• Tricia Karp

How to feel safe when the world doesn't

Some of us have never felt truly safe in our bodies and our world. Some of us have, perhaps even most of the time. Now we find ourselves, as a collective, navigating heightened stress, fear, anxiety, depression, grief and loss, trying to manage in circumstances that continue to rapidly change, and losing even more faith in those who are meant to protect, serve and lead us. Many of us feel abandoned and alone, as though we need to take "personal responsibility" in circumstances and within systems that are beyond our capacity and not ours to be responsible for anyway.

We hunker down. We worry about whether it's safe to go out and with whom. We read and watch the news, thinking it might give us some sort of sense of control, as our nervous systems struggle to keep up. We're much more affected by what we used to think of as just small things. We consider doing something we've long taken for granted, such as going to the supermarket, and then weighing up the pros and cons, working out when might be the best time to go, then feeling exasperated because performing an every day act now requires much more thought and attempts to make informed decisions we're not - and can't be - equipped to make. We put on a mask, go to the supermarket and try to be quick, and hope we don't become a "close contact." The last thing we want is to line up for hours on end to be tested, as day turns to night and then day again, and then to have to isolate, again - let alone catch it. All this on top of the rest of the stresses we're experiencing.

As our world continues to feel like it's narrowing our anxiety grows.

To start to feel safer we can learn to self-soothe in healthy ways. Deep, slow breathing helps. Learning how to distance from your unhelpful thoughts helps too, as does being fully present in the moment and your body. Putting your hand over your heart is calming, as is being kind, gentle and compassionate towards yourself. Connecting with your wise self, and soothing your inner selves, or parts, that are scared and longing for love, care and comfort can help immensely too.

We also need to remember that we're not meant to do it all alone. We can help one another, and we can ask for help. We can slow down, be fully present, listen carefully and deeply, and make sure others feel heard, accepted, safe and understood. We all need this. Our world desperately needs this right now too.

Sometimes we can feel at a loss to know what to do to support someone. If all we do is help them feel heard and safe it's useful to know that we are supporting them to heal. We're also making a difference that ripples out across a world that's longing for it.

Oh the comfort,

the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person,

having neither to weigh thoughts or measure words,

but to pour them all out, just as they are,

chaff and grain together,

knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them,

keep what is worth keeping,

and then with the breath of kindness,

blow the rest away.

The Gesture of Love, by George Eliot

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Photo by Jonathan Smith