We are emerging from the safest places we could find to exist during the COVID-19 pandemic. A year and a half ago we learned our worlds would need to change drastically. Working in person from the job site was a risky option. Some of us lost our jobs because they could not be done remotely. All of us found the the most secure places available to us to live our lives while supporting our families...and our coping mechanisms atrophied.
Now it is time to rebuild. As the world slowly reopens, we must develop the emotional musculature to face a changed planet. And just like building real muscle, it is going to take time, some discomfort and a goal.
The pandemic took its toll on all of us in some way. I discovered last July that I had been buying jars peanut butter every week. Big, double-packaged jars and smaller single jars...but all crunchy. I don't really eat peanut butter much anymore, but my cortisol-soaked brain loves it, apparently. Peanut butter is a staple of nourishment for a person living in a subterranean bunker, avoiding a plague. You can put in on anything available to give you the fat and protein necessary to sustain your life. A slice of bread, a cracker, a spoon or your finger will do nicely. I collected ten jars of peanut butter, placing them in the pantry, basement and closets like a squirrel hiding nuts for a long winter. There may be some jars we still haven't found, which is exciting to think about. I thought I was fine. I worked way more than I would ever recommend to a client. To be honest, I only realized I had worked so much in December, after the work was done. I worked out, but slept and ate less well. The chip aisle was rarely skipped from March until July. We were fortunate to have good friends with whom we could pod, but our circle was them and our adult children. We could not always see our kids because they had exposures. We were on high alert.
So, my mantra for 2021 is "Do hard shit on purpose every day!" And I am encouraging my clients to challenge themselves with hard things too. Our bodies evolved while being challenged daily. Our cardiovascular system thrives on challenges, and our brain does too. The extra circulation which occurs during a physical challenge, bathes our brain in our body's chemical goodness. Serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine and endorphins are all released and absorbed during exercise. Start slow...walk across the house, walk down the road and back, lift, run, jog, walk, yoga or cycle and you will feel the emotional benefits as well as the the physical ones. After all...what is good for our heart is good for our brain.
Another hard thing we can do is be still. As one of my favorite clients (they are all my favorites!) pointed out, the 30 minutes she spends in a bubble bath three times a week are the hardest thing for her. It is stillness that has become foreign to us as we have spent the last year and a half in a constant state of down the road thinking. Be still, be silent, be mindful. Meditation is great. Pick a school of thought and find a guided meditation on YouTube or on a phone app and focus on your breath. Don't plan on being an instant mediation success. They call it a "mediation practice" for a reason. It takes work and development of the neural pathway to be truly good at it. Getting to bed early can also be hard, but has tremendous effects on our ability to cope and feel well.
Pick your hard thing and do it...on purpose...every day. As you more intentionally challenge yourself, notice your ability to cope with the unexpected return and serve you well. I'll keep taking ice cold showers and skipping the peanut butter aisle.