STRESS REACTIONS

January 20, 2018 at 9:09 AM Leave a comment

These are stressful times. No argument from you, I’m sure, whatever your political leanings or economic status or religious affiliation. Everyone seems to be fighting on every level. Security seems to be illusive in every arena. Peace feels absent from the planet.

Our stress reactions don’t help us any, either. Without fail, anxious people get more anxious when stressed. Depressed people get more depressed. Traumatized people get more angry. It’s as though we do more of the thing that most isn’t working and exacerbate the weakness that keeps us off balance.

What to do? What to do? What to do?

Well, knowledge is power. We know that. So, being aware that we are making ourselves “crazier” is a huge step in the right direction. Which is your favorite “poison” — anxiety, depression or the residual stress from previous trauma that is as tenacious as my cat’s fleas.

Actually, let me take a quick detour here and talk about my cat’s fleas. I am so neurotic about fleas that I have been known to give her flea medicine when she has a little piece of dirt on her white coat. I have suffered so much, gotten so anxious, vacuumed my way through numerous vacuum cleaners, not allowed her out on the porch she loves, always watching her like a hawk for fear she’ll sprout a flea. Honestly, I am nuts about flea prevention. Now, a benign example, but a telling one. This is exactly what happens to us when we are stress survivors. We get triggered — any black speck — and go into offensive action whether it is warranted or not. Usually, in the case of Coco’s fleas, which exist in my imagination a hundred times more than on the cat, the offensive action is not warranted.

The magic phrase here, the tonic for the poison we’re feeding ourselves, is quite simple. I’LL HANDLE IT. Whatever happens, I’ll handle it. Now let me settle down, do some research, say a prayer, meditate, take some deep breaths, visualize a positive result, talk encouragingly to myself, distract myself and come back later, move around and change my perspective, and do something to make myself feel in control of my life — for me this is often rearranging a cabinet. Nothing like a clean, neat cabinet where previously there was chaos. Nice metaphor, huh?

Catching ourselves before we go into free fall is essential. Speaking as one who drinks the anxiety poison, once my heart is pounding out of control it is much harder to turn myself around than if I catch myself when the “aura” of anxiety first appears. When people have surgery and are prescribed pain medicine, they are always told, “Stay ahead of the pain.” Take enough medicine that you don’t let the pain control you. You control the pain. The same is true with our three favorites, anxiety, depression and PTSD. We have whichever we have. That is just reality. But we have to control “it” instead of letting “it” control us.

Watch yourself so you learn your patterns. What are your own personal triggers for anxiety, depression or a trauma reaction? Does it happen when you’re alone or when you’re in public? Day or night? When you’re cold or hungry, or as they say in AA, when you’re hungry, angry, lonely or tired? HALT reminds people of the likelihood that one of those four things may trigger us. Do you get triggered when you feel inadequate or unacceptable? Do you get triggered more easily by issues that are physical, like how pretty or handsome you are, or whether you have the right physique? Is it matters of the mind that trigger you? What happens if you feel outsmarted or as though you don’t know enough or can’t remember it quickly enough? Are you likely to fall into the depths if you’re single, unhappy with your spouse, recently jilted, guilty about having been the cause of the jilting or the actual jiltor? Or is it a sense of moral or ethical inferiority, or spiritual second classness, the kind that crops up when surrounded by religious certitude and condescension.

We all have our Achilles Heel, the place where we are most vulnerable. By identifying who or what or where or how we get activated, we can take some proactive steps. Take a class in what you think you don’t know well enough. Read or study a subject that makes you uncomfortable. If you feel like you’re never assertive enough, for example, and you get triggered when put in positions where you know you should stand your ground, study assertiveness. There are some great small articles on almost everything available at our computer fingertips. I learned one thing about assertiveness years ago and it gets me through almost every situation that calls for assertiveness. Rule #1 of Assertiveness: Do not explain, justify or defend. That’s it. Simple and immensely helpful. Be sure to use it every time someone starts at you with the word, “WHY.” Why is a word that is designed to put people on the defensive unless you know what to do with it. “Why are you wearing that?” “Why aren’t you going out with us tonight?” “Why did you vote for that loser?” DO NOT EXPLAIN, JUSTIFY OR DEFEND. Smile and say, “Personal.” It’s so much nicer than, “None of your business.”

Another cure all or bandaid to use when you start to feel yourself get triggered is to turn the penny over in your hand. The penny has two sides. Everything, every thing, has a positive and a negative. As Jung says, everything is a blessing and a curse. Let’s take loneliness. Flip side: time alone. Time to do what you want and need without having to compromise or negotiate. Time for self-care. Time to do solitary things. Time to “be.” Let’s take not be invited to do something. What are the advantages of not doing whatever that thing is? Saves money, won’t be out so late, don’t have to pretend to like so-and-so who you know is going. My blessing is that I feel things deeply. My curse is that I feel things deeply. Great joy to feel things deeply when they put a baby in my arms. Great curse to feel things deeply when I’m standing beside a dying friend.

So, in stressful times, we have the opportunity to pay attention to what stresses us out, how we react to those things and what we choose to do to bring less stress and more peace into out minds and bodies and hearts.

Let me know if anything in here is helpful, and, also, if there’s anything you’d like me to write about.

Peace, my friends, and love to each of you — Susan

 

 

 

 

 

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January 13, 1911 FIRE, ICE AND FOG

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