There are storms aplenty in the world around us, whether we’re talking literally or metaphorically. This turbulence can affect us in our daily lives making it hard to handle those storms we encounter at work and at home.
There are things we can do about the turbulence in the world around us. We can envision a better world and commit ourselves to bringing it about. We can advocate for ourselves and others. We can look out for and take care of those around us.
These are noble and good things to do. They build hope, creating a virtuous circle of feeling, thought an action.
There’s also the very real lack of control that we all live with. We feel very small in the midst of larger societal and world events. What helps me accept that, without getting stuck in feelings of hopelessness or despair, is to acknowledge that lack of control, and turn my focus to that which I can do.
Self-Care as a Commitment
One thing I can do is commit to self-care. When I take care of myself, I can better choose my responses to what’s happening around me. I can to make a positive difference for others who I have direct contact with. My family, friends, my neighbors and community members, my clients and colleagues.
That might seem like too small an impact to do any good. But there’s this thing called the parallel process in relationships. It describes the way that relationships powerfully influence other relationships. It means that what I do as I interact with others moves through an expanding network of relationships. My impact, and your impact, isn’t limited to those we directly contact. Through our personal connections, what we do each day has an exponential impact.
How the Parallel Process Works
Here’s an example. I coach a senior leader in a nonprofit organization, not on how-to’s of managing change, but on understanding his own responses to complex change. He learns to recognize his own internal wisdom and resources, to turn to others for help, to create space for reflection, and to understand that there are predictable phases to change, and specific things you can do to move through them successfully.
Not only does this process help him, it influences how he interacts with his colleagues, and those he supervises. When he brings his best self to those relationships, they become more productive and effective. He supports others in bringing their own best selves to the work, and that has a positive impact on how effective they are.
My direct relationship with him influences not just him, but through him, it influences his colleagues. Through them, it makes a difference for entire his organization. That’s pretty powerful.
That’s Why Self-Care Matters
Taking care of ourselves is far from being a small and meaningless indulgence. Instead, it’s a professional and personal necessity. It helps us stay centered and grounded, providing the stability we need to function effectively in difficult times. Self-care forms the basis for a positive parallel process, allowing us to be and do our best with those around us. We’re all pressed for time.
Read on for a few self-care practices we can fit in to even a very busy day.
Three Ways to Center Yourself
Intentional breathing, free-writing and a centering and grounding exercise offer ways to center ourselves even in turbulent and pressured times.
1. Breathe. You have to do that anyway, but when we breathe the way we naturally do when we’re very relaxed, it has a calming and centering effect. Take 3 minutes to sit comfortably, perhaps clasping your hands behind your back to open up the chest. Gradually deepen your inhalations; slowly and fully exhale. Focus your attention on each inhalation and exhalation. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back. You can do this at any time. As you start your day. Before a meeting. After, or even during, a difficult or stressful encounter. While stuck in traffic. Before you go to sleep. You get the idea. Make short periods of slow deep breathing a natural part of your day.
2. Write. Free writing is just that – writing for a short time, without editing, criticizing or judging . It clears your mind, land can lead to creative ideas or discovery of new approaches to problem solving. It helps us integrate and organize our complicated lives. It can lead to resolving issues that get in the way of important personal or professional tasks, and helps us to do our best with our formal writing. (Pennebaker & Smyth, 2016). Here’s how to do it. Set aside 10 minutes at whatever time of day you prefer. Free writing means starting with whatever is on your mind, and letting the words pour out onto the page. They make take you in unexpected directions! Don’t worry about the writing being organized or punctuated properly. Express yourself deeply, openly, and honestly. If you get stuck, just keep writing anything, even writing that you don’t know what to say next.
3. Centering and Grounding Activity. I recorded this brief centering activity. It brings our attention into the present moment, supporting using remaining calm and flexible enough to choose our responses, even in challenging circumstances.
Pennebaker, J.W. & Smyth, J. M. (2016). Opening up by writing it down. New York: The Guilford Press
First published on 5/30/2019. Edited and updated 3/10/20.