These days, there seems to be one tragic event in our world after another not to mention the turmoil within our own country. Over these last years the persistence of violence from Newtown, Charleston , Ferguson and most recently the shootings and violence in Dallas leave strife, heartbreak and lack of a sense of justice and safety. These events are happening at a more frequent pace globally from Paris to Nice, Orlando, Turkey, Baghdad and Munich. We can barely catch our breath when another event occurs. The task at hand is to pick ourselves up, heal from within and learn to live wisely with positive impact, resilience and optimism. What are the steps that can help this happen?
Are you experiencing increased fear, anxiety and grief within your life? You are not alone. One night, I awoke at 2 am, sat up in bed with the acute sense of the “orange zone” we are living in. I had seen a client with a near miss in the terrorist attacks in Turkey, leaving on a flight previous to the outbreak and a another client who was a health care administrator who had a hospital -wide lock down. How do we cope with these events in a healthy way? How do we navigate the journey from shock, collective trauma, grief and panic to a wise, open heart grounded in wisdom, compassion and empathy? There is a physiological map as well as moral compass to create connection, warmth and relationship.
Our inner observer can help us gain awareness of our physiological response to stress. When we experience escalated or heightened emotion, cortisol and adrenaline hormones release and our flight/fight/freeze instinctive mechanisms are elicited. Their very purpose is to protect us from the danger of “the tiger” from our brain’s hard-wiring. Images of a flood, a wave of emotion, a locomotive train are useful. As we experience the flood or train, let the response be felt. I know when I am triggered, I need to observe my physiological state, let it go and let in a preferred response.
To stop, breathe and sooth the panicked response that results in increased heart rate, feelings of flight, lack of safety, fight or freeze toward a calmer state is the task at hand. As Rick Hansen, PhD, from the Good Science Center in Berkeley describes in the Heal image: Have the experience of a calm, safe place. Enrich the experience,with sensory images and feeling state, Absorb it for 20-30 seconds and Link to the past escalated emotion.
The calmer state naturally releases the serotonin required to acquire an effective, executive functioning from the pre-frontal cortex, where we can response wisely. An integration occurs. Dr. Dan Siegel, MD, from UCLA explains how this takes us from this higher functioning from our parasympathetic nervous system to interpersonal relationships:
For the brain, integration means that separated areas with their unique functions, in the skull and throughout the body, become linked to each other through synaptic connections. These integrated linkages enable more intricate functions to emerge—such as insight, empathy, intuition, and morality. A result of integration is kindness, resilience, and health. Terms for these three forms of integration are a coherent mind, empathic relationships, and an integrated brain.
Increased mindful practices can build greater strength in order to respond to our environmental stress with greater compassion. Increasing sleep, exercise and eating natural and organic whole foods will enrich our minds and bodies toward optimal living in these uncertain times. We know that what we focus on expands. Focusing on hope, community, beauty, joy and laughter will increase healing and well-being.
John Gottman, PhD, from the Gottman Institute describes how the Four Horsemen can be stopped with their antidotes Conscious awareness can move us from a fear-based, critical, defensive, contemptuous or panicked flight response to an enlightened gentle, responsible, calm and wise response through eliciting oxytocin and opiods that create increased bonding and warmth shares Kristin Neff, PhD.
Deep connection can be created when kindness and gratitude enter the scene. They are the qualities to quell the fire. When well-being contributes to living well, we can contribute to the greater good with compassion and heart. Our unique offerings and time can make a difference to our world. Expressions of appreciation and gratitude can create change to make a difference. When we act from an empowered, enlightened heart, we offer resilience, courage, empathy, hope and faith that heals.