Withstanding the Waves
By: Stephanie Salo, Psy.D. | December 10, 2021
The water is cold on my feet, but the sun and breeze feel warm as I stand upright on the paddleboard, toes gripping the firm turquoise rubber surface. I adjust my balance easily after months of practice and take several sure strokes to navigate further out into Mission Bay. It used to take all of my concentration to be steady despite the wind, a strong undercurrent, waves, and wakes from happy boaters that complicate the turbulent water beneath me. Yet, here I stand. Confidently. Peacefully. Joyfully. As I position my board directly into an oncoming wave, I am reminded how counterintuitive it can be to confront our fears in order to conquer them. And I smile.
I used this imagery to describe coping with the prolonged uncertainty of the pandemic for The Great Adaptation, a multidisciplinary conference hosted by Esther Perel. Designed for those in the helping professions, it was a time to reflect upon ourselves not only as providers, but also as individuals who have lived out a parallel process with our clients and patients. It was validating and rejuvenating. In this post, I would like to share with you three experiences from the conference that were meaningful for me: an analogy, a liberating experiential practice, and prompts to reflect on your own adaptability and resilience over the past months and years.
1. Find analogies to create new meanings
Imagine that you have a boat. To keep it safe, you would likely secure it to the dock to prevent it from floating away. However, if tethered during a tumultuous storm, the boat may become damaged from hitting the dock repeatedly, eventually breaking it apart. During turbulent times, your boat has a higher likelihood of surviving the storm if untethered; it needs space to adjust to the gusts of wind and churning water. Similarly, we may need to “let go” in times of high stress or crisis. Sometimes remaining tied to old values, beliefs, habits, patterns, expectations, or relationships may cause more harm than good. Consider what ties might be constraining you from being more adaptable during challenging times.
2. Practice expressing yourself in new ways
There are many creative ways to express yourself and your emotions, including poetry, music, relaxation exercises, guided visualization, body movement and dance to name a few. In one experiential exercise, Chen Lizra, a somatic intelligence coach from the conference, encouraged us to stand up and breathe out any frustration, irritation, anger, or other unpleasant emotion. Along with some body movement, she then prompted us to breathe out with joy, happiness, or pleasure. It felt silly at first, but once I surrendered to the process, I felt lighter. The inner tension that I had been unaware of carrying suddenly began to melt away. I started to let go. Of what, I’m not sure. The past? The way things once were? The way I used to be? So much has changed for me since March 2020. Whatever it was, it left me feeling better able to embrace the version of myself in this present moment. Although it can be unnerving, there is a unique kind of freedom in being unmoored that lets us be truly alive as we adjust to each moment as the ground shifts beneath us.
3. Check in with yourself
So many things have changed in the past few years, and like me, perhaps you have been just trying to keep up. There is tremendous value in slowing down and reflecting upon what has happened. I invite you to take a few moments to explore how you have been impacted by—and adjusted to—the complications and extended uncertainties of the pandemic by asking yourself the following questions:
- What are unhelpful ways you remain tethered to your past?
- How have you been psychologically flexible?
- What are your resources, tools, skills, and supports that have helped you adapt?
- What is an image that symbolizes your adaptability?
- How can you live out of your adaptable and flexible self?
If you are feeling the effects of prolonged pandemic-related stress and it is impacting your emotional well-being or relationships with others, please know that you are not alone. If you would like additional assistance with self-reflection, consider working with a professional San Diego Psychologist to help you find deeper meaning and purpose in your life and teach you specific strategies to adjust in times of distress and crisis. Feel free to also check out these related resources: How to Be Patient with Yourself in a Changing World and know that It’s Okay Not to be Okay.