We’re wired to feel unsafe when our community is unsafe.
I was gonna share an article today that I wrote about body image, but then the news this last week has been weighing heavily, and it doesn’t feel right to talk about that with everything going on.
So instead, I wanted to talk about struggling and feeling overwhelmed.
A large number of my private clients have reached out for support this week, struggling with any number of things they tended to minimize or blame themselves for “taking too hard” or “overthinking” or “unable to get over.
Someone wrote that she’d had the worst body image week that she’s had in months, and felt super guilty worrying about food and exercise when our government was frantically fighting to safeguard our democracy from white supremacist terrorists.
Another lost her cat the same week that a family friend of hers died of Covid (and she couldn’t gather with loved ones for the funeral), and she reported feeling like her grief would swallow her alive.
A handful of other folks reached out to express that while anxiety was super high, their hearts were super heavy, and they were struggling to sleep, focus, or be creative – all while not quite knowing why.
I found myself reminding my clients over and over this week why they might be feeling so off, why things feel so hard right now, and why it’s completely normal for them to be struggling more than usual – because of what’s going on in the world.
It’s super interesting to notice how quickly and easily our minds erase the weight of what’s going on in our wider community (like a year-long global pandemic, and a violent coup led by the president trying to overthrow the government) when we consider our own mental and emotional health.
“I don’t know why I’m struggling so much,” my clients tell me.
“I know I should be stronger, more resilient, more positive. I should be focusing on gratitude, and getting more work done. I should be trying to help. I should be taking better care of myself. I should, I should, I should…”
There’s so much judgment happening right now for why we’re not doing better as individuals; why we’re not happier, or more grateful, or more productive, or more calm and grounded.
We forget and minimize the power of the collective on our psyche and physiology. We forget that humans are a communal animal; that we’re wired to exist and survive in community; that our sense of individual well-being is greatly dependent upon a self of communal well-being.
Essentially, we evolved in such a way that in order for us to feel safe as individuals, we need to believe that we are safe as a tribe, village, or community.
And right now, our national “village” is being threatened by a would-be dictator, white supremacist uprisings, and a deadly virus.
I fall into this myself, too.
Last week I had a complete meltdown because I was feeling frustrated, bored, stifled, and unhappy. Why don’t I go anywhere anymore? Why don’t I have adventures, or friends? Have I become boring and co-dependent? Have my partner and I fallen into a homebody-trap of watching too much tv and never being apart?
All these thoughts had been swirling around my head for days by the time I was able to articulate them to my partner (who experienced my distance by then and was feeling a bit anxious), and he had to remind me that ummm hey Jessi, this is not real life!
We don’t go anywhere or see anyone because we are in Miami, a massive Covid hotspot, and living with his parents, who are in their seventies. We watch a bunch of tv because we’re essentially homebound, and we’re on top of each other 24/7. It’s stressful and annoying and boring sometimes because honestly, that’s just the deal right now.
He reminded me that we’re not doing anything wrong, we didn’t make bad decisions to get here, and I’m not failing to be happy due to some internal flaw. I’m not happy with my life right now because this life kinda sucks, but also because it’s not the life I would have chosen under other circumstances. In short, this isn’t really my life, and this isn’t reflective of the life my partner and I want to build together when all this is over.
I had, quite literally, forgotten all of that.
For days I had been stewing on my unhappiness, searching myself to figure out what had gone wrong and why I felt so trapped and irritable, and I hadn’t included anything about the pandemic.
This makes no sense, I know. But I see the same thing in my clients all the time. It’s so easy to blame ourselves as individuals for not thriving, and forget that we’re not thriving as a national or global community. It’s so easy to feel alone, and forget that we’re all in a thing together.
As such, I just want to remind you – to offer you the perspective shift that we all need right now – that if you are struggling right now, that’s normal. You’re not doing anything wrong, or making bad choices, or failing to be happy due to some internal flaw.
The communal unsafety of the world right now will weigh on you, because that’s how we’re wired. The pandemic. The political unrest. The systems of oppression and abuse. The disconnection and lack of normal routines. The social implications that Nazis are back. It weighs on us.
Depending on your specific circumstances, privilege, and life experience you might not feel this weight directly, or think about it consciously, but it’s there and it adds to the stress on your heart, mind, and body. Or maybe it’s all you think about, and what keeps you up at night.
Both are normal. Both are valid. And none of them reflect anything about you, as an individual.
Wishing I could send you all a feeling of communal and individual safety… but settling instead for a big virtual hug.