“There is only one way to survive and thrive when faced with circumstances out of our control and for which we are unprepared: adapt.” – Charles F. Glassman
Remember the days when care-free road trips were possible? Imagine you’re on an epic adventure with family or some close friends, cruising along, enjoying the windows down and radio up. All of a sudden you have the misfortune of getting a flat tire, running out of gas in the middle of nowhere, or locking your keys in your car. Who do you call? AAA Roadside Assistance.
During 2020's dual pandemics (Coronavirus and systemic racism), most of us have experienced bumps in the road. Our routines are thrown off, athletic competitions are postponed, canceled, or look different, it's difficult to make decisions, and we're generally feeling depleted. When you find yourself having a rough moment, AAA can help: that is, engaging in Awareness, Acceptance, and Action.
Take a moment to acknowledge your current experience. What is happening? How are you feeling? Try to name the emotion(s), being as specific as possible. Common emotions you may be feeling right now include both what are typically considered negative (e.g., anxiety, fear, sadness, grief, anger, loneliness, frustration) and positive (e.g., relief, happiness, satisfaction, amusement, gratitude, hope, joy) emotions. At times, it may even feel like you’re experiencing both. Yes, that’s possible!
It’s important to accept that however you’re feeling is normal and valid. You are allowed to feel those things. Emotions are part of the human experience. Susan David, Harvard Medical School psychologist, describes emotions as not good or bad, but as, "data, not directives. We want to show up to our emotions with compassion and curiosity, but not let those emotions call the shots." It’s also beneficial to recognize and accept what is outside of our control (i.e., COVID-19 itself, what other people say or do related to the two pandemics, decisions about competitions or sport seasons). Accepting how we feel and identifying what we can’t control helps us to acknowledge that we are human and to let things go as appropriate.
After awareness and acceptance, the question becomes: What do I want to do now? How can I do it? Your next actions can be small or large, in the moment or planned for later, or more sustainable like initiating a new habit or routine, or committing to being an ally. It’s helpful to align your actions with your values and priorities so that your actions feel genuine and meaningful.
Here are a few examples of what this could look like:
While reading a news article about Coronavirus, I begin to notice that my mood is changing.
- Awareness: I’m feeling angry, annoyed, and embarrassed. My emotions seem to be connected to the content of the news article.
- Acceptance: It’s normal for me to feel those things. How I’m feeling makes sense based on the content I’m reading and how the behaviors mentioned in the article don’t align with my values, priorities, and decisions. I accept that I can’t change the daily realities that the author is reporting.
- Action: I will finish the article, because I value "finishing what you start," but I will not read the news for the rest of the day. I shift my attention to playing with my son because I value being present and enjoying my time with him. Later, I will share the article with my husband so we can talk about how we’re feeling, then reaffirm or adjust our family expectations regarding what we are doing to stay safe and healthy.
Seeing and hearing Black friends express their pain and exhaustion due to the momentum behind the Black Lives Matter movement.
- Awareness: I'm feeling sad and helpless listening their personal experience, angry about recent events and about how Black people have been unfairly treated in our country for centuries, gratitude for the Black friends and colleagues in my life, disappointed in white people for not doing and speaking up more, and overwhelmed in wanting to listen, learn, and grow.
- Acceptance: All of these feelings are normal given the situation and I expect to keep feeling a range of emotions. That lets me know that I care and that I want to be on the right side of history. There's so much I can't control: (broken) systems, other people, my upbringing, my skin color, and my privilege to name a few.
- Action: I'm reaching out to Black friends and colleagues to check on them and offer support. I'm reading, watching, and listening every day, making mistakes and learning as I go. I'm talking to my family and friends about racism. I joined a book club where we are reading about and discussing white privilege. I've committed to the journey becoming an anti-racist.
I was planning to do a sprint triathlon in a few months.
- Awareness: When I think about how I can’t get in the pool due to closures and safety concerns, how I haven’t been able to run due to some plantar fasciitis, and how the race will likely be canceled, that brings up a few emotions. I’m feeling a little embarrassed about not training, sad about not being able to swim, frustrated about my foot, and a bit of relief about the possibility of not competing.
- Acceptance: It’s okay for me to feel all of those things. I can’t control that we’re in a global health pandemic, that in-person races are being canceled, that I haven’t been able to get in a pool (and I accept that I don’t feel safe doing so yet), or that my foot hurts.
- Action: What I can do is take care of myself: Every morning, I do some dynamic stretches, a few yoga poses, use a trigger point ball on my foot, and walk for 45-60 minutes with my son in the stroller. I wear OOFOS around the house and do some additional stretching, foam rolling, and/or icing as needed. I’ll get back to running and swimming when I can. I will race again!
Here are a few additional considerations when using AAA:
Practice makes progress. Give yourself some space to determine when you feel like it would be helpful to go through these steps, and know that using AAA can take some time and energy. With practice, your ability to engage in awareness, acceptance, and action will get smoother and easier.
Build awareness with reflection. Awareness can be challenging. Try reflecting at the end of your day before winding down to sleep. Simple questions are fine to begin with, like: What happened today? What went well? What didn’t go well? How did I feel today? What can I learn from those insights? What do I want to do the same or differently tomorrow? By reflecting on those questions and writing down your answers, you’re more likely to build awareness, understand your current experience, and create your own ideas for action.
Rinse and repeat. After you determine, commit to, and take action, the cycle can continue back to awareness.
Ask for help. If you find that you’re not sure how to fully accept your emotions or situation, or you’re not sure what to do about all of it, know that you’re not alone and that it’s okay to seek help – just like the real AAA can help you with Roadside Assistance. Whether you’d like to work on your mindset or motivation, address any mental health concerns, need support with coming back from an injury, or are struggling to take care of basic needs (i.e., food, water, or shelter), there are people and organizations ready and willing to help with skill building, finding resources, and/or supporting you through treatment plans, all from a safe distance. In particular, if you're looking for resources to learn more about racial justice, check out this list from the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. Please feel free to email us if you need a referral.
This post was updated on June 10, 2020 to provide additional context and resources.
By Abby Keenan, MS, CMPC
Abby is a certified mental performance consultant located in Atlanta, GA. She helps athletes master adversity, improve performance, and achieve their version of success through online mental skills training. Interested in learning more? Schedule a free consultation with Abby.