Cheryl's Blog

Finding peace in a storm

I could barely catch my breath as I made my way to the kitchen to feed the cats their breakfast. I had just received some distressing news that pressed several old buttons and sent me tumbling back in time to all the familiar places where I’d felt the feeling before. My body felt like a storm – tight chest, shallow breathing, rigid arms, heart slammed shut. Desperate to release the anxiety, I picked up the phone to call a loved one but got voicemail. Three times. So, I hung up, took a few deep breaths, and grew myself back up on my own.

Reactive mode is never a state of clarity, it’s a state of chaos. Anything we do from this mindset is likely to create more of a mess. Four years of daily meditation practice has taught me to watch myself, especially in stressful situations, but I’m a student driver. I’m still learning to take a step back and get re-centered and reaching voicemail three times gave me that chance. I had the space to regroup and this is what I learned.

When we’re triggered, there is an energy build-up in the body that wants to be released. We tend to alleviate this pressure by taking immediate action in the outer world. We might reach out to someone to argue or explain our position, compare notes, vent, set the record straight, or apologize to keep the peace. But taking action “out there” when in a reactive state is like trying to calm the surface of a lake that’s disturbed by a rock by jumping in to find it. You only create more disturbance.

Instead, when buttons are pressed the first order of business is to return to a state of calm clarity, and emotional balance. This means recruiting a healthy inner adult with self-soothing, nervous-system-regulating actions. So, here’s what I did:

I paced up and down the hallway, hand on my heart, gently telling myself: You’re okay, sweetheart. You’re going to be okay. Just breathe. I got you. We can handle this.

I shook my arms and legs to physically release the pent-up energy coursing through my body.

I practiced a breathing technique I learned from an Andrew Huberman podcast called the physiological sigh (learn how to do it, here).

I imagined the difficult emotions and memories rising up and out of my body and within minutes, I felt calmer, clear-headed, and able to act from a more mature, helpful place.

These solo steps are just some of what you can do when hijacked by reactions. You can also write a letter to yourself from a grown-up, take a quick walk, write your feelings down in a journal, work out, dance, yell or sing, or talk to yourself like I did, out loud. Not only will this help to restore you to a place of spiritual sanity, it will keep your heart open giving you access to a more loving, productive perspective. Love is always the ultimate healing state.

My morning was difficult, for sure, but within twenty minutes I felt calmer and better able to respond to the situation with grace. And that’s growth. Getting triggered will always be a part of our human experience. Growth is measured by the time it takes to recover and respond with love.