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Creating Flexible Structure: Finding the Gray Between Rigid and Free

Mar 26, 2020
Wellbeing Wednesday
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When faced with a crisis, we tend to run anxiously. While anxiety can feel uncomfortable, it serves a very important purpose. Anxiety is meant to function like a car alarm, giving us a clear signal when danger may be near. It helps us to pause what we’d normally be doing, direct our attention toward evaluating potential threats, and then choose how to respond. However, when we’re faced with an uncertain situation (like the one we’re all trying to figure out right now), it’s very common that our internal anxiety alarm can get out of whack.On a brain level, that means that we start thinking with our more primitive brain, which shifts us into a survival mindset. And, when we’re in a survival mindset, our thinking begins to get very polarized—black vs white, good vs bad, rigid vs loosey-goosey. One very powerful tool that helps to recalibrate our anxiety alarm so that we can shift our mindset from primitive and reactionary to thoughtful and responsive is to establish external structure. Structure on the outside helps us to feel more organized on the inside. Here are three suggestions for establishing some soothing structure.

1. Start with things — actual objects.

Bringing new structure to your physical space is satisfying because you can actually see and experience the fruits of your labor. As some of us are trying to figure out how to use our home-space differently, it’s a great time to think about assigning space for certain activities. This might look like setting up an art station for your kids who are now at home a lot, re-organizing your home desk that you’ve been using as a laundry folding station for months, or creating designated workspaces in different parts of your home so that you and your partner can have the necessary space to work independently. The structure of dedicated space can ease the anxiety as it takes the guesswork out of the how and where. You can rest assured that you have a space to conduct your virtual meetings and that if mid-meeting your pen runs out of ink, you have a backup within reach!

2. Move to productivity and embrace “-ish.”

Though everyone’s rhythm has certainly shifted in the last couple of weeks, we’re all still responsible for being productive. Setting a rhythm to your day is a helpful way to keep from spinning your wheels and actually get to work. However, this is an area where we could get caught in the trap of black and white thinking, so to recalibrate our anxiety alarm, we need to find the gray. A minute-by-minute schedule that demands “business as usual” is a recipe for failure. The reality is our world is not operating as usual, and the best way to move forward dispute all the “new normal” is to do so with flexibility — i.e., embrace the “-ish.” To the greatest degree possible, create a schedule of productivity; this includes work tasks, home-schooling structures, exercise routines, with the expectation that it’s unlikely to go minute-by-minute as planned. So, instead of saying, “I’m going to knock out a 3-mile run at 6 p.m.,” try, “I’m going to get in 3ish miles of moderate cardio before starting dinner.” Creating structures that have a win/lose outcome drives anxiety; this is the time to frame success with compassion and flexibility.

3. Intentionally schedule time for connection & creativity

I cannot stress this enough! Staying connected to our loved ones and ourselves is key to maintaining balance during this crazy time. Just like you create a flexible structure for work, it is important to do the same for connection, creativity, and self-care, or else they may not get done! Plan time during the time to check in with a friend, join your kids in an art project, or simply take 10 minutes to breathe. Hang in there, everyone! You are all doing great. If you need any support at all, the Wellview Care Team, including Health Advisors and Mental Health Specialists, are here for you. Click HERE to learn more about the Wellview services available to you. We can’t wait to work with you!

– COLEY WILLIAMS, LMFT

Mental Health Provider

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