There is a veritable mountain of studies linking our psychology to our physiology. If our bodies are healthy and active, or if they are not, our minds and emotions are likely to follow suit and an immense amount of research has demonstrated that changes in our mental and emotional state can have tremendous impact on our physical health. The valve flows both ways whether the changes are positive of negative.
Yes it means one end of the system is vulnerable to changes in the other but this vulnerability can also work to our advantage. We can impact our quality of life on both fronts by focusing on just one. We are able to achieve overall growth and improvement by targeting our energies at the aspect of ourselves we have the greatest affinity for or are best equipped to affect.
In general our physiology is the easier of the two to influence. Mainly because we don’t have to convince it, we simply have to engage it. As illogical or self-deceptive as it may seem we can force our attitudes and emotional states to come along if we get our bodies acting in accordance with where we are wanting to arrive rather than where we currently are.
As an example building confidence can be one of the most challenging things to pursue. True confidence is immensely powerful but difficult to build, while false confidence is much easier to evoke but incredibly fragile. The only building blocks for true confidence are successful achievements, which are all the more challenging to attain without confidence giving us the strength to push forward.
Fortunately the first few dominoes can be toppled, even in the near complete absence of confidence, by leveraging our physiology first. The simple act of straightening our posture at all times can have an enormous impact. Not only does it improve our underlying health by giving us improved circulation, increased lung capacity, and leading to less headaches or joint and muscle pain but it also radiates an aura of confidence to those around us. If people perceive us as having confidence they interact with us more positively, including us as peers and implying trust in our capabilities.
If we behave with confidence long enough we start to accumulate and experience the very achievements we need to truly feel that confidence in ourselves. This approach can lead to a sense of being a bit of an impostor but the mask also offers us the liberation to take action as someone else at first, someone who already has the confidence we seek to build. Even as simple a shift in our physiology as straightening our posture can start the chain reaction towards genuine and lasting results.
It is important to note there is a big difference between confidence and cockiness. Confidence says ‘I can’, cockiness says ‘I am the best’. Straightening our posture is an act of confidence, stomping around boasting about our greatness is an act of cockiness. Confidence deals in results, cockiness deals in reactions. Results last and stand as genuine evidence to ourselves and others. Reactions must be constantly generated and provoked over and over and over again since they instantly begin to fade the moment they occur.
In our current global situation our battle for our mental and emotional health has never been more crucial. The immense amount of uncertainty surrounding us attacks our psychology first, the stresses of which then wear away at our physiology. We are facing unprecedented levels of stresses and anxieties while at the same time being deprived of our two most potent weapons against them, normalcy and activity.
When things stress us severely we can prevent becoming consumed by them through keeping ourselves distractingly busy and we can take comfort in the familiarity and dependability of our daily routines and patterns. People often talk about the pain and devastation of losing a loved one striking most powerfully after the funeral is over and all the guests have gone. There are no more things to be done and thus no further pattern to follow or busy activity to distract ourselves with.
Staying home is a vitally important part of combating this crisis but it also deprives us of our familiar patterns, and the predictability of our near future they offer, as well as the effectively distracting busy activity of our day to day working lives. The social isolation certainly has an impact but plonking ourselves in one place, the couch or the chair or the bed, for most of the day isolates us in our own minds as well. Thoughts and emotions are slippery, mercurial things and with news sources and news feeds filled with a constant barrage of ‘crisis’ we can quickly become buried in anxiety.
The good news is the same daily routines we have lost access to hold a potential key to better equipping ourselves to battle those anxieties. Our psychology is wired to our physiology so just as we can engender confidence by physically enacting it, we can spark our sense of normalcy and functional purpose by physically enacting it.
This is not about being ‘productive’, compiling properly ambitious to-do lists and striving to impressively better ourselves. We won’t conquer our anxieties by setting goals lofty enough to overshadow them. We conquer our fears and anxieties by empowering ourselves to feel capable of facing them. It’s not about being aggressively active but rather about simply being functionally activated.
This Is Not Time Away From Work, It Is A Different Kind Of Work
This is not a vacation or time off. We are not taking a break. For those of us staying home, that we are not going to our jobs does not mean we do not have a job to do and for those of us still going to work the nature of our jobs has significantly changed. In both cases our new jobs are now the very essence of ‘day to day’.
Regardless of our circumstances for all of us our jobs now are to get through today doing whatever we need to in order to stay safe and healthy and an effective part of the machine combating this crisis.
For those working in essential services this means doing what is necessary to do so as safely as possible and then allowing ourselves to rest and recharge and to acknowledge a once familiar job is now exacting a very different toll mentally, emotionally, and physically. It is a very different and far more intense toll which cannot, and should not, ever be denied or overlooked. The best approach to the elephant, make it manageable. One bit at a time. Solve the problems and challenges of today then recover in whatever way is most effective and healthy for each of us.
For those staying home the best contribution we can make to this fight is precisely that, staying home and disrupting the potential chain of infection. It might sound overly simple or lazy or like a vacation. It’s not. Isolating ourselves from our peers, previous sense of purpose, and means of employment is incredibly difficult, draining, and frightening. Our new job is to do whatever it is we need to in order to maintain our mental, emotional, and physical health so we can navigate and sustain our contribution.
Sometimes this will mean resting and allowing ourselves to simply feel what we need to feel. It will also mean keeping ourselves activated and aimed at things we can do. Not grand or lofty achievements, simple tasks which can be accomplished in a day-to-day manner. Prior to all of this our daily lives were not constantly and perpetually epic, they were ordinary. So the best way to let our internal rhythms and reflexes find some familiarity is to engender feelings of ordinary activation.
Our Lives Still Need Structure
Even though our lenses have, out of necessity, narrowed to a scope of day-to-day only, our minds and biorhythms still need a sense of measurable structure. In order to feel any sense of certainty about whether we are moving forward, backward, or maintaining in place we need some method of measuring it. If our days don’t truly feel like they begin when does the middle of them occur and when do they end? Do they actually end?
One of the reasons deprivation of sleep and external environment are so often used in torture is because of how quickly and effectively our inability to place ourselves in a grounded present erodes our sanity. If we have no concrete sense of our present we become disconnected from our past and thus deprived of the experience and tools it provides us to feel capable of approaching our future with any power or capacity.
While all the jokes and memes about wondering whether it is Tuesday or June are cute and relatable there is an inherent danger to the confusion and uncertainty they imply. If our days don’t feel like they begin then they won’t truly feel like they end and without that sense of commencement and completion we lose a key measurement for illustrating to ourselves exactly how much we have endured or achieved. Our concept of what we can do depends heavily on our sense of what we have done. If I have never lifted weights before the bar-bell set up in front of me could be a walk in the park or a complete impossibility. Without any measured experience I am completely blind and unprepared for whichever reality I may crash into should I try it.
As treacly as it might sound we all have a 100% success rate for having made it through all the difficult days we have faced before. The power of this kind of certainty gets weakened if our sense of how many days it has actually been becomes blurred.
Whether it happens at the same time each day or not we need to feel our days have actually begun. Not only to help us feel more activated and capable of pursuing our goals for the day but also to help us mark their passing and thus the successful completion of our new current job.
Dress For The Job You Want
So to put all of this together we go back to the top. Yes, you should get dressed. There is nothing more typical than brushing your teeth, having a shower, and getting dressed to announce your day has begun. As we did for our previous jobs, we dress for the job we are facing.
For those working in essential spaces this means added safety and protective measures. As frightening as their implications are the human capacity to normalize is rather staggering. Instead of fixating on their implications try to view them as simply part of the uniform. They are there for a reason, a very serious and understandably frightening reason, and seeing them as part of the uniform is not an act of minimizing or dismissing them. It is simply an act of acknowledging they are part of the picture and a necessary tool for functioning in our new job.
For those at home, our new office is most likely much less formal a setting but our bodies are very savvy organisms. They know the difference between functional and ‘flop on the couch’. Someone recently asked me how I find the energy or motivation to get showered and dressed every day. My answer was it’s the other way around. I get showered and dressed every day in order to have energy and motivation. If you have video meetings brush your hair, do your make-up, shave, and wear pants. Not just to avoid any ‘your camera is still on’ bloopers. If your physiology is taking it seriously your psychology will as well.
Wear clothes which announce to your body and sense of self that your day has begun. If it has begun then you can approach it as the job it now is. Whatever tasks need to be completed in order to reach the other end of the day having sustained and maintained your mental, emotional, and physical health can then be approached with a greater sense of capacity, capability, and readiness.
We will get through this. And for all of us our new job is to do so one day at a time. So start it by getting dressed, even if for no other reason than the enhancing the comfy enjoyment of putting the PJs on at the end of it.