Surviving Uncertainty: Showing Up
“Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is just show up.” ~ Brené Brown
What does it mean to show up? How do we show up in times of uncertainty? The anxiety of uncertainty often has us wanting to hide under the covers only to emerge when the world looks normal again. And while our world will undoubtedly re-calibrate after the crisis and collective trauma of COVID-19, we have no idea what this new normal will look like. So, how do we show up right now?
Showing up is about being present. When we are present we are grounded in the moment - we are actually here, now. Presence is a mind-body experience: when we show up to the moment we notice what is happening inside and all around us. So often our minds are distracted with the past or the future, imagining what was or what might be. Sometimes technology pulls us out of the present: we may be in a room with other people without ever acknowledging them or the space around us because we are so absorbed in our screen. What would it be like to look up? To be present? To notice? Grounding exercises can help you show up and cope with uncertainty.
Grounding techniques are effective tools to manage anxiety, trauma responses (flashbacks, flooding, nightmares), panic, and overwhelm. They can also be used at any time when you want to settle into your surroundings and heighten your awareness of the present moment. The following sensory grounding technique can help you show up and feel grounded in any moment. Our senses are the starting point for trauma recovery.
5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1 Sensory Grounding Technique
When you feel ready, take in your surroundings with your senses. It may help to list the things you notice out loud.
5 - Notice 5 things you see around you.
4 - Notice 4 things you feel (e.g., your feet on the floor, the warmth of the sun, your clothes on your skin).
3 - Notice 3 sounds you hear.
2 - Notice 2 things you can smell.
1 - Notice 1 taste in your mouth.
It’s ok if you can’t engage all the senses (sometimes smell and taste are challenging), simply bringing your awareness to those particular senses can help you feel grounded.
When I consider showing up I also think about how I want to show up. Am I showing up with fear and anxiety? Am I showing up with helplessness and defeat? Am I showing up with negativity and catastrophe? And believe me, there are times when we all need to show up with our pain and suffering, to be heard and seen in our darkness. And there are times when we can validate our feelings and recognize that our feelings are not facts. We can make choices about how we want to show up. We can acknowledge the fear and move forward with it, and in doing so find our courage.
Years back I attended a conference for arts educators where a brilliant young educator/activist shared how in every interaction he asks himself, “How can I be the light?” It struck me. What might happen if every time we show up we show up with the intention to be the light? Being the light could mean a variety of things: showing up with kindness, respect, inspiration, positivity, honesty, authenticity, patience, practicality, courage, gentleness, strength, resilience. It is not a denial of our darkness, rather acknowledging that light and dark coexist.
During times of uncertainty, like right now, it can be incredibly hard to remember the good things. One thing that can help us show up with a positive perspective is practicing gratitude. Research shows that practicing gratitude can reduce stress, relieve depression, and improve your mood overall. It may feel awkward or even inappropriate to express gratitude in times of uncertainty. I want to encourage you to try it anyway in an effort to be the light.
I like to use gratitude to balance the scales. When we show up with suffering, perhaps unloading all our anxiety and fear into a journal or the ear of a friend, we can follow it with gratitude. We can ask ourselves: what is one thing I am grateful for in this moment? Gratitude can take broad strokes (feeling grateful for health or family) or be incredibly specific (feeling grateful for the light in the room or the faint smell of lilac when the back door swings open).
I encourage you to try a simple gratitude practice. Maybe you start or end your day reflecting on what you are grateful for, perhaps writing it down in a journal or reminder list on your phone. Maybe when you feel most overwhelmed by the uncertainty you remind yourself of one thing that fills you with gratitude. Notice how you feel when you show up with gratitude.
I hope grounding and gratitude practices help you show up in times of uncertainty.
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