As I was writing about my reflections from the therapy room in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I found that another article was already brewing in my mind about more practical suggestions and tangible resources that could be helpful. So here it is.

…there was always a way to get through a difficulty. If you just keep swimming, you’ll find your way. And when your brain wants to give up because there’s no land in sight, you keep swimming, not because you’re certain swimming will take you where you want to go, but to prove to yourself that you can still swim.

― Emily Nagoski, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

I’ve found myself coming back to one of my very favorite book recommendations several times over the past couple of weeks- Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski. I’ve used a few of their quotes throughout that seem to apply especially well to what I’d like to share here. If you currently have the capacity to do so, I would highly recommend listening to this on audiobook, as the authors do an excellent job of narrating it.

The good news is that stress is not the problem. The problem is that the strategies that deal with stressors have almost no relationship to the strategies that deal with the physiological reactions our bodies have to those stressors. To be “well” is not to live in a state of perpetual safety and calm, but to move fluidly from a state of adversity, risk, adventure, or excitement, back to safety and calm, and out again. Stress is not bad for you; being stuck is bad for you.

― Emily Nagoski, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

When I first outlined my thoughts for this article, I had separated it into two or three different practical ideas that could help us all cope more effectively with this crisis. Then, I realized, there was really only one point I was trying to make: we need to move. 

No, I don’t only mean exercise, per se (though, that isn’t a bad idea). Perhaps even more aptly, we need to mobilize. Since my passion, and much of my nerdom, is related to the healing of trauma and the effects of adversity, some of this idea comes from what I’ve learned working as a trauma therapist. Without digging too deep into theory here, I will do my best to summarize, and perhaps oversimplify for the sake of brevity, what we know about the nervous system and traumatic stress as it applies to what we’re going through right now.

Some brilliant leaders in the trauma therapy world, like Dr. Peter Levine, Dr. Stephen Porges, and Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk, have helped us realize that when we experience stress and trauma, we must look to the body to both understand what’s happening and know how to intervene most effectively. We know that the body’s number one goal is to survive at all costs. So what happens when our biology detects that there is a threat in our environment, whether seen, like a bear, or unseen, like a novel virus? Immediately, it prepares us to run or fight, whichever seems most likely to help us survive. What many of us don’t realize is that this energy must be “spent.” This mobilizing energy doesn’t seep out of our pores or simply dissolve with time. When we’re unable to mobilize, as our bodies prepared us to, or instead go into a freeze or shutdown mode, this leftover energy can wreak havoc on our minds and bodies. This can result in a myriad of symptoms like anxiety, depression/shutdown, illness/poor immune function, irritability, brain fog, PTSD, etc. What’s especially tricky about unseen threats, like the one we’re experiencing now, is that we’re less able to react organically to allow this energy to move through, as we would automatically run from a bear or instinctually slam on our brakes to avoid a car accident. This means we simply have to be more intentional and mindful of what to do to help this energy move its way out of our system.

So my main encouragement over the past couple of weeks has been to find a way to mobilize. Find a way to mobilize the energy that our bodies naturally produce in response to any kind of threat. This includes moving our bodies, most importantly, but also finding, as I mentioned in my previous post, what we can control and what we can do and doing that. Below, I’ve included a list of free resources that I’ve gathered that may help you, as Emily and Amelia say in Burnout, to “do a thing” to help move your stress through and perhaps even be stronger and more resilient on the other side of it.

The moral of the story is: We thrive when we have a positive goal to move toward, not just a negative state we’re trying to move away from.

― Emily Nagoski, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

Free Resource List:

Yoga With Adriene– Free via YouTube

Online classes with local yoga studio, Blue Yoga Nyla

Breathing for wellness with Audrea Morado (our new massage therapist!)

Self-Compassion Meditation Sessions

Dr. Brené Brown’s new podcast 

*The first episode addresses the pandemic specifically

Webinar from Robyn Gobbel: “Nurturing Your Children (and self) During the Crisis of COVID-19: Tips and Tricks from a Stay-At-Home Mama That Used To Be a Play Therapist That Used To Be a Preschool Teacher”

Webinar, also from Robyn Gobbel, about a deeper dive into some of the concepts I’ve presented here, including application to parenting.

*Free with code “safe” at checkout. I’d also recommend looking through all of Robyn Gobbel’s other on-demand webinars. She’s got a lot of great parenting resources!

Resources for cultivating mindfulness & restoring calm from Sounds True

Video series about the power of self-compassion

List of homeschool businesses that are offering free subscriptions during the COVID-19 school closures

If you are able and would like to support relief efforts for our community, you can do so through the Little Rock Cares COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund which benefits food relief efforts provided by World Central Kitchen and the purchasing of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other COVID-19 related expenses.

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