When a crisis hits, instinct sends us to the store to stock up. Water? Check. Ice cream? Check. Frozen lasagna? Check. Better make that double of everything, just in case. We stock our pantry, the fridge, the freezer, and the back-up chest in the garage. There is enough food for days, weeks even, in the event that, what, a nuclear bomb hits? A snowstorm traps us indefinitely inside the four walls of our home, or the coronavirus threatens to keep us quarantined indefinitely?
We react irrationally, thinking this behavior will protect us, hoping we can stay safe. Then we come home and panic because we feel out of control. It is a field day for the primitive part of our brain that functions in survival mode. It does whatever it can to try and keep us safe, to make things comfortable, to help us feel better in the moment. With the world around us in chaos, the primitive brain does not have to look far to find relief.
Food is the easiest, cheapest and most convenient way to experience short-term comfort, and because it is how most of us cope with stress, it is also an ingrained habit. Put us in the middle of a crisis, at home with too much food, and it is a perfect recipe for overeating and weight gain.
Maybe that does not matter to you. I am here to tell you that it should. The more you eat to manage your emotions, or the hardship of a difficult situation, the worse off you are. Not just because you bog down your physical health with excess consumption, expended energy, and potential weight gain. But because you neglect your emotional well being when you try to solve for stress by eating. Consuming food when you are stressed gives you temporary pleasure, but it does not resolve or handle the reason behind the distress, it just buries it.
That stress does not go anywhere. It just festers, deep down underneath the layers, and it will remind you that it is there until you figure out how to truly deal with it. Fatigue, anxiety, low-level depression, and irritability are all symptoms of unresolved emotional issues. Until you allow them to come to the surface, and work their way out of your system, they will persist and burden you with their weight.
How do you manage thoughts of fear, worry, and impending doom when you are in crisis mode? Most of us are never taught anything other than how to cope with food, alcohol, drugs, t.v. or shopping. Instead of numbing feelings, real processing involves letting the thoughts and emotions be present without ignoring, distracting or pushing them aside. Once you get good at paying attention to how you truly feel, you can start to consider the thought that is causing it.
You see, between every circumstance (such as the coronavirus) and feeling that you experience about it, is an elusive yet powerful thing called a thought. A thought is simply what you choose to make something mean.
Ponder that last sentence for just a minute longer before reading on. Let the gravity of the reality sink in fully because it means you have the ability to decide how you interpret any given situation. A circumstance by itself is completely neutral. It is a fact, nothing more, nothing less. It is not a crisis until you decide to think of it that way.
For example, one person could choose to think that the coronavirus is a dire situation and in turn panic over the thought that death is near. But another might look at the pandemic as an opportunity to stay home from work and spend more time with the family. The latter feels relaxed, simply because they decided to make the virus mean something more positive.
I like to think that a crisis is exactly the right time to do some deep thought work. It is the harder path to take, for sure, especially when you have a kitchen stocked with food staring you in the face and nowhere to go. So give yourself a grace period, some time to adjust. Allow yourself some days to feel your feelings, without judgment. It is completely normal and understandable to be out of sorts when your life and routine gets turned upside-down.
But after a few days, take the opportunity to regain your power over the situation. Know that you have the choice to either eat your way through your food stash or confront the real thoughts and feelings you have about your situation. The upside to the second approach is that you have the chance to tune in honestly to your thoughts, really know your emotions intimately, and decide if you want to reframe your thinking. It is living authentically and reclaiming ownership over how you decide to show up for your life.
There is freedom in knowing that you have full control over your mind, and what goes in your mouth, in any circumstance you might face. That thought alone puts the authority and ownership over experience exactly where it belongs. In you.