When we are in survival mode, whether it be fight, flight or freeze, our autonomic nervous system is no longer in the social engagement status where we feel connected to ourselves, to others and to a higher purpose. As we emerge from the pandemic, our nervous system needs to re-calibrate back into the socially engaged status. How do we know we are there? By feeling that we are in our “element” again, feeling safe in our bodies, minds and spirits. This is where we find it easy to connect to ourselves and others. We start to live in a world full of possibilities, full of trust and willingness to take risk to grow and explore.
But, how do we do that when it seems that we can’t seem to go into any store without impulsively bringing our masks with us when they are no longer required? I personally have to remind myself ,“It is ok, you don’t have to keep bracing yourself with this mask.”
My First Haircut In Over a Year!
As we emerge from the pandemic, we, as a collective, are having many “first time in a over a year experiences.” I had my first hair cut in over a year just a month ago. I could initially feel my body brace, holding my breath and tension in my muscles, as I walked into my hair dressers. I could hear myself thinking, “Am I sure this is safe? Am I taking too much of a risk? Maybe I can wait a few more months before I get a haircut?” And then, my no-nonsense voice said, “Come on, Nesrin. You have cut your own hair. And quiet frankly, I am glad you are a physician and not a hair dresser. Go see Maddie and let her do her wonderful magic with your hair!” Of course the no-nonsense voice didn’t lead me astray. It felt initially strange to have someone else touch my hair aside from myself. Nobody else had touched my hair over a year! And, yet, as I sat in the chair and my hair dresser, Maddie, started to massage my scalp and wash my hair, I could hear a big sigh. I felt my shoulders relax. Maddie and I chatted how our lives have been over this past year of the pandemic. I felt calmer after I left Maddie’s salon, with more pep in my step. It wasn’t just my hair that felt bouncier! What was it about getting my hair cut that help me come back to myself, feeling connected and grounded? Was it the actual haircut that looked wonderful? The human connection in person where we see each other and hear each other’s voices in real time without a screen between us? The somatic experience in my body of having my haircut and my scalp massaged?
I know enough about the nervous system to know that it probably was all the above. My nervous system moved from the chronic stress of the pandemic with the fight, flight or freeze stance to feeling connected and able to let go of bracing myself. My nervous system had been operating from the stance of danger and life threat, seeking protecting over connection, to survive the pandemic. Where did my nervous system move to? It moved to the social engagement system, where we feel safe enough to connect to one another, with our bodies feeling calmer with less tension, being able to hear and see each other’s voices and see each other’s faces, real time, without a screen between us!
My First Yoga Class in Person In Over A Year!
My other “first since the pandemic” was going to a yoga class for the first time in person. I could feel my body brace with tension rise in my jaw as I parked my car and prepared myself to go to class. My chest tightened and my breath became shallow. “Am I sure I really want to do this? Is this safe? Maybe I can take a class in person in a month or two. It is not urgent,” I found myself thinking to myself. And, my no-nonsense voice spoke to me, “Come on Nesrin, we have talked about this. You gotta start somewhere. You can keep avoiding going back in person forever and come up with more excuses. You are vaccinated. The studio is taking the appropriate precautions. What else do you need to be able to go in person? This is your fear talking, which I totally get. It didn’t feel safe to go anywhere over the past year, but things are changing, you gotta ease into this, just one step at a time, at least show up to the yoga class and then decide from there if you will actually take the class.” Surely, I could show up to the class and say hi to my wonderful yoga teacher, Bob. I hadn’t seen Bob in over year and only took classes with him online instead.
A flight of fifty steps later, I arrived at the yoga studio. I could feel the bracing in my chest melted as I reconnected with my yoga teacher, Bob and other fellow yogis. Everyone’s smiles and genuine greetings warmed my heart, brought a smile to my face. It was hard to turn around and not take the yoga class.
Now of course, there was a little “glitch” according to Mindy, a fellow yogi. The AC was not working, and she placed a fan at the back of the class. The studio has big windows that let in all this wonderful sun, but which also can warm up the studio quiet quickly. I could tell that expansion that I felt in my body came to a big sigh, “Oh No, this will be inadvertently a hot yoga class!” It was so interesting to observe my nervous system quickly move through the different states from survival mode of fear and freeze, of not wanting to take the yoga class after the pandemic, to getting excited when seeing my fellow yogi, back to shut down mode at the thought of having no AC in the studio.
Bob and Mindy got some Yoga blankets, and along with other yogis, started to hang the blankets on the windows to block the sun and I also joined them. There was something about the action of hanging the blankets, chatting with others and laughing at how we were determined to take this yoga class, AC or Not. All that helped my mindset shift from wanting to give up on taking the yoga class anre return home, to thinking that surely I can take a yoga class, seeing how everyone was doing their best to make it work. I felt connected to the other yogi as we hung together the blankets for a common cause of taking the yoga class together, in person, and not on zoom. We were in this together!
What was it about the pandemic that made human connection so valuable? Was that the in person human connection became so hard to come by that when we come by it, it is so valuable and we will do our best to preserve it and nurture it? Or are we so starved for human connection since the pandemic, that we will nurture any in person connection and are more invested in it?
These are some of my stories about merging from the pandemic, tethered to my nervous system that shares the same characteristics as everyone else; operating from the fight, flight or freeze when life does not feel safe and there is a need to self-protect, and then moving to feeling safe and being able to feel connected again to myself and others. Navigating these transitions while being kind to myself and others, and knowing that we are all in merging together.
How are you merging from the pandemic? What thoughts are you having before having your “first ever since the pandemic” started? What feelings come up along with that and what sensations come up in your body? How do you navigate them? Do you remain in these thoughts, feelings and sensations, or do you move beyond them? What helps you move beyond them? Or maybe you don’t feel that you ready to move beyond them? And if not now, then when? What small tiny steps do you take to merge back to a life fully lived, connected to what is meaningful to you and others, uninhibited by fear for safety?
Join me on my journey as I reflect and tell stories of the small steps that I am taking to merge back fully to life, and I welcome you sharing your stories! We are all in this together! Recovery to wholeness is not an isolated individual journey. It is to be shared with others. We are not meant to cut our own hair, and need someone else to do it with us. (Unless maybe you can figure out how to cut the back of your hair, then, you are super talented! But most of us need each other to live life fully!)