When you get triggered by events out of your control—including the kind of news we read every day lately— you need a way to process your responses so you can function well during the day and sleep well at night. Here is a simple seven-step process combining elements of Focusing and Inner Bonding that you can do daily before bed to restore a sense of calm and safety.
During the crisis last Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol building, I let myself go down the live-news rabbit hole. I broke all my own rules for news consumption and checked the live news feed on my phone every time I got a chance. Starting that night, the quality of my sleep plummeted. I’d struggle to fall asleep, then wake up way too early. My stomach felt tight and I couldn’t relax.
By Friday, I realized I needed to take action to lower my stress level. I slept later than usual, put myself on a news fast, did extra breathwork and meditation, and got myself outside for a walk. Skirting the 400-acre park near our house, I caught a flash of black and white out of the corner of my eye. I turned just in time to see a pileated woodpecker land on a nearby tree.
I’ve often seen small woodpeckers in our neighborhood, but never a pileated. Seeing that unmistakable red-crested head gave me a jolt of wonder and joy. Then, to my surprise, I felt my body relax. Something about seeing this bird shifted my mind state.
What was that “something?” As a walked on, I remembered reading in my Animal Speak book that that woodpeckers teach us the power of rhythm and discrimination. In fact, this wasn’t the first time a woodpecker had showed up to remind me that good things happen when I allow myself to follow my own rhythms, as I had done that morning by sleeping in…and as I usually do by reading the news a day late.
How do we stay current—while also staying calm?
In an earlier article, How to stay calm in the face of current events, I wrote about the news consumption dilemma we face as highly sensitive people. We want to stay informed. But to pull that off without getting overwhelmed, we need to be intentional about how and when we consume news.
Even if we manage our news consumption skillfully, though, we can’t escape reality. A lot is happening in our world. Sooner or later we’ll need to process our reactions to it. And we have the events of our own lives to process, too.
Today I’d like to offer you seven simple steps you can use as a daily practice to connect to yourself and process whatever feelings and reactions you are carrying—whether they arise from events in the news, or from your own life.
If you are an experienced Focuser, you will recognize the heart of the Focusing process—sensing, describing, and resonating—and you will appreciate the added power of spiritual connection and action. If you practice Inner Bonding®, you will recognize the spiritual connection and action steps, while enjoying a powerful new way to engage in the inner dialogue process.
You can use these seven steps on the spot, any time you notice something has triggered you or touched you. I did a bit of it right after seeing the woodpecker, for example. But I particularly recommend you use the steps to clear your body, mind, and heart before you head to bed in the evening. The calmer and safer you feel when you drop off to sleep, the better you’ll sleep. And the better you sleep, the more resilient your sensitive body and mind will be the next day.
7 steps to hold your inner experience
Being by getting as physically comfortable as you can. You may want to dedicate a notebook to this process: writing down what comes is a form of self-empathy. In addition, writing can help you track which step you are on.
1—Get quiet and sense what is going on in you. If you are heading to bed soon, ask yourself, “Is there anything between me and going to sleep feeling peaceful and safe?” Then acknowledge what comes by using the word “something:”
- “There’s something weighing on me about Mary’s death…”
- “There was something about the timing that really bothered me…”
- “My stomach feels tense. Something is going on in me… “
2—Wait. Your body takes much longer to respond than your mind. Give it at least 30 seconds to sense into the “something” you have identified.
3—Describe what comes. You can say it back to yourself out loud, or write it down.
4—Sense if your description resonates in the body. You can adjust the words as needed until they feel right.
5—Keep sensing if there’s more, waiting, and describing what comes, until the body says, “That’s it…that’s all that wants to come about that right now…”
6—Invite your higher wisdom. “Is there anything my spiritual intuition wants to say to me about this?” This step is particularly important if you have identified a situation that is upsetting you over which you have no control. You may not be able to change the event, but you can always ask your higher wisdom for help in handling it.
7—Sense if any action is needed. “Is there anything I want or need to do?” If need to, write yourself a reminder note so you won’t forget to take the action.
Once you’ve followed the seven steps around the first “something” that came, go back to Step 1. Ask yourself, “Is there anything between me and going to sleep feeling peaceful and safe?” Repeat the process until the answer is “no.”
What about positive experiences?
Any time you turn and sense within, you may notice that painful feelings or experiences float to the top. It’s as if they demand your attention first. Neuroscientists call this negativity bias. Negativity bias is part of being human. You are neurobiologically wired to pay attention to discomfort or pain, in case something life-threatening needs your attention.
However, your negativity bias has a major downside. It means your brain registers negative experiences instantly, and minimizes the attention you pay to positive experiences. To your brain, positive feelings are like droplets of water falling on a parched surface. They evaporate before they have a chance to sink in.
Fortunately, you can help positive feelings “stick.” But you have to make a conscious effort. That’s why I recommend you take time to process and savor your positive experiences daily, and not just your painful experiences.
Using the 7 steps to integrate and savor positive experiences
We don’t usually have to go looking for painful feelings. As we’ve seen, they will present themselves to your attention. To identify positive feelings, though, you will need to be more proactive.
My favorite way to elicit positive feelings is to look back on my day and ask myself, “What is the best (or “my favorite”) thing that happened today?” If you do this every day, your mind will get in the habit of noticing events that might be candidates for “best thing of the day.” This positive orientation is powerful in itself, and even more so when you take time to “unpack” your positive reactions.
Once you’ve identified your favorite positive thing that happened today, begin the seven steps by acknowledging the feeling or incident, using the word “something:”
- “Something about getting that lovely letter from my sister felt so good…”
- “There’s something about finally getting my desk cleaned off…”
- “Something about seeing that pileated woodpecker shifted my mood from stress to joy…”
Continue with steps 2 through 7: wait, describe, sense if the description fits, sense if there’s more, ask if there’s any higher wisdom about this, and sense if there’s any action needed. It’s exactly the same as processing a painful feeling or incident, with one big difference: as good feelings come in your body, let them expand. Savor them. Invite them to stay.
Something about seeing that woodpecker…
I used this process later that evening to savor my woodpecker sighting, having concluded that that was my very favorite event of the day. Something about seeing that bird felt indescribably good. Sitting with the good feeling, I realized I felt a sense of safety and gratitude. Woodpeckers are old friends of mine, and I took it as a sign of support that one showed up to cheer me up and calm me down when I needed it most.
Note that my reaction was entirely personal. But it was real. By taking time to savor the good feelings, I integrated them into my body and my mind. I can call that joy to mind right now. Even that single woodpecker experience was enough to create a bigger, sturdier “container” of Loving Adult Presence in me. I felt noticeably more peaceful and safe, and I slept much better that night.
Whatever challenges you face, this seven-step process gives you a concrete way to process the entire range of your experiences each day. The more regularly you practice the steps, the more sturdy you will feel. It’s good to have something under your control, when so much isn’t.