Why Massages and Mud Baths Aren’t Cutting It During this Pandemic and What to Do About It.

I attended the Massachusetts Conference for Women today and heard something that stopped me in my tracks. Lisa Damour, Ph.D., and author of the book, Under Pressure: Confronting Anxiety & Stress in Girls, was talking about anxiety and she referred to “disciplined self-care.”

I need to say it again: “Disciplined Self Care.” It feels like it should be capitalized. 

I am slightly surprised that I am not triggered by this term. Self-care, as a term, has always triggered me. It has always felt like massages and mud baths. I know it isn’t, but that is where my brain goes. That’s for another blog.

Because of this bizarre brain trickery, I have had to reframe self care to fit my needs which include boundaries, community, freedom, and choice. I love a good mud bath, but I know I am taking care of myself when I thoughtfully weigh and measure what I say yes to, what words or behavior I’ll accept in my presence, and being able to operate from choice.

And “discipline?” I have a love/hate relationship with that word. I am drawn to it and also have all kinds of stories and judgment about how my form of discipline isn’t the right kind of discipline. And maybe I judged it in the same way I judged self-care. I’ve been shining a light on that shadow in my inner work.

But I digress (duh, don’t I always?).

Disciplined. Self. Care. 

Dr. Damour talked about the Quar and her research that led her to shift what is called for as a way of establishing positive, long term, coping skills for chronic stress. Chronic stress comes when we can’t get a break from the stressor. Self-care isn’t enough.

Chronic stress calls for Disciplined Self Care.

I love it.

She described the need to build physical and emotional care into our lives as a matter of discipline. No matter what. Disciplined self care, she said, would be the practice that helps us cope for the long haul.

If you’ve worked with me, you know I talk about shining a light on our truth which requires us to shine a light in some shadowy places and name what we find there. Often, we find an emotion that we have resisted. Our loved ones often know what’s going on, but we can’t see it. We are blind to what we don’t want to see. This is resistance. 

She talked about the same thing, but she also took it a step further. When we are working with chronic stress, Dr. Damour shared that by adopting Disciplined Self Care, we are building resilience. The Quar is ongoing, so the stress will come and go, but the windows of relief can open further. 

Disciplined Self Care:

  • A sleep routine;
  • a habit of eating regularly and nutritiously;
  • getting our bodies moving; and, 
  • “getting out of our own way on someone else’s behalf.”

This will do the job. 

So there is something to this. If you are feeling the impact of the Quar in ways that feel burdensome, or someone in your family (Your mom? Your siblings? Your kids? Your friends?) is salty or withdrawn or into their negative coping in some other way, suggest they take a walk with you. Make a delicious, healthy, meal. Go to bed at the same time every night. Reach out to a neighbor or someone else in a way that sshifts your focus to be in service of them.

Check in with yourself. Check in on your pals. No one is exempt from the impact of the Quar. It calls for Disciplined Self Care.

What does that look like for you? 

And if this doesn’t do the trick, reach out to me. Or someone else. Ask for help. You might be the one who needs to benefit from the service of another. Allow yourself that. 

That, too, is Disciplined. Self. Care. 

Creativity as a Practice, Might Save You from the Quar.

Twenty years ago, if you asked me if I was creative, I would have dismissed you with a joke, moved on, and found it entertaining that you had asked me such a thing. No part of me identified as a creative. Sure, I went through a gift basket stage and a collage stage, and when I look back on those times, I wonder if I was trying to access a sense of creativity without really knowing it. I know that I found those things to be soothing to my psyche. 

Today I see creativity everywhere, right down to how I define creativity. I am an “outside the box” thinker. While I want my outer-limits to be defined, I want total freedom to frolic within them as I choose. And I hate a plan. I like to make things up as I go. I am a thinker, for sure, and I love to imagine possibility. For me, creativity and freedom seem intimately linked. 

The Quar has taught me something. People who have a creative practice – handiwork, ideas, interior design, music, or stretching into something uncharted – are doing ok. 

People who come to me exhausted, unfocused, and stuck, are not accessing their creative genius in any way.

I’m no Sandy Cheeks, but it feels like this is more than coincidence.

As is the case with the ‘Rona, we are often powerless over the removal of the thing causing stress (ie: the stressor), but we can control how we manage it.

Bottom line, stress is caused by not acknowledging our emotional response to the thing to which we are responding (sounds like a riddle, huh?). 

For me, this looks like, “It is what it is!” Or “Everything happens for a reason!” The perspective can be helpful, but backfires if I don’t also acknowledge those feelings of frustration or fear or loneliness that accompany my experience of the ‘Rona.  

It is a global human experience to resist difficult emotions. We push them into the darkness of our bodies, where we can no longer see them, but where they continue to live. We don’t want them, so we will them away. But they aren’t actually away, and when under stress, those emotions leak into our conversations, our minds, and our hearts. Our families see them, even if we don’t.

Have you yelled at your kids or husband lately? Leakage. 

Been critical of people on Facebook about how they are managing their beliefs about the ‘Rona? Leakage. 

Reacted to a boss in ways that you wouldn’t have before? Leakage. 

These reactions to seemingly unrelated things, are triggers that show us that we have pushed something into the darkness that is wanting to be seen and dealt with.

What is the best way to do this?

Have an ongoing practice of stress-reduction that help to mitigate the emotions in the first place. 

Because stress lives in your mind, heart, and body, your practice will work best if it comes from those centers, as well. You have intelligence in each of these centers and when you access it, your decision-making, processing, coping, and overall well-being, will always come from your highest intelligence. It will come from the wisdom of your life experience and learning, from your intuition, and from your most authentic emotions. What could be wiser than that? Creativity accesses all three Centers of Intelligence.

Creativity Accesses All Three Centers of Intelligence.

Here are some examples:

Music: I work with someone who made a choice to take some time off from work last fall and when the ‘Rona struck, was completely depleted by the prospect of not going back to work on his timeline. He wasn’t all that social to begin with, but he found himself withdrawing from his family and sitting in front of the computer, playing games or endlessly looking at fantasy jobs. When he took out his guitar, something he hadn’t gone near in months, something opened up for him. He started to spend more time outside and found time to play with his two young children. He actually enjoyed playing with them. He recently found himself planning a backyard obstacle course in the snow and spending time on his computer creating programs. He credits the guitar as the thing that opened this up for him. 

Don’t play an instrument? Take one up. But know that even listening to music, particularly classical music, lowers the heart rate and pours oxytocin into the brain. Simply put, music, however it is accessed, will support a reduction in stress hormones and an increased sense of resilience.

Interior Design: I’ve painted a bedroom and a bathroom during the Quar. I’m about to start on a large family room. The family has had beautiful conversations about what we want, from colors, to design, and how much time is realistic, given my work schedule. Whether you are planning something with your family, or doing it solo, your neural pathways are opening themselves up to possibility as you choose paint colors, imagine the room the way you want it, and engage in the physical labor of repairing walls and painting a new room. 

Visual Art: I walked into my daughter’s room last week and found paper plates covered with paint and canvases with butterflies, flowers, and smiles. She isn’t a lover of the hybrid schooling and misses her friends. She wouldn’t describe herself as an artist, but she is stretching into something intuitively as a way of getting her emotions unstuck. Thinking outside of the box is second nature to a visual artist. They are discovering and stretching their brains and hearts with logic and skill and beauty. And yes, they are moving their bodies as they sculpt, paint, or sketch. 

I could keep going, but you get the idea. I have clients who dance, sew masks, engage in storytelling and writing projects, and who walk without a plan, a phone, or a map and let their natural intelligence guide them. All of these use the mind, heart, and body. 

Tired thinking about this? You aren’t adding something to your plate. You are excavating exhaustion and stress from your body. Creativity is a practice and it just might save you.