learn to have a stiff upper lip, so we shouldn’t try.

Release emotion assertively rather than aggressively by feeling and talking about your emotions and related facts about what happened without judgment. Because humans are built for connection, it may further promote healing by sharing with an understanding good listener. We should not also create and dwell on unconstructive thoughts. For example, express any sadness about the pandemic but don’t choose and dwell on thoughts like, “life will never be good again,” which is not true and what we have to look forward to.

Suppressing emotion can be helpful when possible or necessary but is often misused. Being in denial or fearing judgment about healthily expressing emotions does not support your well-being. The number one reason emotions are avoided is because of fearing pain and not having the ability to recover. It can seem illogical, but the opposite is true. You get stuck by not feeling your emotions because suppressed feelings pile up causing long-term suffering.

It is good to plan time to grieve regularly for new grief and gradually for old grief if it comes up to avoid being overwhelmed. Grieving privately at home can help prevent exploding at work. Trust the process because it will bring you peace. It may help to have a designated place to grieve at work. Some call it a quiet room, but the bathroom works too.

There is scientific evidence that thought and emotion affect the body. Happy thoughts make you feel good and release healthy chemicals that improve immunity and the opposite can lead to disease. Suppressing emotion uses tremendous energy that leaves you exhausted. Stay connected to your body and allow sensations. Know that shaking or trembling is your body’s natural way to release excess energy for survival, so it does not get stuck in your body. Allow it to happen.

Understanding the dynamic between grief, thought, emotion, and the body can help you manage your well-being through this pandemic and for the rest of your life.

You are in control of your thoughts unless you allow a program that says you aren’t. When feeling strong emotion, thought is programmed faster and deeper, so do not allow new unconstructive thoughts to be programmed. Wrap love around old unconstructive thought patterns as they come up because you know what they are about as you instantly move your attention to something meaningful. Release emotion as it shows up or as soon as possible. Be a conduit and not a container for emotional energy. Allow grief and joy to coexist. Noticing BOTH comfortable and uncomfortable body sensations, thoughts, and emotions allows us to become self-aware and empowered over time on how to return to a state of well-being. Support others to feel and express, but don’t enable unconstructive dwelling. Move away to protect your well-being.

Role model, share, and teach others who are open to learning. Listening is more effective than lecturing or saying things that may unknowingly be hurtful. Phrases like “That makes sense,”  “I hear you,” and “I am here with you” are low risk.

While you are giving so much to others, ensure love, compassion, and forgiveness for yourself. My current favorite constructive thought is, “Even with social distancing, we can still touch each other’s hearts.” I hope I have touched yours. Thank you for listening.

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