The coronavirus has presented humankind with an immense number of difficulties, which can include anything from “what am I going to eat for lunch when the grocery store just feels too overwhelming” to “how am I going to continue planning my wedding when I don’t even know if we’ll be able to plan it,” all the way to “I am so concerned about my loved one’s health, and I can’t even see them.” Complications that are arising are big and small, and exist both in the near future and in the future down the line. So, with all this confusion and uncertainty, how are you supposed to stay present and hold onto fleeting moments of joy? Why would you even want to do this?   What does “staying present” mean?Staying present is the ability to maintain awareness and a sense of connection with the moment you are currently in. This means you are focused and engaged, and not being held up by your thoughts about the next 47 things you have to do. Not organizing your grocery list, not scheduling out what you need to get done at work tomorrow, and not thinking about all the things that annoy you about your partner. Just wholly, fully, in the moment.  Another word for this is “mindfulness.” Mindfulness is essentially the connection to your senses and your body. Being aware of your senses allows your brain to shift from anxious and racing thought patterns into a calmer and more grounded state.   Why would I want to do this? This will not fix any of my problems.Ah, excellent question. Let’s start with some fun facts. First of all, practicing mindfulness has been shown to decrease feelings of stress and improve overall sleep quality (check out the article here). It increases overall levels of life contentment and satisfaction, as well as work productivity.  How does this happen? The goal of mindfulness is not actually to solve your problems. The goal is to help ground you in the moment so you can find the ability to step out of these thoughts that only stress you out. It may feel temporarily good to ruminate on an issue, but does how often does your rumination actually solve your problem? Unless you are setting aside time to plan and execute, you are likely just thinking about stressful things. This increases an emission of stress stress hormones, which makes it much more difficult to think clearly and execute decisions and actions efficiently (take a look at this article, aptly titled The Busier You Are, the More You Need Mindfulness).  This is why taking that quick few minutes to be present and clear your head-- not completely, but just clear from stressors and ineffective rumination-- actually winds up increasing satisfaction as well as productivity. In fact, there is even evidence to suggest that mindfulness can increase life span and overall physical health.   Ok, this sounds slightly more appealing. So how do I do it?Below are a couple of suggestions and techniques designed to help the busiest of people and professionals take in the moment in a digestible way. Set reminders on your phone, or schedule in “mindful time” to create the habit of stepping out of your thoughts and into the moment.   1) Notice your senses:  Start with looking around the space you are in and naming 5 things you see. Describe each thing wholly; what color is it? What is its texture? Next, name 4 things you feel physically on your body. Do you have a tag that is itchy? Are your pants too loose? Are your feet too sweaty? After this, name 3 things you hear. Listen closely. Do you hear the heater? Or maybe birds chirping outside? If you can, then try for 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you taste. These are sometimes difficult, but remember the goal is not success or failure. It is only to be present and aware.  2) Narrate your actions: This one might feel silly at first, but it is a great way to connect your mind to your body. If you are cooking, walking, or really doing anything that does not require serious thinking/brain power, you can narrate it! For example, if you are cooking your eggs in the morning, state “I am opening the fridge, I am opening the egg carton, I am taking out two eggs,” etc.   3) Make lists:Possibly counterintuitive, but actually very helpful. Make two lists, and separate them by what you can versus what you cannot control. Take a look at the “what you can control” list, and prioritize. Once you’ve figured out what you want to tackle first, schedule in a finite amount of time and get started. Partializing and breaking down goals and tasks will make it much less likely that you’ll have a lapse in focus, pick up your phone, and fall down a rabbit hole.   4) Notice your breath:Notice as air comes into your nose, and out of your mouth. What does it feel like? Do you feel your diaphragm expanding and contracting? Is your breathing shallow and quick or deep and slow?   5) Mindful eating:Find a snack you absolutely adore, and take a few moments with it. Notice the color, the texture, the temperature, and what it feels like when it melts in your mouth. Slow down the process of eating to stay in the moment.  Practice makes progressDon’t be too hard on yourself if you’re having a difficult time staying present, or if your mind is having a difficult time breaking the addiction to stress. After all, the drive to focus on stress and anxiety is a survival skill. Be patient with yourself and keep trying. The more effort you put in, the more the benefits explored earlier will begin to pop up in your life! ​ Alyssa Ashenfarb, LCSW  

Let's explore the theoretical “talk.” You’re starting to brainstorm what that conversation you’ve been thinking about having for months will actually look like. All of a sudden, your stomach turns, your throat becomes tight, and your breathing quickens. Ah yes, you know that these physical responses are your body’s way of showing you that you’re anxious. The familiar feeling washes over, and now you’re feeling a ton of pressure.

...
...

 

 

Other Blog Posts:

During The Talk​: How to confidently address scary topics in your relationship​

Something about the spring (or maybe the pandemic?) seems to give people the push they need to get their relationships in order. About a month ago, I began hearing a theme in my sessions both with couples and individuals: How can I talk with my partner about the things that scare me the most? How can I get them to see and hear me? 

 

So, I’ve created this three part blog series to help alleviate the anxiety, avoidance and general discomfort that comes with having a heavy conversation. See the first part of the series here

 

 

The “Pre Talk” Recap

The main suggestion of my previous post on how to have difficult conversations was to come prepared. I reiterate this mainly because, in order to effectively slide into the conversation with the tips listed below, it is really crucial that you are preparing yourself. Come prepared with an understanding of what you want to talk about, what emotions feel raw and will trigger you, and some potential expected responses from your partner. 

 

 

During “The Talk”: A good time to not roll with your feelings

So, you’re feeling ready. You’ve got your main points laid out cohesively, you’re aware of the types of responses that will make you feel calm versus the types that will upset you, and you’ve prepared yourself for the slew of possible feelings that could come up for you. 

 

I know what you’re thinking… “Now what? The pre-talk was easy… how am I supposed to actually have this conversation?” To most effectively navigate this talk, stay grounded, use gentle start ups, and never forget to pause!

 

Stay grounded

Remember in my last post about the talk, when I mentioned letting something like this sit can look like a pot full of near-boiling water? If this bubbling water is what can happen during the pre-talk, the actual spilling over and getting messy is what can happen during the talk itself. The most effective way of avoiding this is to stay grounded (see this article to learn about what being grounded looks like).

 

Remember: the goal of whatever talk you’re having is movement. You want to understand your partner’s position on a topic that is immensely important to you, and you want to take steps towards a resolution or end game. For this reason, it is so important to be able to stay grounded and focus strictly on what is happening in the moment rather than spiraling into a place of feeling triggered or worrying about future ramifications of the conversation itself. 

 

This is easier said than done! When a person is in a heightened state of emotion, it becomes more difficult to access the rational part of the brain, or the prefrontal cortex. This is the seat of conscious awareness. To shift towards cortical reactivation (AKA to “self soothe”), make sure you are tuning into your feelings throughout the conversation. Instead of ruminating on these feelings, either take deep breaths or take some space (we recommend 20 minutes) so you can re-ground yourself. 

 

Gentle Startups

We’ve mentioned in a few blog posts now how important these are to a functional and sustainable relationship. While a gentle start up entails a bunch of things (see here for specifics), it generally refers to delivering information in a softened way to reduce likelihood of a defensive response. Here you can hold the awareness that, while this conversation is anxiety provoking for you, it is also likely stirring up some feelings in your partner. This is beyond helpful to remember- not to minimize your experience, but to help you navigate your partner’s experience and to decrease the probability of them feeling attacked. Remembering a gentle start up can allow you to tailor the conversation so it can move towards a solution rather than stay stagnant at defensiveness.

 

A good example of this is managing a partner’s unhappy response to something you need. Let's say you are going through the bullet points that you laid out in your pre-talk. Your partner has responded well to your first two bullet points, but on your third one you hit some rocks. Now what? I’ll tell ya! Thank your partner for being so open with the previous bullet points, and empathize with how difficult this must have been. This will allow your partner to know you appreciate how hard they are working. Then, you can leave yourself some room to express why this third bullet point is important to you using an “I statement.” 

 

Pausing

When you are at the height of your feelings, your speech is a little quicker, a little louder, and a little more disorganized. I get it- that is why you came prepared with your main bullet points! 

 

Having an organized list of what you want to explore with your partner will hopefully help you relax a bit. Relaxing will allow you the space to slow down and hear your partner out, which is exactly what I mean by pausing. I definitely do not recommend stating everything all at once! After each idea you express, pause to leave room for your partner to respond. This will not only help them feel heard, but will also give you a chance to truly listen so you can craft your responses to their needs (just like we are expecting them to do of you). 

 

 

In conclusion

Breathe! You will get through this conversation. The more prepared you come, the more likely you will be to step out of the heat of the moment and into the goal of the conversation. Always remember that the goal of heavy conversations is typically movement towards a shared goal (or at least movement towards developing a shared goal).

Remembering the common goal will allow both you and your partner to step out of your feelings and into your end game. Stay grounded, show appreciation and leave your partner room to talk. Keep your eyes peeled for our next post on how to navigate heavy conversations after they’ve happened, what to do if it does not go as expected, and how to set the stage for future difficult topics. 

 

​Mollie Eliasof, LCSW

email-icon
phone-icon