Uncertainty, Fear and Regulation

Uncertainty, Fear and Regulation

Right now with the COVID-19 Health Crisis, the weight of uncertainty and fear is understandably taking a toll on the world’s mental health. For many of us, we’re dealing with the first pandemic in our lives and nation. It’s scary to look to leaders who don’t have concrete answers. It’s scary for children to look to parents and teachers with no concrete answers. Not having answers is downright scary.

As a therapist, parent, empath, and someone who vacillates from reasonable and emotion mind pretty quickly, I’ve sat and contemplated on how to approach this with myself (first), my clients, my child, parent and community. For now, this is what I’ve settled on:

  1. Validation of your emotions – whichever emotion you are feeling, take time to sit, feel it (them if more than one – which is totally normal), honor it and know that a rush of emotions is completely normal for a crisis of this magnitude. Anxiety is a normal emotion. We need it. It alerts us to danger and threat.
  2. Accept the present moment exactly how it is. How? You state the facts about the present moment. “We are indeed experiencing a health crisis for a new virus we don’t know a whole lot about.”
  3. Accept the uncertainty of the situation, knowing that we might have a lot more questions than answers right now and we are all making it up as we go.
  4. Focus on regulating your nervous system. We can’t problem solve, our organs don’t function properly, and critical thinking goes out the window with an overactive nervous system. You might be finding yourself catastrophizing situations, or feeling nervous energy in your body. For me, my thoughts were calm, but I noticed that I was talking and moving very fast, and agitation throughout my body. My brain is definitely trying to hold it together for my child, clients, staff and family, but my body feels it and and it’s reacting. The more steps and exercises we can engage in to calm and regulate the nervous system, the clearer our answers and problem solving will be. To help with this, I’ve come up with a Coloring Book titled “Coloring with Uncertainty, Fear & Regulation.” It’s a free pdf download that you can access here. No strings attached. More details about it below.
  5. Problem solve anything that’s solvable or workable. Right now we’re all trying to problem solve the big inconveniences in our lives, how to work and maintain connection via social distancing, and adapt to this moment. Once our nervous system is regulated, we can make better decisions. We can logically think of all the things we might need, make a list and execute (and even creatively replace and modify as needed). For example, all the people who bought toilet paper instead of food? Or generators instead of basic food supplies. Or cases of water bottles instead of Brita water filters. When we are in panic mode, our answers or solutions don’t make sense. Regulate your nervous system before reacting.
  6. Lastly, repeat steps 1-5 as needed or when starting to feel anxious.

I strongly encourage each of you to come up with a list of things that help regulate your nervous system. Keep that list at eye level where you can see it when you’re feeling nervous, anxious or that agitated energy in your body.

I’ve added tips, mantras and different simple exercises you can do quickly (and for free) to help with regulating your nervous system. Download the “Coloring with Uncertainty, Fear & Regulation” for you and/or your loved ones. See below for sample pages. Now, it’s available in Spanish here.

May you and your loved ones all be well, safe and without harm.

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