Here in Alberta the snow and cold have arrived. We’ve dropped a good 30 degrees in the past two weeks from +20 degrees Celsius two Mondays ago to -10 degrees this morning. I find that it often feels colder these first cold days than it does in the chilly depths of a legitimate January prairie deep freeze. Why? Because we aren’t used to it yet. I have shorts in my dresser drawer and the wool sweaters have yet to be pulled out of the bin in my closet, and yet here I am needing to scrape ice off of my windshield in the morning.
When I went out early this morning, the steering wheel was freezing to touch and I had to wrap my jacket tight around my neck because I didn’t realize in time that I should zip up my jacket. As I drove with my cold hands on the colder steering wheel trying to hold my jacket together with my chin, I realized the big difference a good, warm, bundled up layer can make and how quickly the cold seeps in if a layer is missing or open to the elements. (Also, how quickly I become irritated and focused on how awful the cold is!) I realized if I’d zipped up my jacket I wouldn’t have been as freezing. If I had grabbed a scarf, I would have been better still. Mitts would have made my hands comfortable instead of frozen. But I was caught off guard by the temperature and was unprepared in my layers.
And as I drove, cold everywhere, I got to thinking about how we go about life. Some days we have a pretty thin layer between us and the harshness of the world. A bad sleep, a fight with our spouse, or an unpaid bill may feel like a layer stripped off to make us feel more exposed and sensitive in the world. Sometimes we are dealing with long term or more difficult struggles like chronic illness, the death of a loved one, job loss, or strained relationships. Those can make us feel less like we just forgot a scarf and more like we are going out into the winter of the world without a jacket at all!
We are in the middle of a global pandemic right now. That adds a level of uncertainty that might make you feel like you are walking into a snowstorm in nothing but a speedo (and a face mask)!
There are lots of things that can happen in life that make us feel exposed and ill-equipped for the things we are facing. There are elements to life and being human that means the unexpected is, to some extent, always to be expected, and that can make it hard to prepare.
So I got to thinking, what are the things that can help us feel more safe, secure, and bundled up against the harsh elements of being human:
- looking after your body: getting sleep, drinking water, eating things that are good for you, exercise, and some fresh air every day are such simple things that do so much to help us manage (and feel capable of managing) life better. Imagine what your mom or your doctor would say to do in those areas and really try to do it — even a little bit of effort helps.
- staying connected to others: don’t under-estimate the immeasurable value of having regular contact with people who love and support you. (We should all have learned that lesson during the spring quarantine!) Even if it can’t be in person, keep contact over FaceTime, telephone, or text. And don’t shut people out. Sometimes we automatically do that, but I want you to forever think of shutting caring community out of your life as the equivalent to building a snowman without wearing gloves — you can do it, but it is going to hurt and probably damage you! There is a better and easier way, and that way involves community.
- acknowledge your feelings: which also means looking at what’s going on in your mind and body, because our feelings thoughts, and behaviours are all connected. Mindfulness is a great practice. It means simply acknowledging whatever you are feeling without judging it. Mindfulness doesn’t mean you are automatically peaceful. (I once did an entire weekend mindfulness retreat only to discover how incredibly angry I was — I just hadn’t been still enough before to recognize it.)
- breathe: it is the simplest thing, but it truly makes such a difference. Besides, you’re doing it anyway! Slow breathing with long exhales literally switches our frazzled bodies and worrying minds from the stress response to the rest and restore system which helps us relax, think more clearly, and feel safer. A slow exhale is literally like a warm blanket wrapped around you.
There is so much going on in the world these days, so much in our communities, families, and in our own hearts and minds. None of us expected to be in the situations we find ourselves in this year. There are ways we are rising to meet these challenges. And there are ways we are left feeling unprepared, exhausted, bitter, and cold by it all.
If you can have the courage to acknowledge the ways you feel ill-prepared and struggling against the elements you are facing right now, you are already on your way to finding ways to manage. That’s what we humans do. We figure things out. We adapt to the harshness of this world by creating warm places, spaces, and shelters.
But remember to pay attention to what you need on a daily basis to manage those elements for yourself. Look after your body, stay connected, acknowledge your feelings, and breathe. Keep working on those things and you will feel a little more protected, a little more capable, and maybe even a little warmer towards the harsh elements of this world.