When our brains are operating out of fight or flight, it’s impossible for us to access our creative calm.
“I gather colors . . . for winter is gray.”
I think there is a second, global pandemic that is as contagious and debilitating as the one that has besieged us since March of 2020: anxiety.
Over the last several weeks, in every conversation I have had with entrepreneur coaching clients, corporate teams, and nonprofit leaders, the theme on repeat is one of being in the grip of leg-buckling fear. An unrelenting, free-floating sense of panic. Fight or Flight. Doom.
The Reason for Flight or Flight
When I dig for details as to the source waters of these feelings, responses can be lumped under the umbrella of overwhelm. There are way too many tasks to plow through in a day, a week. Not enough help or not enough of the right help.
Uncertainty as to which goals/tasks to prioritize. Unclear on what work would render the desired results. Not enough restorative sleep, being off track on healthy habits and rituals. A conveyor belt of Things to Be Done that flies by on repeat in a hideous mind crawl.
This is our brains on burnout.
When under the influence of burnout, we narrow our focus. The chemicals of “fight or flight” course through our veins. Our IQ drops along with our problem-solving abilities and access to our creative thinking. In fight or flight, our amygdalas run the show, cut off from the executive functions of our prefrontal cortex.
Break Glass in Case of Emergency
We are at the mercy of impulsive behavior, rather than calm, thoughtful reasoning and strategic approaches.
I know this state of fight or flight intimately and have a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” solution to offer:
1) Take a deep breath. Begin by telling yourself that the solutions you need are much closer than you think.
2) Get out your journal and write for 10 minutes without stopping. Pour out every strange, briary thought, every fear, every complaint. Get it all down. Close your journal.
3) Get out a fresh piece of paper. Write at the top “Facts.” Now list out everything that is on your To Do list. Keep this list to only action items, not the fear you have around any of these. If fear comes back up again, get out your journal and put those fears on your journal pages.
4) Survey your Facts. Do you see any patterns? Do you have things on your list that are repeated using different descriptions? That is, for example, do you have “hire a VA” written down via twenty different variations?
5) Cross out any repetitions. Make a fresh, consolidated list with what remains.
6) Choose the top priority. Determine who you need to help you.
7) Make one phone call, send one email. Get the ball rolling on finding help in solving the issue at hand.
8) Take yourself on a walk. Fight or flight demons hate fresh air. Bring your journal and a pen with you.
9) Release your Facts. Open your focus and let your shoulders drop. Know that you are entering the portal of possibility as you move your body. Acknowledge the progress you’ve already made. Note that you have captured all your swirling thoughts on paper, and you know who you need to help you.
10) Be on the lookout for Unexpected Beauty. Look up. As you place your focus on the surprising things catching your eye, don’t race off too soon. Linger. Decide what you love about what you are seeing. Let it fill you with calm, warmth, and wonder. New energy. Carry it with you.
11) Return to your desk and take a fresh look at your Facts. Do you notice a new sense of empowerment as you read the list? What new ideas do you have? What other potential resources and support now come to mind?
12) Listen to my recent conversation with Ken Volante of the Something (rather than nothing) podcast for additional inspiration and insights.
The Calm of Your Creative Mind
Remember, you absolutely have what it takes. Refuse to listen to the mind’s chatter of imposter this or that. We all have these blurts, so resist the desire to make them mean anything other than what they are: vestigial remainders of old survival stories.
Come home to the calm of your creative mind. The seat of your most breathtaking abilities to solve any challenge in front of you.