By Warrior’s Way Trainer, Laur Sabourin
In the past two weeks, have you felt afraid, lonely, depressed, scared, or angry?
Yeah, me too.
When our body interprets a situation as threatening, we tend to respond with one of three responses: fight, flight, or freeze. This powerful survival instinct releases a cascade of hormones that can get us through a life-or-death encounter. This response was never meant to be a week-, month-, or year-long state of existence; rather, it is a quick surge of energy that is meant to protect us in times of physical danger.
In the long term, living life in a “startle pattern” of repetitive fight or flight responses can make us feel anxious, break down our relationships, and even have long-term physical health consequences.
If this sounds familiar to you right now, you are probably wondering “OK, so what do I do differently? How do I break out of a pattern that evolution wove into my DNA?” This question seems especially hard to answer in the middle of a pandemic, when we are faced with new and unpredictable stressors every day.
One answer is to reconnect with your body and address the situation with vulnerability. In this way, we learn to encounter stress–not as a threat to our existence–but as an opportunity to learn and grow.
We use a simple drill to shift our attention from fight/flight/freeze to vulnerability and connection with ourselves and others:
The 1-2-3 Drill.
- Tough Love
If you’ve been reading these lessons for a while, you’ve seen this drill applied to relationships with others. Today, we are going to shift our attention inward, focusing on developing a healthier relationship with ourselves and our own needs.
This is an example from my week:
On Tuesday night, my head was spinning. I trained hard on Monday, staying busy to drown out the stream of news on my phone and thoughts in my head. I was physically exhausted and mentally drained from performing to the world that I had “everything under control.” I called my Mom to check in on her. I kept the conversation short, told her that I was doing fine, and hung up. As soon as I ended the call, I collapsed onto my bed, sobbing.
I was overcome with anxiety about what the future would hold, guilt about not being able to do more to help others, and frustration that I wasn’t floating effortlessly through the situation on waves of positive thinking.
I paused for a moment, took a deep breath, and started this drill.
- In Acceptance, I recognize the reality of the situation. I also accept that, given the situation, I am doing the best I can. During this step, I find it helpful to describe the situation to myself, either out loud, in writing, or just in my head. It’s important to do this without judgement. It’s just an observation of what is happening.
- In this situation, I saw myself lying on the ground feeling anxious, guilty, and frustrated. I recognized that my actions were related to the current circumstances.
- In Defenselessness, I practice compassion. I allow the situation to be what it is without passing judgement. I also check in with my body and allow myself to feel what is going on. I notice where I am holding tension and spend time relaxing the parts of my body that are contracted or resistant to being offered love.
- On the ground in my room, I started practicing this step by taking a deep breath. I kept crying, but a little bit gentler. I said, out loud, “It’s okay buddy,” using endearing and comforting language with myself. I rocked back and forth for a moment, releasing my shoulders away from my ears and unclenching my fists. I didn’t try to replace the feelings or get through them as quickly as possible. I just laid there, offering myself the chance to relax and check in with what I needed.
- Tough Love
- In Tough Love, I take action to address an unmet need. I do this with a small step that is both tough and loving. It is tough because it encourages me to be brave. Taking care of a need, especially when we are under threat and we want to resist accepting the situation, can feel really challenging. When I take a step outside of my comfort zone, even if it is to take care of myself, it will require strength. We use the word love to remind ourselves to take this step with compassion, honoring that we have needs for comfort, safety, and security in addition to our needs for stress, learning, and growth.
- In this situation, my first small step was to stay where I was. I didn’t pick up my phone. I didn’t distract myself with other activities. I took five minutes to breathe and let myself rest on the floor. This was hard for me. It felt like a scary time to be quiet and create space for unsolicited thoughts to come up. I waited, though, and let them come and go. Then, when I had rested, I called my Mom. I let her know that I was having a hard night. We cried together. When I hung up, I let her know that she was important to me and that I loved her.
At the end of the drill, I hadn’t changed the situation. I didn’t have an action plan for the next six months or a list of the things that I could control to make myself feel more focused. Instead, I had allowed myself to connect with my body in a new way. When I practiced the 1-2-3 Drill, I taught my body that, while this felt challenging, I was not staring down the face of a large predator or escaping a burning building. By choosing vulnerability, I created trust with myself that I was strong enough to survive, and even grow and learn, in moments of stress.
Practice Tip: 1-2-3 Drill
Practice the 1-2-3 Drill with yourself when you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, sad, or otherwise struggling with a certain feeling or emotion.
- Recognize the reality of the situation, making observations without judgement. Accept that, given the situation, you are doing the best you can.
- Practice compassion. Allow the situation to be what it is. Check in with your body and allow yourself to feel what is going on. Notice where you are holding tension and spend time relaxing the parts of your body that are contracted or resistant to being offered love.
- Tough Love:
- Take action to address an unmet need. Do this with a small step that encourages you to meet your needs for stress, learning, and growth and comfort, safety, and security.