That title seems so… mundane, almost harmless. It isn’t. I was really scared. And it really happened to me. Mostly, I was afraid of making my daughter an orphan. At 42, boom, heart crashes, then dies. I called Info-Santé, told them about my misadventure: my heart making me miserable, the tightness in my throat, my head spinning and my arms being numb. It’s mostly the numb arms that made me think about it. It’s because two days earlier, I had searched our favourite search engine for the symptoms of a heart attack, because my 64-year-old mother slammed one right just in front of us in the kitchen (yes, she was here, slightly surreptitiously if you’re wondering.) It was actually apparently just a mild heart attack. It still shakes you a lot. My mother is now having a nice stay in the hospital and meanwhile, I am rocking in a jolt of anguish, out of almost nowhere. I can reassure you, the paramedics came and assured me that it was only an panick attack and not a heart attack.

I continue to think about how I have let my brain get so messed up and create such a “shut down”. Am I not in harmony with my heart, my head and my body enough for this fabulous brain, heir to billions of transitions and constructions, to be able to more accurately analyze my environment, which actually did not threaten me too much? Really?

Why did I finally succumb to such panic? Almost every day, I feel energized by all the beautiful challenges that this pandemic brings. I am curious and even frivolous about the outcome of the upheavals that will emerge and the individual, organizational and societal transformations that will be the result tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, or even in a few years. I am preparing for this with renewed serenity, finding comfort in a future that will be more humane, and more in tune with the rhythm that nature and our planet dictate. A slower, more fluid rhythm that respects our circadian as well as our ecosystem’s rhythms. Sometimes, I even feel like I was born to live this story that is being written right now!

The more I think about it, the more I tell myself that my enthusiasm, the exaltation that I felt, although truly felt intellectually and certainly psychologically, did not allow me to get in touch, or at least to take the time to touch the pain and the infinite micro grief that so many sudden changes cause. A good dose of optimism is necessary to be resilient as long as it is also accompanied by realism. Riding the waves of positive emotions helps us keep our heads above water and keep our course towards the ideal, as well as generate creative solutions in difficult times, but we must not silence the frightened child in us who suffers from the loss of his usual landmarks. We certainly have a lot of grieving to do at the moment and it is important to recognize and name it. I would add that we need to talk about it! With our loved ones, our neighbours, we need to share our perspectives, to exchange, to listen to each other. It is important to open dialogues within ourselves and with others to create together the meaning of the extraordinary events that are taking place. We cannot deny the impact of these disturbing events: we must talk about them.

But what is anxiety trying to tell us?

Such a panic can only be a sign, an alert or a message that our body is trying to send us, don’t you think? Something we care about is at risk of being lost? Emotions certainly speak to us. They seek to remind us of what is dearest to us. Anxiety, like any other type of emotion, should simply be viewed as a source of data! Information that we need to process in order to help us achieve our ideal, our goals and thus emancipate ourselves!

From day 1 of this health crisis, I started talking about anxieties and the imperative to take care of ourselves (read here in French), and of our own, and the importance of somehow pampering our immune system. It’s not only our immune system that needs pampering; it’s also our nervous system. I sincerely invite you, as well as myself, not to deny your concerns about the various events that are somehow overwhelming us, and to breathe! To go for a walk in nature, in your yard, in the park, barefoot! Watching the birds fly, listening to their song, all this can greatly soothe our nervous systems, which are overtaxed in this time of pandemic.

The positive impact of a body scan and conscious breathing

I probably needed this moment of vulnerability to get in touch with my fears and my new limits, and thus make some adjustments to my routine. Beginning with a “body scan” to observe the tensions in my body, such as tightness in the chest, in the stomach or stretched shoulders and tightened jaw. Then, I immediately make changes necessary to bring relaxation and compassion towards myself. It could just be conscious stretching and breathing or a short period of meditation or even visualization. When I see a sign of stress or panic, intentional breathing allows me to calm my body, as well as my mind, and to slow down my heart rate. Conscious breathing promotes better self-control to make decisions more connected to a calm state than a fear reaction.

Reflection and gratitude

It also seems necessary to create opportunities for further reflection and cultivate a practice of gratitude. It can be interesting to just write down everyday three things for which we are appreciative. There are even cool apps to remind us to practice gratitude everyday, like presently.

Label and name emotions

It’s important to feel and name difficult emotions like anxiety. Research suggests that by simply labeling our emotions, we immediately diminish their impact on us. The choice is always ours; we can decide to remain trapped in difficult emotions or choose to focus on other types of emotions, such as joy or being zen.

Take care of yourself and others

Knowing how to take care of ourselves makes us better parents, better coaches and better leaders, because in return, we learn to be of service to our own. And daring to experience emotional outbursts without judgment, even up to anxiety attacks, allows us to improve our own relationship with ourselves and with others. It helps us be closer to our emotions, more caring and empathetic for ourselves and our loved ones.

Here is a small easy guide for a practice of meditation and conscious breathing of 5 minutes in order to dissolve anxiety and regain control over yourself by being anchored:

  1. Sit in a comfortable seat on the floor, a cushion or a chair, the back extended, but not too rigid, the navel slightly pressed towards the spine, the neck in the extension of the spine, the shoulders relaxed. Hands can be placed on the thighs, palms up. The jaws are relaxed, the forehead is smooth, the look is soft, a slight smile appears on your lips. Inhale and exhale long and slow, to let all concerns escape and dissolve.
  2. We turn our attention to our natural breathing, the air that comes in and out of our nostrils. The movement of the breath enters the windpipe, the region of the lungs and the middle and lower abdomen. Do not force the breathing, let it flow naturally.
  3. You can count from 1 to 5 when breathing in, when the air enters your body, and also count from 1 to 5 when breathing out. Expiration helps rebalance your nervous systems and anchor you in your body. Pay special attention to the air exiting either by mouth or nostrils, because the release of difficult emotions occurs at the expiration. Connecting to your breathing allows you to return to your body and leave your mind, ruminations and parasitic thoughts; because in the moment, everything is perfect.

Take care of yourselves!

P.S I wrote other posts to accompany us serenely in all the extraordinary things we are experiencing right here:

Nothing is permanent except change.
How is it going?
Finding peace (AGAIN) in the heart of the storm

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Zélia Lefebvre

Passionnée par l’être humain sous tous ses angles et détentrice d’une maîtrise en gestion du développement organisationnel des HEC, Zélia est passée par l’enseignement à titre de chargée de cours à l’UQAM et œuvre désormais auprès de diverses organisations comme coach agile et conseillère en développement organisationnel.

Elle propose un style de coaching et de consultation basé sur de solides bases académiques et pratiques, ainsi que sur une approche de psychologie positive. Elle est certifiée pour l’utilisation des outils MPO (tests de personnalité, styles de communication et talents) afin d’aider les ressources humaines à mieux recruter les candidats et accompagner les individus et les équipes à collaborer et gérer les conflits efficacement.

Reconnue pour sa curiosité sans limite, son sens stratégique et sa créativité, elle met toute sa bienveillance et son enthousiasme au service des clients pour qu’ils osent s'engager dans une évolution viable et durable.

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