breathe, soften, stay curious, heal, karyn shanks md

From Fixed to Fierce: How to Survive a Pandemic

Dear One,

I don’t know about you, but I’m ditching all social media and news forever! And maybe all casual conversation with strangers while I’m at it. Have you ever heard so many locked down stories in your life? How things are. How we should behave. What must happen. Yada, yada. I’m sick of it.

You’re absolutely right—I’m being triggered. And that’s about me, isn’t it?

So, I pull out my trusty perspective changers—my go-to tools to get my mind and heart right. You’ve heard me talk about these before—the powerful trifecta of breathing, softening, and staying curious.

As I breathe, soften, and stay curious, I realize people are especially fixed right now out of fear. And we’re all doing it! I’m working very hard on my open mind and empathic heart right now!

See, when we’re afraid, our survival-oriented brains go into lock down, just as we’ve literally been doing to get through the worst part of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We especially lock down the stories that are the most negative, most freakishly scary, and that stay fixed.

We feel this lock down as tenacious fear, persistent scary ruminations, and harsh judgments about what others are doing (or not doing).

Paradoxically, this makes us feel safer—as if fear and judgement ward off the enemy.

What Triggers Our Locked-In Stories:

  • Fear and uncertainty (What bad things “will happen” if we take any risk—even breathe the same air!).
  • High stress and overwhelm.
  • Pain and suffering.
  • Strong peer, tribal, community, and cultural pressure to conform (Makes us feel safer—we desperately need to belong right now even if we ignore common sense and science.).
  • Feeling powerless (Geez, yes.).
  • Pressure to be “right.” (The most annoying survival attribute of all!)
  • Assumptions we make about “what will happen” if we open our minds and change our stories (What if … we’re not sitting ducks, we can change our destiny, we can heal ourselves and our planet, or the virus is not our enemy?).

Looking at this list, it’s easy to understand how survival mode favors the fixed, locked-in, negative story that keeps everyone stuck, afraid, and overwhelmed.

So, guess what, my people?

I forgive you.

And I forgive myself.

We’re doing the best we can. But can we agree on something, please?

This isn’t survival anymore. And our behavior is killing us for sure.

Let’s shake off the lock down:

The trifecta:

  • Breathe: to calm, to create space, to slow time.
  • Soften: to, well, soften. Soften our skin, soften our minds, soften our judgments, soften our stories. (We don’t have to agree with others to soften, right?)
  • Stay curious: to bypass the locked-down stories, to allow a needed shift in perspective, to learn something new.

Plus, one more:

  • Permission: to be, to hope, to keep on living.

Together, let’s believe fiercely in a stronger, better tomorrow. Knowing we can’t stay fixed and locked-in for that to happen.

This is the new us—from fixed to fierce.

I feel better. You?



Further Reading

Stay Curious. 2020.

Karyn Shanks MD


Karyn Shanks, MD, is a physician who lives and practices in Iowa City. Her work is inspired by the revolutionary science of Functional Medicine, body-mind wisdom, and the transformational journeys of thousands of clients over her twenty-eight year career. She believes that the bones of healing are in what we do for ourselves.

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