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Practicing Presence Over Panic

Updated: Mar 30, 2020

When I began flying frequently for work, I knew that meant boarding many airplanes and summoning patience with delays. What I was unprepared for was the sweaty-palmed nausea that came with turbulence. On my first few flights when turbulence hit, my thoughts went to worst case scenario. What if we crash? Is this how my life ends? What if I vomit on my neighbors lap? What if my neighbor vomits on my lap, would that be worse?

On one particularly turbulent ride, the pilot told the flight attendants to take their seat. I'm glad I chose a seat near the front on my Southwest flight that day, because I witnessed something that changed my air travel forever. While I was sweating out turbulence, the flight attendants calmly took their seat as instructed, buckled up, and continued chatting and laughing. Albeit, a bit bumpy, this was just another day at work for them.

They were calm and present with each other, unknowingly teaching me that I had nothing to panic about. As I traveled more, I'd find myself glancing at the nearest flight attendant whenever we hit a bump. They were usually going about their work, laughing while filling drinks and calmly answering questions.

Right now, life and work is feeling pretty turbulent. Bumpy, uncertain, and shaky with sadness about our cancelled plans.I imagine it is for you, too. So, I'm practicing ways to be present instead of falling into panic. (I am an overthinker and overanalyzer, I need this probably more than anyone.) It's helping me to remember that this chaos, as painful and stressful as it may be, is all temporary. I'm leaning on a phrase that I also use as the anchor for my business - Rise Confidently.

While I hadn't put it in to words at the time, rising confidently defined how I wanted to lead in banking through the financial crises of 2008. How I wanted to climb out of the disappointment of miscarriages, divorce, and calling off a wedding. How I wanted to respond to all of the projects and goals that didn't go as planned. How I would navigate entrepreneurship after leaving corporate America. I remembered each of those panicky, uncertain moments and what I used to quiet my fears and stories that life as I knew it was over.

Here are four practices (R.I.S.E.) I used to carry forward, and still reminding myself to use them today to switch back to presence when I (still) find myself panicking.

  1. Reconnect with your values. Your why. Your True Self. For four years, I have spent the first hour of my day journaling. Why? Science shows that just 10 minutes of values writing impacts your optimism, resilience, creativity, motivation and even biometric readings. It reminds me that when my circumstances suck, I can choose how I want to move through them.

  2. Inquire into all your ways of knowing. (Head, heart, and body.) Head: Before I judge, stress and make assumptions, Is my thought/story true? What is the evidence? What can I detect with my five senses (hint: flight attendants being calm). Body: Does this decision feel of peace or of chaos? Heart: What would action in alignment with my values look like?

  3. Set Boundaries: Now is the time to revisit and set new working and living agreements. At work: Set expectations as to what you expect for remote check-ins. Camera on/off for meetings. At home: Set expectations for helping with kids, meals, work time, social time and quiet time. Don’t expect people should “just know” - we can’t expect it if we don’t express it. What supports a positive environment - check your news feed and your social circle.

  4. Evolve: Now is not the time to make big decisions. Too much is still unknown. Take only the smallest, bravest step you need today. Be present, open and ready for the fact you may need to change course tomorrow. That’s okay.

I am working hard to remember that I don't need to have all of the answers, but what I do need is to be present for myself and others. It's okay to make some mistakes, we are all back in "square one" trying to hold in our sadness or anger of what we've lost (our routine, our roles, our expectations, etc.) while trying to clear the internal fog of how we should move forward. I feel deeply that we will come out changed on the other side, even if we don't know yet what the future holds. Compassion for ourselves and others will connect us because uncertainty is our certainty.

Grab a friend or colleague to help you. Schedule writing time together. Have them find the facts in your stressful story. Share your values with each other. Is there a phrase or values-based mantra that will carry you through to the other side of this?

This turbulent ride will end. And, no matter what, the time will pass. How will you be spending it? Let's practice presence over panic. Let's rise confidently.

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