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Create Calm in the Chaos: Just Keep Swimming

Over the last few weeks, Dory 's voice from Finding Nemo has been on repeat in my head "just keep swimming." This expression may come from a children's film, but its meaning is not childish. It gives us the hope we need to reach our goal – to finish strong and that we are in this together.

Though our current lives feel more like we are trapped in the middle of some blockbuster movie with a super virus circling the globe. I know it is difficult to keep our heads above water and continue to swim as we are flooded daily with waves of inexplicable emotions. Joy, sadness, frustration, ease and of course, fear. We are

  • overwhelmed and worried about what is going to happen next; how we will continue to manage home and work

  • overwhelmed with all of the change

  • overwhelmed with the myriad daily work being constantly interrupted by parenting responsibilities

  • overwhelmed with the choices about what to do with the unstructured time

  • overwhelmed with our sheer lack of control

All of this results in a feeling of pandemic paralysis - powerless lack of control. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended life: “We need to just keep swimming.”

Two ways to create calm in this chaos:

1. Acknowledge your feelings

Allow yourself to shamelessly feel your emotions. Recognize your emotions and normalize them. “It’s important for us to accept where our feelings are at the moment and process through them, and then move into a more positive position of acceptance,” says clinical health psychologist Amy Sullivan, PsyD, ABPP. Mental health experts want you to know that it’s OK to Feel Grief - and Whatever Else You're Feeling Right Now.

2. Concentrate on the controllables

When there is so much uncertainty about the future, it’s easy to get carried away, running through the worst-case scenarios in your head. Will I or my family get COVID-19? How long will we have to stay socially distanced? Will things ever go back to normal? “Anticipating negative events can bring a sense of anxiety or fear,” Dr. Sullivan says. Instead of agonizing over the things you can’t know or control, focus on what you do have control of. Enter organizational tactics: de-cluttering your desk to sorting your kids art drawer, so they can find supplies by themselves.

I know in my life, my head just spins when my home is disorganized and out of control. It zaps all of my energy and I feel like I am drowning. Come to find out, there is a reason why I and many others feel like this when things get disorganized. After all, "The brain is constantly scanning the environment," says Heidi Hanna, Ph.D. and CEO of Synergy and author of Stressaholic and The SHARP Solution. “It's looking for cues that signal a need for an energy investment, such as taking care of work or home obligations. When we have chaotic surroundings or a fragmented mindset, the brain can perceive this as a sign that there is more demand for energy than our current capacity, which triggers the stress response. Stress is NOT always a bad thing; it's simply a stimulus for change. But when we don't have the energy we need to deal with the change, that's when the chronic stress response is initiated and ultimately resulting in harmful imbalances and inflammation that damage both the brain and the body,” says Hanna.

"Being organized helps with a sense of control," says Ari Meisel, entrepreneur, organization guru and founder of Less Doing, More Living, who focuses on optimizing, automating, and outsourcing daily tasks to reduce stress. We all need some control in our lives in order to stay motivated and to keep swimming. What are you doing to calm the chaos you can control? What are you doing to keep swimming? Is there something you need to release to feel less weighted down? Are you now stuck at home surrounded by unwanted knickknacks that bring you down with negative memories? Do you need to make your space more useful as it delivers a different purpose today versus what it did 3 months ago when the kids were in school; you and your husband were working in an office building? You may want to simplify and organize your entire house BUT need to start somewhere. Focus on one small space. Complete and move to the next. Don't spend too much time debating on the first place to start as the most important step is just to start. We tend to think that getting traction on our most important work requires that we be skilled and proficient at that work, but that’s not quite true. The real thing we need to be skilled and proficient in is moving through the moment before the work. If you feel hesitation, notice what you’re thinking, where your mind goes (I don’t have time, this is dumb, I will never get through this mess, one minute won’t help, etc.). Even as your mind continues to come up with excuses, keep moving. Take the plunge. Just get started. Then, check in on your feelings after you have completed the task. Be kind to yourself. Be thankful for what you DID accomplish.

During this unprecedented chaotic time remember to acknowledge your feelings, concentrate on the controllables, and yes just keep swimming!


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