Hello, NAU Family!
Fully vaccinated and stir-crazy, I took a road trip to Colorado last weekend to visit friends and do some camping. I’m always struck by how adventures, be they in nature or on the road, provide such good metaphors for life. I hadn’t driven through Lizard Head Pass for several years, so it was like a brand new experience as I navigated the twists, turns, hills and valleys. (Such a GORGEOUS drive – if you haven’t driven Hwy 145 in Colorado – highly recommend. But pull-over to look at the majesty of nature.) I noticed anxiety rise as visual distance declined on some corners, particularly long, sharp ones. Would there be a car right in front of me suddenly? Wildlife? A stop sign? Road construction? The inability to see far and clearly on the road ahead creates body tension, peaked awareness, and hypervigilance.
It is similar with life, isn’t it? Navigating a pandemic for which we had no road map created much anxiety and many questions and concerns. And now, here we are, in the final stretch and seeing so many positive changes: hospitalizations and death tolls dropping, vaccination rates increasing, infection rates declining. And here at NAU, we have welcomed a new president – Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera. Inspired by his calls for equity and inclusion, it seems that brighter days lie just ahead. Yet, even as we are nearing the end of this hairpin turn in history, we still can’t see too far into the distance. Our hope is tempered with tentative wariness, and perhaps weariness, until our vision becomes clear.
It is very common and normal for heightened emotion to arise at this stage of the journey. We’ve made it through the intense crisis; our survival and safety are more assured. With our basic needs secure, our psychological needs now demand attention. Our team here at EAW frequently assesses and discusses what we are noticing in our NAU community, and THIS is what we are noticing. Many people are experiencing heightened emotional intensity as the crisis wanes. Again, this is a normal and natural, if not somewhat annoying, psychological process. If this is you – I promise you aren’t losing it. You are discharging and processing the emotional intensity of the past 18 months. Just because the stressor is over, doesn’t mean the stress is. Stress is the chemical response to the stressor that happens inside of the body, creating the fight/flight/freeze response and all kinds of messy emotions. This is the mission now: completing the stress cycle in the body so you can experience more peace, calm, and ease.
Let’s talk about how we do this:
First – identify your symptoms. Are you anxious? Agitated? Angry? Sad? Fidgety? Disconnected? Lonely? Our symptoms give us clues for what our body needs to discharge the stress and complete the cycle.
Second – Match the intervention with your symptoms. There are three categories of intervention: physical activity and discharge of energy, emotional release, connection to self or others.
How do you know what you need? Here are some ideas:
If your symptoms are more “flight” related (ie: anxious, agitated, fidgety, can’t sit still, mind running) you will need to move your body. Exercise, tightening and releasing muscles, stretching, walks. After moving your body, then practice relaxation and mindfulness exercises, not before.
If your symptoms are more “fight” related (ie: angry, frustrated, short-fused, ragey, irritable) you will also need to move your body, often with more emphasis on upper body. Boxing, push-ups, clenching and unclenching fists while walking, throwing rocks. After moving your body, then practice relaxation and mindfulness exercises, not before.
If you are experiencing grief and sadness over the losses of the past year you will need to express your emotion. Watch sad movies and cry – a lot — journal, talk to a friend. It is important to allow yourself to emote. Otherwise, we just trap and store our emotions for later.
If you are experiencing disconnection, loneliness, apathy you will need to connect to yourself and/or others. Creative expression is a great way to connect to your deeper self. Sew, cook, draw, paint, make a collage, garden. Connect with others by inviting friends over for a game night, call someone you haven’t spoken with all year and see how they are doing.
You may notice you are just plain tired and exhausted. Allow yourself to rest and restore. Do nothing. Sleep more. Practice activities that fill your cup. Talk to encouraging loved ones.
I would be remiss to not recognize that there are many in our community who are under threat of evacuation due to the Rafael fire. As always, we are here for support and resources. Please check our website for fire resources and check out this webpage for the latest updates on the Rafael Fire: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/7567/. And, please, please, please do not hesitate to reach out to our office if there is anything we may do to support you through this. This is hard. But, we can do hard things, especially together.
Your trusty NAU EAW team is eager to finish rounding this corner of life and are excited to see what lies ahead. Surely, there are good things on the horizon, and we are excited to see how this compassionate and resilient community flourishes in the coming months. Until then – enjoy your summer!
(on behalf of the EAW team)