Driving home from the supermarket today, I noticed myself being a bit snappy with my son.
It took me a second to realise that the shopping trip had left me a bit rattled.
I noticed my breathing was shallow, my heart was beating faster, and I felt a bit tense around my shoulders.
I’d gone into the supermarket prepared to do my usual grocery shop, but then I realised that a lot of the food items I wanted to buy were not on the shelf!
There were big empty spaces where I assume the products had been earlier, and I started to feel a bit scared.
There were more people shopping than usual for that time of day, it was quite busy.
And while everyone was kind and courteous to each other (thankfully!), there was definitely tension in the air.
It was hard to ignore the vast empty shelves, and people were exchanging worried glances.
The country where I live has been doing really well so far, with fewer than 10 confirmed cases of CV.
So I had been feeling quite “safe”.
But yesterday the Prime Minister announced some extra precautions, and now it seems that people are concerned there might be a lock down.
Seeing the empty shelves filled me with fear that we would not be prepared for the situation, and that we might not have enough food (at least not the kind that we prefer to eat!).
It probably wasn’t a very rational response, but our nervous system isn’t logical. My nervous system was detecting a threat.
The fear I was feeling made it hard to think straight. I had trouble deciding what to buy, and was pushing my trolley around in circles, with my son asking me, “Are we done yet?”.
It took me a few seconds to answer the checkout woman’s question, “Would you like your receipt?”, as my mind was blank.
It was okay, I got a few things, and I’ll probably go to a different shop later and try to find the other things I was wanting.
But the experience had clearly affected me.
With more stress hormones pumping around my body than usual, my threshold for reacting was lower.
So it took much less to trigger me into “fight or flight” when my son did something I was uncomfortable with.
😵 As soon as I started to get snappy with him, I realised what I was doing, what was going on.
😵 I realised it wasn’t him, it was me, and I stopped talking.
😵 I dropped my story, and I took responsibility for my reaction.
😵 I remembered what had really triggered me, what had raised my level of sympathetic activation.
❤️ Once I was home, I took some space for myself, to slow down, and turn my attention to my breath.
❤️ I also took some time to “orient” to my environment, which means looking around and letting my nervous system register that, right now, I’m safe.
❤️ And I had a little laugh at my cat chasing a fly, which helped to release a bit of tension.
❤️ In a little while, we might go out for a walk to the park to release some of the sympathetic activation (“fight or flight” energy) in our bodies, and do a bit more orienting.
So if you notice yourself feeling more snappy or impatient with your family members, with everything that is going on right now, I’m sending you lots of empathy and compassion.
And I invite you to take some time to recognise what might be going on underneath that, and to do what you can to bring yourself back to a felt sense of safety.
You might also want to share with your kids that you’re feeling a bit stressed (they’ll sense it anyway), apologise if it comes out at them, and let them know you are taking some time to look after yourself.