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Alexandra Karlović - Salamanca, España. 2010.

Emotions & coronavirus (y viva españa!)

I woke up this morning feeling sad. I usually don’t listen to the news in the morning, but now I can’t seem to stop myself from doing so. Maybe out of curiosity, hope, need of reassurance? I don’t know. Because I am a European, I turn to Euronews; I want to know how others are doing in Europe.

This morning, the first image was the image of Madrid, Puerta del Sol, THE place to be on the 31st of December to celebrate the New Year. Ambulances were passing by, the streets were desert, I believe they were playing Pachelbel’s Canon and I started to cry.

I cried because I was feeling sad. I cried because I was thinking of all these people who can’t tell their deceased loved ones goodbye, or hold their hand until their last breath. I cried thinking of all the elderly people at their balconies shouting and laughing, who probably have passed away and have accompanied my mornings in Salamanca more than 30 years ago.

The other day, on Facebook, there was a video of Nurses and Doctors in the Spanish hospital of Alarcon, singing mantras to elevate the vibrations in their hospital. It made me think of a song of the Tuna that I learned to sing in Salamanca, where I studied Spanish and lived with a family I am still in touch with. (Hola chicos!)

Ay ya ya Canta, no llorres (sing don’t cry) is the beginning of the chorus. How can one not cry? Tears is the emotional discharge of sadness and we experience sadness when we experience loss. Sadness invites us to retract from the world to recharge. Crying liberates and makes room for the new.

I know a lot of you are going through different emotions right now. I also know some of you are not familiar with recognising their emotions. Which is one of the fundamentals of Emotional Resilience. So I thought, let me write this morning about how totally normal it is to feel what you feel and make this a learning moment.

Without realising it, especially if you have never lived it, you are, we all are (more consciously for some, less for others and in total denial for the rest), going through grief. And grief is a painful emotion that has a life of its own.

As a trainer and coach I have learned the stages of grief thanks to the work of Elizabeth Kubbler-Ross. As a human being I learned about it by having faced it too many times and as I am getting older chances are I will have to face it again.

I remember explaining grief in a training in Morocco and how weeks later when we had the follow-up training and some participants came back with heir wives, one wife came up to me at the break and said: thank you for explaining that to my husband who explained it to me. I now understand better what I was going through and it has been really helpful. Hopefully it can help you too.

So, what does grief look like ? Well, it looks like something like that:

Denial: this virus won’t affect me, I can still go out. This is just another flu. Anger: you are putting me in quarantine and I can’t go out, who are you to limit my freedom? but also looking for someone to blame, our government, China …  Bargaining: lockdown ok, but I can still go to the park and enjoy myself or in two weeks it will probably be over right ? Sadness: I don’t know when this will end, how will the world be? will I still be able to hug my friends? all these people dying around the world … Acceptance: it is what it is, how can I make the best out of it? what do I need to focus on?

Acceptance is where the power is. It brings you back to the basics of Stoic philosophy: what is under my control? what is not? And a reminder to focus on what you can control: stay home, wash your hands, respect social measures, help those in need, take care of your health …

Although these stages are quite clear, they are unfortunately not linear. We go through grief by waves. Grief is messy, grief is painful. Some of us are experiencing anticipatory anxiety and that too is normal. We have no idea how this is going to impact the world and our lives. We have literally lost something, our safety and everything that goes with it, the enemy is invisible and we don’t know whet else we will be losing. That creates anxiety through uncertainty and it is normal.

Tony Robbins says that the quality of our lives is proportional to the amount of uncertainty we can deal with. Right now, depending on how familiar you are with dealing with adversity and how resilient you are, this uncertainty will be easier to navigate or not. So this is an opportunity too to build that muscle and become more resilient.

In times like the ones we are living now, there are different things that can helpRecognising your emotions, labelling them and accepting them, makes it is easier to move on. The more you resist your emotions (don’t cry when you feel sad) the more they persist. Practicing gratitude also helps in order to refocus on what is also good in the world right now and be in the present, mindful. Remember your brain is not designed to make you see the good, it is designed to help you survive.

And there is something else that I will be coming back to: controlling the meaning you are giving to what is happening to the world right now and to you, personally. Interestingly enough, this is also the sixth stage of grief as it has been developed by David Kessler who worked with Elizabeth Kubbler-Ross and is the world renown expert on grief.

What emotions are you feeling right now? Label them. Now breath and say to yourself  » I am remaining calm« . Putting a name to your feelings helps you regain a more rational state of mind and breathing brings oxygen to the prefrontal cortex and allows you to better manage an amygdala hijack.

Sometimes you will be emotionally hijacked and will be in crazy town like my teacher Maria Sirois would say. And that’s ok too. Just pay attention to how long you stay there. If you notice you are spending too much time in a painful emotion, seek help from a friend or a professional. Being resilient is also recognising when you need help.

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