The Practice of Calm
In my last blog post I talked about accepting and being curious about the "here" I am in. I relayed the (hopefully) encouraging idea that if we make the effort to look around in our "here" with curiosity, it tends to grab hands with calm and bring her along too. And when we are curious, we automatically begin the process of acceptance* because curiosity requires a state of openness and vulnerability.
As I was thinking about these ideas, I realized that they work backwards and forwards. Start with any of these-- calm, acceptance or curiosity and you will generally stumble onto one of the others. And then I listened to yet another amazing blog post by Brené Brown who had some wonderful, research-supported ideas about calm that I want to regift to you. But first, a story.
One of the things I have observed about myself lately in this COVID-19 state of close-quarters-with-my-whole-family is that I have NOT been staying very calm with my son. He and I have many similarities. One, we are both highly sensitive. Two, we are both anxiously-flavored. Any of you who might also have these qualities or know others who have these qualities know that a mix of sensitivity and anxiety can be incendiary.
Another thing you should know about my son is that he is very much like my father. My beloved father loves to be right and his goal in any conflict is to win. I grew up learning how to argue and debate by watching him (and fighting with him) but my introversion did not allow me to process words and thoughts very quickly, so I never won. But I definitely learned to try. My son, however, has an especially-fast brain processing speed. Are you starting to get the picture?
Here's what it looks like-- everything has become a debate. All of our grief and weariness of being locked in manifests into argument with the sole goal being to win (maybe I am like my Dad, too!). Even compliments disintegrate into argument. There is palpable tension in our house and I find myself tight, tense and straining my voice constantly. Worse yet, I can't figure out how I keep getting into these situations with him.
And then, the universe dumped this podcast in my lap. I highly recommend this listen. It's relatively short and if you don't know if you are an under-functioner or an over-functioner you will get an extra bonus. What I loved about it most is that it gave practical and data-driven tools to cultivate a practice of calm.
Let me distill it for you:
First, I really like her definition of Calm:
CALM: Perspective, mindfulness and the ability to manage emotional reactivity
Here are some ways to practice calm per Brené Brown's research data.
1. Try to be slow to respond and quick to think, "Do I have all the information I need to make a decision or form a response?" Usually when we feel panic it's actually due to a lack of data.
2. Stay mindful about the effect that calm has on anxious situations. Anxiety and panic are contagious. But so is calm. Notice how if you pause, others pause. If you lower the volume of your voice, others get quieter. Why? Largely because of mirror-neurons.
3. Commit to the practice. While you can get there within one situation, you will have to renew your commitment and practice regularly. It's not like riding a bike where you learn the skill once and then can then go "off-line".
4. How to practice:
It's important to note that if you weren't raised by parents who practiced calm, your default will likely be to over-function or under-function in times of stress. Don't beat yourself up because you aren't naturally calm. I was not raised with parents who practiced calm. Most of us were not raised by parents who practiced calm. Most of us have to learn and practice. Every. Day.
After I listened to this podcast, I renewed my commitment to calm. For the last two days I have been quite deliberate with this in a few ways. One, I pause after my son says anything. I think about what he is really trying to say-- the spirit of what he is trying to say. Two, I deliberately speak more quietly and slowly.
By doing this I became aware of many things. One thing, in particular, was so helpful. What I started to hear, beneath his words was, "I'm scared." and "I'm worried." and "What if I get sick?" and "What if you get sick?" and "I feel insecure." And when I could hear those very real fears I was so much more able to give him what he really needs.
A calm mother who embodies the message, "It's going to be okay."
And, "We will get through this."
And, "I love you."
The result has been much more impactful than I thought. I'm actually a bit shocked at the positive impact on the entire family of me when I practice calm. I am realizing that (fortunately and unfortunately) I lead the energy in my family quite a bit.
Without a doubt this practice will be a mess. I will have days where I feel successful and days that will feel like epic fails. That's okay.
I say "Hello" to both.
*be kind to yourself and remember that acceptance is a process, not an outcome. Much like forgiveness, we don't arrive and stay put. We weave in and out of acceptance and... denial, rejection, defensiveness, etc. Acceptance is about coming back to the well again and again- committing to that openness, curiosity and vulnerability over and over.
**have you seen the new movie, "Little Women"? There is a fabulous scene that depicts calm. The scene portrays Jo getting feedback on her writing from Professor Bhaer. He tells her directly that he doesn't like her writing and she has a strong reaction. He stays absolutely calm and still connected to her.
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Elizabeth Wade is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Ames, IA. More importantly, she's a regular human being struggling through this crisis, just like you.