And Our 2021 Superpower is....

By Gail Cummings, JD, MSS, LCSW, Executive Coach | Psychotherapist, Founder, Gail J. Cummings Consulting, LLC 

After having our world suddenly turned upside down in 2020, it seems that 2021 could not have arrived quickly enough.

I started my day on Monday, January 4 – excited to work with my clients on their goals and challenges for this new year. Less than 2 days later, an angry mob of rioters was storming the Capitol, the United States Capitol. Could this really be happening?

Although I was watching media coverage of the event as it unfolded, I had a sense of cognitive dissonance – I saw the images but my mind was insisting this could not be happening. This type of experience is understood as an automatic defense mechanism that we use to ward off the anxiety and distress triggered by an unexpected or out-of-the-ordinary event that is contrary to our existing belief structure.

As it began to sink in that this was happening, I found myself getting more distressed.

I noticed the anxiety showing up as a pit in my stomach and my thoughts becoming more catastrophic. I became aware that I would have to turn this situation around. I turned off the news, turned on a ten-minute mindfulness exercise, and then drank a hot cup of chamomile tea – sending the message to my body to calm down. I had no control over what was happening in our nation’s capital, but I could take control of what was going on for me.

How do we manage stress and anxiety triggered by unexpected and sudden events? We get flexible – our 2021 superpower.

Flexibility is “the practice of actively dealing with stressors by using whatever resources, strengths and creative ideas you have,” says Professor George Bonanno, a clinical psychologist who leads the Loss, Trauma and Emotional Lab, Teachers College, Columbia University, in NYC.

Here are a few “flexibility” practices to manage stress:

  • Give yourself permission to feel stressed and anxious. Stuffing your feelings makes it difficult to process them and delays you feeling better.
  • Write or draw about what you are thinking and feeling.
  • Take a walk, get fresh air, and access nature.
  • Play with your pet, or your neighbor’s pet.
  • Take a social media break.
  • Call a friend or family member with whom you are comfortable sharing difficult moments. Research shows our stress is higher when we feel alone so connecting to social support can be powerful.

What resources, strengths and creative ideas do you bring into play to manage stress and anxiety?

I encourage you to share your “flexibility” practices with each other – so we can move through 2021 successfully and stare down that uncertainty together!

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