When volcanic emotions erupt from seemingly nowhere--it can feel like you and your parent, your partner, your roommate, or your child have just been sucked into a fiery pit.
Everything was fine just one hot second ago!
But not now.
Now, all of a sudden, you are in what The Gottman Institute calls The Roach Motel. Suddenly, you are in a place with no exit, and nothing feels safe or real anymore.
The Amygdala Hijack
This is the land of the amygdala hijack, where your fight/flight/freeze/faint response kicks in. You are flooded with adrenaline and cortisol. Now it’s a matter of survival. You no longer have the ability to think with your frontal cortex, because your whole body is screaming: This is dangerous! We need to knock this person out or run like hell.
How do we deal with this? Well--it is complex.
We want to deal with it consciously and rationally.
But this is REALLY hard to do when your brain is on fire with stress hormones!
So you need quick access to tools that you already know how to use—so you can walk away from that pit instead of falling in.
Pre-Step One: DISCERN
The very first thing first thing you want to do--way before you get into dangerous territory--is to engage in discernment. Remember: discernment is not available to you when you’re feeling attacked. Discernment has to happen when you are:
in a safe space,
have the ability to journal,
have the ability to process with a therapist,
and/or have the ability to breathe in.
Bottom line: to discern, you need space that allows you to really tune into your own truth.
Here's how it works
Back in March, I was in the room with a person who is extremely dear to me, a family member—and some explosive craziness came out of seemingly nowhere. I was literally stunned.
Now I have for many years been in discernment to understand all my family relationships.
Is this, at its base, a safe relationship?
In this case, I have landed on Yes.
Discernment is critical with all your family members and with everybody in your life.
And . . . to be clear: sometimes I'm the crazy-making person. Sometimes I'm the person who is spewing crazy words into the shared space. In this particular case, I was the recipient--but it could have been the other way.
In any case, because I had done that discernment, I knew what to do with this the sudden tsunami. I could feel my own amygdala hijack trying to emerge many, many times In the course of the next crucial 10 minutes.
Only 10 minutes?
And here’s the thing: if it had taken over, the trauma would have lasted all day long.
There would have been no further connection that day.
There would have been no opportunity for nice, safe, fun, good connection.
There would have been more hurt to deal with later. With interest.
Step One: Ground Myself and See Myself
People talk a lot about grounding.
But how do your ground yourself?
Well, I have a ton of tools for grounding. One that I often teach is alternate nostril breathing.
But you are probably not going to do alternate nostril breathing when the crazy hits!
Here's what you can do instead:
But sometimes, it is not.
This is why it's crucial to practice.
If you practice, then, when you are in the "performance," you know what to do.
The body will start to do the right things automatically.
Grounding myself is what allows me see myself.
As an observer.
As if I were someone else:
Here's this woman. Wow, this is a lot for her to take in. She's going to need some help.
I really recommend switching your self-talk to 3rd person whenever you need to see yourself and re-gain self-compassion. Because the person attacking you is not going to offer this. So go to that third person narrative. Stay in the observer position. Narrate what you "see."
This is crucial for stopping the amygdala hijack before it takes over.
Step TwO: Repeat Back
This is a game changer. It really is. And it is totally anti-intuitive. Nobody wants to do this when they are feeling attacked. It's easy to do it when you're in a place of love and compassion, but it takes real grit to do it when someone is attacking you.
But it is utterly transformative to simply repeat back, from a neutral ,grounded position, what the other person is saying.
Here's the formula:
What I hear you saying is . . .
and then you repeat back word for word what you heard.
This is hard.
No interpretations allowed.
No I don't like what I heard.
You are simply a grounded, neutral mirror of reality.
Again—this is not easy.
And this is why you want to only do this with people that you have consciously determined that you want to have in your life.
If you repeat back with a person who is narcissistic or who you have determined is not a safe person in your life--this is not going to end well for you!
You may just need to exit the situation ASAP.
Bring discernment in to determine if this person is overall is a good person. A person who usually acts in ways that are supportive of you. Is this just a one-off moment or a repetitive old wound opening up?
Step Three: See The Other PErson
Now you may actually have the capacity to actually see the other person, as you already see yourself (See STEP ONE)
And you can get curious:
Is this right, is this right?
And you mean it. You're not being sarcastic.
I really want to know if I am understanding you.
Am I getting this right?
AND stay with yourself, too!
Anytime you feel yourself ungrounded, you need to feel your feet, sense your breath.
Wow—this is a lot. This person is dealing with a LOT. Can I keep doing this?
Maybe I'm at the end of my capacity, and the amygdala hijack is taking over. I'm feeling faint. I’m feeling frozen. I feel like I can’t move. I feel like I need to fight. I feel like I need to get out of here--fast!.
That may be the place that you actually need to exit.
And that's totally fine.
As long as you make an exit promise:
I need to take a break right now. I’m in overwhelm. I can revisit this again in half an hour.
(45 minutes. Tomorrow. No later than 2 days.) I am at capacity now.
Then, you get to exit.
And you need to be okay with the reality that the other person is going to maybe have some feelings of abandonment about this.
And that sucks. It really sucks, but as long as you have done the work: "Can I stay grounded? Can I see myself? Can I see them? Is this at base a safe relationship?” you are NOT abandoning them.
All of that groundwork allows you to get to that point where you can engage in an exit that is not an amygdala-hijack flee-move.
You're not just like: I'm out of here.
And, if possible, exiting while you are more aware and less triggered--this is going to be beneficial for you, for the other person, and for the relationship.
Shifts can happen--with Skills already practiced
It was a really hard 10 minutes.
But I knew I had the skills and the capacity to handle.
And there was a shift, and it was over.
And I didn’t try to fix that I was right—though I was pretty sure I was.
I didn’t try to understand where that person was coming from
Because I couldn’t.
I was able to simply hear them out.
And that was a game changer.
When I was in my early 30s, my dad gave me a copy of Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
I was utterly fascinated at the idea of a crucial difference between urgent and important.
And then it blew my mind to learn that they were not opposites either.
Instead, they formed this cool quadrant.
Yes—the grid is cool!
These four quadrants are really fun brain-candy. The idea is to pay attention to which quadrant you are spending your time in. If you spend most of your time in Quadrant 2—yay! You win! You are a Highly Effective Person.
But urgency is compelling . . .
and women tend to be the ones who deal with the urgent, pressing problems of life and other people (bosses, colleagues, kids). Most women I know have days and even weeks fueled by adrenaline.
And truth be told--it actually feels amazing at first. When we are faced with a crisis or a deadline, that surge of adrenaline clears out the sludge and gives us a sense of focus, purpose and direction.
But our bodies are simply not made to run on adrenaline. Years ago, one of my friends shocked me when she said, in an airy yet tired voice: Oh yes! My adrenal glands are shot. My doctor says that's true for most women.
So it is an actual life challenge is to learn to fuel ourselves with plentiful sleep, nutritious food, and deep-focus (Quadrant 2) instead of the adrenal-gland-killing state of Quadrant 1.
Wait--breathe with me here.
Here are 3 tips to gently shift out of your addiction to emergency
TIP 1: Notice your body. Next time there’s a crash in the next room or you see your ex’s number on your caller ID, notice the tingly surge of adrenaline run through your body. After it is gone, do you wish you could feel energized like that again? Pay attention to your body's desire to create more of that juice.
TIP 2: Become curious: Hmm—am I chasing someone else’s urgency or emergency? If we are used to running on adrenaline, it may feel good to keep it going. Someone is always having an urgent moment, and if you are used to spending more time in Quadrant 1 than Quadrant 2, handling other people’s urgencies just becomes a way of life.
(But not the way of your life--so stay in that energy of curiosity and . . .)
TIP 3: Invite Discernment. Is something feels urgent, ask yourself: is this something I need to deal with now or not? If the answer is yes—deal with it. You are in Quadrant 1. But if the answer is no, you are in Quadrant 3—and you get to discern: Do I put this on a list to deal with in my Quadrant 2 focused time? Or can I just let it go?
And one final bonus tip! The traditional advice for Quadrant 4 is to eliminate or reduce. But it is more realistic to make a plan for those mindless clicks. You may decide to set a timer and spend 5-10 minutes on non-urgent, non-important tasks as a way to relax in a waiting room or as a wind-down into something more mindful: meditation or a relaxing bedtime routine.
If you want a deeper dive into Urgent vs. Important, join my private Facebook Group: The Bottom Line is You! I have a video on this very topic, plus a growing library of COVID-responsive videos on emotional hygiene and productivity at home.
CLICK to join my private FaceBook group: The Bottom Line is YOU!
You are on the couch. Your laptop is open. You are staring. You are clicking through your open tabs. Calendar. To-Do List. Trello. Facebook. Gmail. Zoom. Word. Mom? Where’s the dog toothbrush?
Wait--how did I get to the fridge? Something cold and sweet actually sounds good. Wait—I have an appointment soon. Where is my phone?
If you have a living memory of how you used to rock your multi-tasking, working-from-anywhere world, it may still feel shocking to you, how hard it is to be productive at home right now.
It’s a lot.
And yes, you all know that I have a whole bunch of free body-based emotional processing tools.
But today, I’ve got something a little different to share with you.
One small tweak to help your pandemic productivity problems.
I’ve used it for years.
And I’ve re-vamped it for the ever emerging whack-a-normal!
Back in 2008, my office was in a kitchen that I shared with my colleagues. Now, I’m an out-of-control extravert, so I was actually pretty happy.
But not productive.
I had heard about standing desks, and so, DYI that I am, I brought in a cardboard box, stuck my monitor on top, and got much joy from the sudden increase in my energy! My boss, being an angel, soon made sure that I had a more sturdy wooden tabletop standing desk, and now I have a decked-out, fully-automated standing desk that raises and lowers from standing to sitting.
I love that desk.
It's in my office at the university.
Where I am not working very often.
You know—because of possible contagion.
At home, where I am protected from contagion but have no cool desk, I found myself getting sleepy instead of energized.
And grouchy with my daughter.
And distracted by the cat and dog and dishes.
So here is my one little tweak to help your productivity problems at home:
Create standing workspaces throughout your home.
This does not necessarily mean a full-out standing desk (though if you have the money and space—fantastic!)
And fear about the future is the strange gift of being human. Our astonishing ability to think and plan and imagine and anticipate problems in the future makes us very good at doing things to prepare for what is likely to come next.
But it comes with a price: fear and anxiety.
The body has a complex system of fear responses, but we can understand the two basic responses as follows:
Identifying which state you are in can help you shift into a more relaxed and open state, like flow (being deeply and pleasurably immersed in a focused activity) or social engagement. (feeling safe enough to be genuine with others and open to new ideas).
So here are two quick tips to help shift your biological fear response into focus, flow, safety, and openness.
1) The Freeze-Faint Shift
One of my clients recently had a deep energetic emotional release. I encouraged her to move around to help the emotion fully exit her body, and I was thrilled to see that she was allowing herself literally to shake—her hands, her shoulders, her head. She got her whole body engaged! She was really shaking it out. I joined her, shaking my body as well, to encourage her to stay with her process until it came to a natural conclusion.
She beamed. She had begun the session unfocused and sleepy, and had left the session enthusiastic and energized.
What was happening?
My client had gone into a habitual freeze-faint response.
The freeze-faint response happens when, for example, a rabbit or a deer is startled into motionlessness. The instinctive goal is not to be seen or noticed—and the freeze-faint response shuts down the nervous system.
How do I shift out of freeze-faint?
To shift out of freeze-faint, you need to wake up your nervous system.
The most recent studies on trauma affirm that trembling and shaking after trauma causes the nervous system to reset itself.
So if you feel that your energy is drained (faint) or that your body is rigid (freeze)--allow yourself to shake/tremble/dance/move/look weird.
Your body is the boss of this, so let yourself look as weird as you need to!
2). The Fight-Flight Shift
Another client some years ago was going through a divorce. She was conflict-avoidant and simply left the room whenever her teenager began to get in her face. One day, her daughter bluntly told her bluntly that when she left the room like that, it felt like she didn’t love her.
What was happening?
My client had developed a flight response to conflict in order to keep herself from exploding in anger. This worked well when she was a child, but as a divorcing mom, she had learn to meet her daughter’s anger without fleeing and without exploding. That meant she had to shift out of fight-flight.
How do I shift out of fight-flight?
To shift out of fight-flight, you need to ground yourself and calm the nervous system.
By taking a sumo stance and consciously exhaling a few seconds longer than inhaling. The longer exhalation resets the nervous system to get out of fight mode, and the sumo stance keeps you feeling grounded, counteracting the impulse to flee.
—and within a week or so, she noticed a real difference in her relationship with her daughter.
My client's sumo-stance practice continues to serve her well during COVID.
She is able to stay productive, engage in creative conflict, and use healthy communication practices with her daughter, as they shelter-in-place together.
Getting stuff done is hard in normal times. It is especially hard now, when there is so much fear, and so much is outside of our control.
That is why I encourage you to download my free guide to identify and fix the 3 Invisible Time Leaks that almost everyone overlooks when they try to "be more productive."
Download my guide: 3 Invisible Time Leaks
During her divorce, a woman woke in the night with one clear thought.
This is an unprecedented opportunity for spiritual growth.
Ten years later, this same thought is helping her stay grounded, productive, and stable during the myriad crises facing her (and the rest of the planet!) right now.
The terror and suffering we experience when our support systems collapse are an urgent invitation to evolve into a new reality that is already here as an uninvited guest.
In crisis, we are compelled to create new ways of staying grounded and acting with consciousness, compassion, and intentionality.
Here are 3 Keys to Not Wasting This Crisis.
1. Match The ENergy, and then HArness it!
Seriously? Match the energy of feeling freaked-out?
The energy may not be freak-out. It may be anger or grieving or heartbreak. Whatever it is--match it first, and then harness it through emotional hygiene.
2. Harness the Energy Through emotional hygiene
What is emotional hygiene?
It's actually a lot like physical hygiene.
Emotional hygiene is a practice of clearing out trapped, stuck, or stagnant old emotions.
Why do we need emotional hygiene?
Because emotions are a powerful energy that you can use to make your life better!
Emotions get trapped inside us every day, and we need to clear them out, or they cause distress and disease. And here's the thing: it is a lot easier to feel our daily accumulation of uncomfortable feelings now than it is to feel them tomorrow or next month or next decade.
Unfelt feelings are like credit card debt. It hurts to pay that money when it's due, but it hurts a lot more to pay it after it has accumulated interest!
So what is a good emotional hygiene practice?
There are so many!
We live in an age where our knowledge about the biology of trauma and the energetic practices of emotional release are attracting an unprecedented combination of both cultural respect and scientific precision.
But breathing and moving the body are the foundation of all of them. So begin here:
I would love to support you as you experiment with these practices. Click to join my private facebook group, where I keep loading lots of emotional hygiene videos.
3. Make Inertia your ally
You have got to be kidding me.
Inertia is my enemy!
It seems to most of us that this is true. Inertia seems like it is keeping us from action.
But inertia is really just a truth about physics.
How does this truth about bodies affect us?
Let’s go back to March. When I switched to online teaching after the pandemic hit, I set up many zoom chats to check in with my students. Over and over I heard them say almost exactly the same thing:
It’s hard to work from my bedroom. I’m used to working at the library. I’m used to running into friends between classes.
My students had been using inertia to their benefit.
Most of us have taught our bodies to stay in motion once we leave the house, and to stay at rest once we are home.
But while we shelter in place, the flow of inertia for many of us has changed.
We easily feel trapped by the “body at rest” part of inertia.
So how do we work with inertia, not against it, to balance and energize our lives?
Click here to join my private facebook group, The Bottom Line Is You.
You'll get lots of videos about emotional hygiene and productivity at home.
You can even post a request, and I’ll address it in an upcoming video!
Click to join The Bottom Line is You.
See you soon!
Lynnea Annette is an executive life coach who supports professional women who feel the stress of working hard and being under-appreciated.