Are humans and bodies supposed to work like machines? Shut down what you don’t need, switch on what you want. And when the switch is on, the body (or human) is supposed to function like a cog in a system without fault.
I can’t say this mechanical way of looking at human beings does in any way resemble my personal experience.
What makes us human vs. what makes us objects
I suspect that way too many people treat their bodies if they were machines – even in non-crisis times, because it seems to be normal that we have to deliver performance in the system.
We might have this possibly unconscious attitude because we grew up among role models who were doing the same. This objectification of the self is part of our status quo and zeitgeist, which shows for instance in the quantified self movement. Self-optimization is often equivalent to the objectification of the self instead of supporting us in having a good life.
I don’t want to go more into the subject of objectification or our obsolete education systems that also contribute to the way we look at or treat ourselves as if we were machines. I’d rather share a thought from my embodiment perspective that emerged as I was repeatedly hearing media and politicians speak about the “shutdown of public life” and more recently about “re-booting the economy”.
Shutting down the system = survival mode
On a physical level, shutdown corresponds to survival mode. This means two things: on the one hand the body is stressed, because it is facing an extraordinary situation, on the other hand it is going into fight, flight or freeze mode, depending on the situation and your learned preferred mode.
The thing is that few of us have learned how to move out of this reactive state of stress even if we realize it is no longer needed or doesn’t correspond to the situation we’re facing.
This is not a novel situation we’re experiencing now on a collective level because of the Corona pandemic. Our inability to deal with stress and our reactions to it has been reflected in figures of people suffering from burnout, chronic stress (including FOMO) or sleep problems.
It’s not just individuals, it’s in the collective
Since we are social beings and our nervous systems are constantly communicating with the environment and with each oterh, our stress and survival mode might be activated even when there is no real danger to us personally. It can happen when we are surrounded by a certain level of stress from others/stress we perceive from outside.
Unless you have learned how to calm down, or regulate your nervous system, anyone of us might experience stress due to the Coronavirus pandemic, no matter if you are safe, have financial security and live comfortably or if you are actually in a precarious situation and suffer from multiple stresses.
I guess that many of you have experenced moments of stress in the last weeks or months of lockdown or shelter in place. Can you tell if the stress you felt was primarily triggered by the collective stress that the situation caused or whether the stress was your own? Sometimes it can be helpful to be able to discern at this level.
But even if you know you don’t need to be stressed and still feel it (from the collective or your own old accumulated stress), you can take personal response-ability and find ways how to find calm and presence.
This kind of self-care would be a valuable and profound contribution to the collective. When you nervous system is calm, you also influence the space and people around you.
The phase of the lockdown has not been a short one. And this has implications.
A few negative effects that can show as a result of being stressed can be:
- Reduced creativity that we would need for finding solutions and new ideas.
- We don’t see the big picture and it’s thus harder to make good decisions.
- Our immune system is compromised – which we definitely need now.
Our heads often wish they could be in control, be safe. In reality, there are very few things that are within our realm of influence. Many of our learned patterns or reactions aim to create a (felt sense of) security. In everyday life, where those patterns are active, it might be a bit harder to recognize them because they are subtle and escape our radar.
In the current crisis, where political decisions profoundly affect our personal freedom, it becomes apparent what we can influence and what not. That is, per se, not a bad thing as it allows you to identify where you have invested attention and energy in trying to create security that you could use in other ways – more efficiently and directly – for your presence and agency.
What you can influence
What we can influence and choose in any given moment is our posture. And I mean this literally and meatphorically – they are interdependent.
We can also consciously influence our breathing. A breathing technique is not a panacea, nor will it change external factors for us. It can, however, shape my state of mind and being and bring back a sense of agency within my realm of influence.
Breathing as a way out of stress
A simple and maybe the most direct way to move out of stress is breathing.
Any pattern, also your stress reaction or stress mode, is accompanied by a certain breathing pattern. When the body is stressed, the breathing is usually shallow and fast. This way of breathing maintains the production of stress hormones in the body.
As soon as you reduce your breaths per minute and you can breathe again deeply and calmly, your body stops producing stress hormones. In a relaxed mode, your body cannot only take care, f.e. of the digestive system and restful sleep, but it also fosters creative and big-picture thinking.
A breathing technique that allows to you to move out of stress and regulate your nervous system and for which there is also ample scientific data available is Coherent Breathing. It’s easy for every body to learn and you can practice it by using an app on your smart phone. (I’ve described the how-to in a blog article last year.)
When you shut down the system, you also need to re-boot
When politicians give the go-ahead for a re-boot of public life and the economy, it’s a good sign. It is very likely though that many people don’t know how to do this, as they are stuck in chronic stress and haven’t learned how to move out of it. This can have far-reaching implications on the economy, general health and performance.
The first days after the lockdown ended and less rules were to be observed, it felt strange and unusual to me. Maybe other people felt the same.
I hope that many people will find ways to move out of stress and get support in this process. I also hope that more attention will be paid to what this business of shutting down and re-booting means on a physical, emotional and mental level for people.
My wish is that body awareness, and breathing as a simple and effective tool, and the resulting self-confidence that people can gain would become part of the education system and an integral part of work life. We are, after all, bodies at work.
To be able to move into and co-create the future in a healthy and sustainable way, we need people who are present, awake and trust their individual abilities and potentials. We need people who take leadership and embrace their humanness.
Are you ready to lead?