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How to Manage Re-Entry

Embracing fear and moving forward

zimmytws/Shutterstock, used with permission.
Source: zimmytws/Shutterstock

After the world closed down in mid-March, many of us who were not considered essential workers were forced into un-pioneered territory, making an abrupt shift to working virtually from our dining room tables, or not at all, teaching our kids online, while also getting creative with meal-planning, ordering arts and crafts online, and trying very hard not to attack our loving partner for that habit of putting the OJ back in the fridge with only a millimeter left in the bottom. We have done our best to instill structure into structure-less days that have seemed to run together like Ground Hog’s Day.

In some ways, this has seemed like the year that just won’t end . . .

At this point, we have adjusted (if we really want to call it that) to 24-hour togetherness with family, perpetual over-stimulation due to no space to call our own, board game fatigue, running out of things to binge-watch, as well as the accompanying low to medium grade anxiety that has percolated all day every day like a stale cup of coffee from a gas station. We are now being asked to re-enter. COVacay is over.

Now, rather than making that late morning switch from our night PJ’s to our day PJ’s, we will have to get dressed, put shoes on, and yes, take a shower. But what will re-entry look like? Wearing masks all day and keeping 6 feet apart. Plexi-glass. There will be lots of changes and none of us know what to expect. Many are worried about their jobs, schools and colleges closing again, relationships, and if they will ever climb out of this financially. Never mind catching COVID.

by fizkes/Shutterstock
Source: by fizkes/Shutterstock

With so much chaos and uncertainty going on externally, it is of utmost importance to reel ourselves in to our own internal world where we can take control. Sadly, many people think of the mind as a tyrannical ruler who must be obeyed, rather than an intelligent, highly respected, and courageous captain of their ship. By doing so, they walk around controlled by racing, unwanted thoughts as if they had no choice.

These intrusive thoughts are often referred to as thought chatter or the monkey mind, and are generally not based in much, if any fact. Yet we actively invite these thoughts into our hard-drive, working them into our programming, rather than fact-checking and challenging their validity.

As thoughts come first and feelings come second, what we allow ourselves to think will dictate how we feel. Therefore, if we allow all sorts of what if thoughts (such as what if I lose my job and then the house) which are based in anxiety and fear, we will then feel anxious and fearful. Changing thoughts changes feelings, which then leads to a change in behavior. This is why becoming the boss of your brain is the key to optimal well-being and life satisfaction.

Shutterstock, used with permission.
Source: Shutterstock

Also, like most things in life, obsessive compulsive thinking (OCT) lands along a spectrum, with most people having experienced this at one time or another. It is also important to realize that the brain is very much like a toddler, doing what is easy, familiar, and pleasurable. Each and every time the brain finds what it is looking for, such as a routine what-if or self-deprecating thought, it is reinforced, meaning that this urge will be stronger the next time.

Just like a toddler, the brain will not like it at all when its behavior is redirected away from what it wants and is used to. So, expect a tantrum when you try to make a change toward more positive thinking. The next time you experience a surge of negative or anxious thought chatter, try saying to your brain, “It’s not me; It’s OCT.” This helps us to separate ourselves from the obsessive compulsive thinking that results from a malfunctioning limbic system, the area of the brain where the worry center resides. Choosing not to identify with something that is physiological is a step in the right direction, as this helps us to disengage from the feeling of being flawed (shame) that is often associated with anxiety and depression.

Also, just as when a parent steers a toddler away from undesirable behavior, there needs to be lots of consistency and repetition to redirect the brain’s neurons down a new path of positivity. After a while, like a toddler, your brain will understand that you are in charge, and the anxious thoughts will be significantly reduced. Plus, it will get easier, as on average it takes roughly 21 days for a new habit to stick.

Basically, there are only two choices with this. Either we control our thoughts or our thoughts control us. Perhaps ask yourself which is more pleasant? No one is saying this is easy. Thought control takes commitment and practice, and what we practice we inevitably get good at.

Shutterstock, used with permission.
Source: Shutterstock

As we are what we think, becoming the boss of your brain is the key to optimal well-being and life satisfaction. Happiness, after all, is a choice.

References

Duhigg, C. (2014). The power of habit: Why we do what we do in life and business. New York, NY. Random House.

Cohen-Posey, K. (2015). Instructions for the handy brain model. Bolivar, MO. Burrell Working Solutions.

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