Children and adults are dressed as witches, ghosts and ghoulish monsters. Houses and gardens are decorated with cobwebs, graves and pumpkins that are carved and lit to create spooky shadows. There’s a buzz of excitement. The worst outcome may be cranky, over-stimulated and over-tired kids.
On the other hand, in another reality we’re being presented with an unrelenting stream of shock and horror. Natural disasters, forest fires, floods, hurricanes, deranged men who attempt to murder politicians and others who brutally murder a newsman and innocent people at worship. And then we get one more shock when we learn that 60% of wildlife has vanished since 1970.
How can we keep our equilibrium amid this onslaught to humanity and our beautiful planet?
It’s hard to do so. I’ve found myself tuning into the News to see what’s going on in the world and, as sound and picture appear, I turn it off again. It’s too much. The number and enormity of these dreadful events make me feel helpless, powerless – unable to make a difference anywhere. A few courageous folks take action, put their lives on the line and go out to help; such as the white hats in Syria who dig in the rubble after bombings in search of wounded and trapped victims.
We can safely scare ourselves at Halloween. There is no harm done when we process, laugh and relax immediately after the event – or after any stressful situation. But we cause ourselves immense physical, mental and emotional harm when we live in fear.
When we imagine ourselves and our loved ones suffering, our fear activates the amygdala in the brain, which in turn triggers the stress response, causing a series of reactions to occur within our bodies that are designed to help us escape danger. But when we are not in immediate danger, and we remain afraid, our system can become toxic, our blood pressure rise, digestive problems may occur, we may have trouble sleeping, and even our senses (sight, smell, taste) can be affected.
The stress response is activated by how we feel not by what is real for us.
So if we are naturally compassionate and empathetic, the vitally important thing to remember is to not imagine or take on feelings of the person, people or situation. Generally speaking, it can help to look for the helpers, such as the white hats. Imagine those that have been harmed finding strength and peace.
Here is an ABC to cope in traumatic times:
- Be alert but not afraid – to avoid activating the stress response
- Breathe and Relax – to break the stress response
- Create comfort (warmth, shelter, water, food) – to feel safe. Connect with and care for others.