Finding pleasure in the time of pandemic (and crisis in general)

Eight years ago, my brother was in the ICU with a traumatic brain injury, in a coma. No one knew whether he’d wake up or die.

My entire world was flipped upside down. My days were filled with tears, I was constantly anxious, and I didn’t know how to calm my nervous system.

In addition to my pervasive anxiety, though, I found myself reaching for things that felt comforting to me.

Loaves of bread, chewing slowly, noticing how much I loved the texture. Chicken noodle soup. Foreign movies, that I’d play in another language with captions because the voices were soothing to my body. Writing, processing my feelings that way.

Humor was a big one. I truly believe that so much of my brother’s survival was rooted in my family’s sense of humor. Even while we lived and slept in the hospital, even while we found most of our days filled with tears – even then, we found things to laugh at, inside jokes to form with one another.

A sense of awe was another, for me. I held onto a bigger picture, a bigger meaning. I didn’t like that it had happened, and I rolled my eyes at anyone saying “god’s plan” … but I still had a sense of wonder at the world. I’d sit there awake on a chair next to my brother’s bed at 3 am, drifting in and out of sleep, I’d walk through the beeping sounds of the hospital, I’d stare out the window at the snow, music playing in my headphones… and I’d wonder about life.

This sense of awe led me to yoga and a spiritual practice, which at the time, saved my life.

In the book Deep Survival, Laurence Gonzales studies humans that have died and survived in the wilderness. Men who spent months alone on a boat, spearing fish. Women who walked through miles and miles of jungle, skin eaten alive by bugs. And… others who might have survived had they not given their mind to panic, had they not dropped bags fully loaded with food and supplies and run to their death, had they not knowingly gone into an avalanche.

Two qualities the survivors had in common – whether experienced or completely new to the wild – were a sense of humor and a sense of awe.

I’m adding pleasure to this list, because pleasure calms our nervous systems. It helps bring our bodies back to a place of comfort, of stability, of neutrality. And pleasure really is the overarching theme, the umbrella over these other qualities – there is pleasure in laughter. There is pleasure in a sense of wonder and awe at the world.

In difficult times it can be very challenging to bring ourselves into a place of pleasure. This is because our fear and our panic and our anxiety want to win. Especially if you’re on social media or watching the news (which I highly recommend you TAKE A BREAK from), your body will be sitting in a constant fight/flight response.

This makes sense, because this virus is scary to many people. Some people have compromised immune systems, or know people who do. Some people can’t make work and make money to support their families. Some people can’t afford for their children to be home from school.

It is stressful – truly stressful, for many of us.

And it is of the utmost importance for you to resource into pleasure during this time of stress.

“Resource” is a term that comes from trauma therapist Peter Levine. A resource is anything that helps someone’s nervous system return to a regulated state.

In times of stress, our bodies are swinging wayyy into our flight/flight response. You might experience this as anxiety, depression, feeling frozen, feeling angry, or any number of emotions.

It’s not enough to simply try to bring them back to center. If you imagine a pendulum swinging, your body in its stress response has swung way to the left. You don’t expect a pendulum to come back to center by just slowly moving there – you expect it to go all the way to the right first, and then as it swings back and forth, it slowly comes to center.

Your body is the same. You must bring your body into a resourced state in order to help it come back to center.

Pleasure is a resource.

Pleasure is what I was connecting with, unknowingly, when I sat in the hospital, slowly eating loaves of bread.

Pleasure can be as easy as sitting in quiet with your body for fifteen minutes and slowly tracing your fingers over your own skin. Touching your face. Touching your hair. Stroking your thighs.

Pleasure can be intentionally tasting yummy food with so much presence and awareness.

Pleasure can be taking a walk outside in the sunshine. Lighting a candle you love. Looking at flowers in bloom. Watching comedy specials. Reading a fiction book. Painting, coloring. Self-pleasure, moving your energy through your body.

In times like these, listening to a constant influx of opinions and feelings of others is going to be your enemy.

You can stay up to date on the news by looking it up once a day. You can stay connected to people you love by getting off of social media and closing out the internet opinions and instead calling your friends, texting the people you love, Skyping with your family.

The best way to find a sense of peace right now is to connect deeply with your own body, process the emotions you’re feeling, and continually resource into pleasure.

Remember the pendulum – process fear and other emotions when it’s on the left, and then bring yourself to the right by purposely coming into pleasure.

Keep your sense of humor. Find a sense of awe, of wonder – nature helps a lot with that.

Help others when you’re in the center.


If you liked this piece, you might also enjoy:

There is wisdom in your anger – this is how you process it

You are not broken.

You’re drowning in the news (covid-19)

The way you’ve been taught to feel is wrong

This one thing is holding you back from feeling free to be who you are