“You can’t calm the storm, so stop trying.
What you can do is calm yourself.
The storm will pass.”
– Timber Hawkeye-
What’s your ‘go-to’ strategy when you’re faced with a challenge? When you feel overwhelmed by what you need to get done in the day, when you receive an email from an angry parent, when you have staff away and not enough educators to cover classes, when a colleague lets you down or when something distressing happens in your personal life and you need to continue to be present for your students?
This is both the upside and the downside of teacher life – every day is predictably unpredictable. If you don’t have a strategy that you rely on to support you to cope in healthy ways when things go pear-shaped, this could be your new ‘go-to’ – at work, and outside of the classroom.
It’s a strategy called “dropping anchor.” It’s a grounding skill founded by the author of The Happiness Trap, Dr. Russ Harris. It’s a strategy that I have personally used for nearly 15 years and one that has helped me cope with many an unpredictable event, events that otherwise had the potential to completely derail my thinking and coping in the moment. I recorded an episode dedicated to this called ‘Overwhelmed? This will help’ on my podcast ‘Well, hello anxiety.’ If you’d like to listen instead, here’s the link to episode #18.
How to drop anchor
Not only is this strategy helpful for facing difficult situations, but it’s also a brilliant tool to put in your anxiety coping toolkit. While we don’t like feeling anxious, it’s important to remember that the aim is never to rid ourselves of anxiety. We couldn’t if we wanted to; it’s our brain’s way of keeping us safe. It’s just that sometimes the part of the brain that sounds the alarm when a threat is detected is a little oversensitive. Other times, anxiety is a completely normal response to a stressful situation.
The aim of using this exercise is to become more present, to acknowledge where we’re at with our thoughts and feelings, and to allow them to come and go. This part goes to the idea of willingness, which Dr. John Forsyth talked about in Episode 17, the willingness to experience what comes up for us and not to struggle with it. Dropping anchor is our strategy that really helps with that.
So where do we start? Firstly, I’d like to reiterate the quote I opened with. “You can’t calm the storm, so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself. The storm will pass.”
We know this to be true. Of all the feelings and experiences that come with being human, they do pass. But the process can be terribly hard and overwhelming. So, if you feel as though that’s building for you, dropping anchor has a beautiful acronym that will help you face whatever challenge lies before you.
- F: Focus on what you can control
- A: Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings
- C: Come back into your body
- E: Engage in what you’re doing
Focus on what you can control
When we’re faced with difficult situations, challenges, or setbacks, it’s perfectly natural to want to focus on what went wrong and to understand why. However, this approach can leave us feeling frustrated and exhausted. Instead, try to shift your focus to what you can control in the situation. This step alone helps bring our attention into the present moment and helps us avoid expending energy and time on what cannot be changed.
Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings
This part of the process of dropping anchor is about what we’re thinking, what we’re feeling, and what’s showing up for us right now. I want to reiterate that this isn’t about distracting ourselves and avoiding our thoughts and feelings. This is a powerful strategy that invites us to be present and to allow what we’re experiencing to come and go. So, silently bring your attention to, and kindly name and acknowledge, whatever is showing up for you in the way of thoughts and feelings when using this strategy.
Come Back into Your Body
What I’d like you to do next is to get out of your head and into your body. There are a number of ways that you can do this. I’ll get you started. Begin by slowly pushing your feet firmly into the floor and move your attention to the contact between your feet and the surface beneath. Notice what that feels like, maintaining your attention on the sensations. You might want to gently move your body weight to the heels of your feet, then the balls of your feet, and then share the weight evenly over both. As you push your feet into the floor, imagine yourself dropping your anchor; grounding, and steadying yourself in the midst of an emotional storm. You can do this exercise whether you’re sitting or standing. Just ensure that you’re focusing your attention on your body. Remember, we’re not trying to escape what’s happening inside us in terms of our thoughts and feelings. Rather, what we’re doing is coming back into the present. The aim of this exercise is to remain aware of your thoughts and feelings and continue to acknowledge that they are present.
Engage in What You’re Doing
What were you doing before you became overwhelmed?
What is it you were doing before the painful and distressing thoughts or feelings captured your attention and shifted your focus away from what you were up to? Get a sense of where you are, what’s important for you to do right now, and re-engage your attention on the activity that you were doing before you got swept away.
Perhaps you were preparing a class when you received an upsetting call, maybe you received news that funding you were hoping for was denied, or perhaps you were in the middle of a much-needed quiet moment enjoying a cuppa when someone needed you. No matter what it is that you’re doing or where you’re at, this is a healthy and helpful coping strategy that has the potential to completely transform your experience with the inevitable curveballs of teacher life.
Jodi is on a mission to elevate mental health and wellbeing in families, classrooms and workplaces.
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