I don’t know why I came here tonight, 
I got the feeling that something ain’t right. 
I’m so scared in case I fall off my chair; 
And I’m wondering how I’ll get down the stairs.

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right,
Here I am, Stuck in the Middle with You.

Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan wrote that song as a joke, a parody of the music industry. (If you don’t know the song, listen to it here.)

Of course, the craziness, violence, and chaotic uncertainty we’re experiencing is no laughing matter. But, maybe the light-heartedness of their music is something we can use.

As a musician-composer, I see this music-lyric pairing as a message of hope: an admonition to not get bogged down in life’s absurdities. And a subtle reminder to take care of ourselves. Because the one thing we all need right now is extreme self-care.

I’m not talking about the normal: ‘eat healthy, sleep well, exercise, wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands’ routine. I’m talking about extreme inner self-care. Things like…

  • Let go of self-judgment
  • Stop beating yourself up for not meeting your (previous life’s) expectations
  • Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is you’re feeling.
  • Hold on to something that can bring a smile to your face.
  • Find a way to be ‘okay’ with this crazy world we’re in right now.

Reality is, we’re stuck in the middle of a pandemic ‘between time.’ We left the shore of Normal Life months ago. And the new land of Life-After-COVID is nowhere in sight. We all know “something ain’t right,” and sometimes, yeah, we are afraid of falling off that “chair” of stability, order, and… sanity.

What can you do when you’re overwhelmed with “clowns” to the left and “jokers” to the right?

Understand the nature of “change.”

Every kind of “change” has two components:

  1. The External Event: such as a job change, a tornado, or the appearance and spread of the COVID-19 virus.
  2. The Internal Experience: our emotional response to what happened, or in our case, what’s still happening.

The internal adjustment takes longer and we move through it in three distinct phases: 1) Morn and Let Go, 2) Enter the Neutral Zone, and 3) Arrive at a New Beginning.

Right now, like it or not, we’re smack-dab in the middle of a prolonged neutral zone that feels more “crazy” than “neutral.”

But how do you stay sane in this crazy neutral zone?

Realize what’s happening under the surface.

The very definition of “change” means something has interrupted (i.e., “changed”) the normal flow of our life. Doesn’t matter if it’s a happy change, like a wedding or a new baby, or an unhappy change, like a tornado or death in the family. Either way, that interruption of our status-quo causes us stress.

The stress we feel is our body’s way of letting us know we’ve been knocked out of homeostatic balance. The primitive part of our mind, (the part that really likes keeping things the same), has sounded the alarm and engaged our body’s automatic survival response: Fight-Flight.

You may be well past the initial shock of the Pandemic life-disruptions. However, the virus is still running its course, and we still have to navigate through continued uncertainties and the corresponding social chaos.

Each season seems to bring new questions and concerns, i.e., the summer with everyone wanting to enjoy the warmer outdoor weather, schools trying to settle in for the fall semester, and now looking toward the November election.

Perspective is of utmost importance.

The mindset we hold during this phase will determine whether we feel more stress or less stress. Granted, we can’t change the way things are, but we can change how we think about it.

Choosing a more level-headed outlook can help build a bridge over these troubled waters and enable us to navigate this crazy transition in a healthier way.

Here are some suggestions for maintaining a sense of balance and a more level-headed mindset as you navigate the continued uncertainty.

Acknowledge your emotions.

If you’re like most people, you may have learned to stuff your emotions or push them away — especially the bad-feeling ones. Unfortunately, that coping strategy only creates more tension, more unhappy feelings, and a downward spiraling mindset.

These are sucky times. Feeling sad, mad, anxious, impatient, uncertain — whatever you’re feeling — is expected. It’s all part of being human.

Instead of pushing those feelings away, or trying to stuff them, or worse, scolding yourself for having them, let them be. Think of them as energy-in-motion. (E-motion.)

Turn off the ‘red alert.’

Our bodies evolved to respond to a survival emergency quickly, then get back to homeostatic balance or a state of calm. The trouble is, the primitive part of the mind that initiates the ‘red-alert’ can’t tell the difference between a real threat or an imagined one. It just senses “something ain’t right” and puts us in fight-flight survival mode.

Luckily, our bodies also come equipped with a built-in ‘turn-off’ switch. Taking a deep breath and slowly exhaling turns on the body’s natural relaxation response. It lets that primitive part of our brain know the “danger” is over.

Next time you feel a negative emotion, or any upset feeling, remember: it’s just your primitive brain signaling things are out of balance. So, instead of getting defensive about it, just notice. Be curious. Take some deep breaths.

Breathing through the uncomfortableness gives your conscious, logical mind time to realize the truth: You are safe. All is well.

(Caveat: Please, make sure that you ARE physically safe! If you’re not, get to safety immediately.)

The key phrase to remember during these crazy times is:  this too shall pass.

Write it out.

Keep a stress journal. Writing down those thoughts and feelings gets them out of your head and heart. Whether you write them on paper or type them into an app, it will help you process the troubling thoughts and feelings that are bound to come up.

Later, go back and read what you wrote. You’ll be able to see things from a different perspective and a calmer mindset, which can open up new insights and awareness.

Also, keep this in mind… Life as we knew it has changed. It’s gone. And anytime we experience a sense of loss there’s a natural grieving process. Allow yourself to grieve and let go of what was.

Doing this will help you better accept what is and open your mind to possibilities and creative solutions. It will also better prepare you for Life-After-COVID – which is on its way, just beyond the horizon.

Hang on to what’s important.

Hanging on to what brings you joy can help create a sense of equilibrium. What’s bottom-line important to you? What gives your life a sense of meaning and purpose?

What makes you smile?

Self-reflection is a huge component of extreme self-care. Determine what you need to show up each day as your best self. Re-examine your values. Set boundaries where you need to. Living out of alignment with who you really are can create its own sense of being out-of-balance.

Use this pandemic time-out to realign yourself with what’s truly important. Give yourself what you need to stay grounded and at peace. Read, meditate, spend time in nature, engage in a hobby, host a Zoom party. Use your imagination!

Look for the gift.

Funny, I started this year with big plans. Inspired by the quote, “It’s never too late to be who you were meant to be.” (Attributed to George Eliot). I deemed this year: Vision 2020.

With the help of my Personal Growth Meetup, we set up a series of self-improvement topics to help us become our best selves. I planned to start writing again — creating weekly posts and monthly educational materials to encourage and support this journey.

Little did I know we’d be in a world-wide time out before we were a quarter way through it.

The result? I crashed and burned.

As writing and trying to be a creative leader became harder and harder, I ended my 11-year stint as a Personal Growth Meetup facilitator. And trying to stay on track, cranking out weekly articles became a nightmarish struggle I couldn’t win.

Why am I telling you this?

Life is unpredictable.

Twists and turns are going to happen. Your job is to get up, brush yourself off, and take another step forward.

And. Look for the silver lining. There’s always a gift hiding in the hard times, just waiting to be found.

For me, a techno-phobic, this pandemic “forced” me to get over my fears and learn how to use Zoom. With fewer clients and extra time to “struggle” through the writing process, I finally had to face the doubts and demons sabotaging my creative process. It challenged me to swallow my pride, admit defeat, and follow the advice I often tell my clients: Put your own oxygen mask on first, then help others.

What’s your story?

Remember, you’re the Hero, the main character of your life. The story you tell is uniquely up to you. Though, the plot we all go through is familiar…

  • The hero faces a setback or problem, then sets out on a journey to resolve it.
  • Along the way, she encounters obstacles and roadblocks that test her resolve and inner strength.
  • These require her to use talents, skills, and resources she may not even realize she has.
  • In the process, she becomes more of Who She Really Is.
  • And arrives at the end, victorious over her own inner fears and demons.

If you sometimes feel like you’re “losing control and… all over the place,” just know that’s part of the song (literally). And, it’s part of the Hero’s Journey.

Because the rhythm of life continues through the good and the bad. And, like it or not, we’re still in this crazy between-time “neutral zone.”

And that means: You are in the place of all possibilities. So keep going.

What story will you tell?

Who will you be when we arrive at that new Life-After-COVID shoreline?

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