As my sister says, “You go to therapy so I don’t have to.”
As I always say, “Jokes on you because therapy rules!”
And that’s especially handy right now when we are all at risk for developing a level of post-traumatic stress by the time this pandemic is all said and done. What turns time-limited stress into a long-term problem is when the mind and body continue to respond as if the threat is active even when it’s over.
Avoiding future problems
According to my wise therapist Kate, we need to be very intentional right now about acknowledging that not everything is COVID. As in, the breakfast I’m eating right now is not COVID. This shower I’m taking right now is not COVID. COVID is not the book I’m reading or the walk I’m taking or the bedtime story I’m reading or the email I’m answering. In other words, COVID is not my entire life. But if we allow COVID to live in our minds and bodies 24/7, then we are training our mind and body to see threat in everything, even when it’s not there.
This level of vigilance often feels like it keeps us safe, reinforcing our sense of control. But as the coronavirus has made so clear, ultimate control is not really an accurate depiction of how life works and therefore not the best direction of our energy. According to Kate, our true power is in choice – how we choose to be present and how we choose to participate in whatever is happening.
How we are present for ourselves right now is more important than ever. A doctor told me the other day about how he has never in his life seen a patient and been anything less than 100% all there. Now, 80% of him is there as a doctor and the other 20% is wishing for a 6-foot stethoscope he can toss one end to as he wonders whether this is the one who will infect him and his family. This new layer in the provider/patient relationship piled on top of all the layers of protective gear is creating a new, bewildering distance. He feels both aggrieved by the situation and critical of himself for being less than all there.
I asked Kate how this doctor would work with choice and presence in this situation. She said he would compassionately observe his fear while putting his best into the 80% he had available. By doing this, he would no longer be in battle with himself. And from this neutral position (neutrality being a form of compassion), he is now in a better place to make decisions and feel more accepting of the situation at hand. I think that is about the best example of what being present-in-action looks like and the good that can come from it.
The freedom of choice
As I work with myself to shift my focus from control to choice, I am discovering something unexpected: how freeing it is only to be responsible for making the best choice I can rather than holding myself impossibly responsible for controlling the world.
May you discover the amazing benefit of therapy at whatever points in your life you could use a hand.
This was originally published as one of the weekly columns on being whole and healthy I write for Northern Light Health where I run the employee wellness program