After the Storm (or Flare)

I’m writing today after Hurricane Sandy stormed through my area causing more heartache and loss than any of us could have imagined.  All I lost was power, a window, and a tree. No lasting damage or difficulty, just inconvenience since they tell us our power (and heat!) won’t be restored for a number of days. But compared with so many, it wasn’t much.

Even so, I found myself stunned and off kilter for the past six days. Thinking about how stress – our own, and the collective stress of our communities – affects us.

How much more that is true when you are living with the daily stress of an illness and the unknown of when a flare may occur, or wondering what you are going to be able to manage at any given hour – let alone day.

Unpredictability is the greatest stressor.

I went back to look at some of the familiar science about stress reactions. I want to remind all of us what the best and easiest methods we have for soothing ourselves and taking care when things feel overwhelming and uncertain.

The best way to calm ourselves is to take our sympathetic nervous system offline. That is the system that gets activated when we are frightened or angry or upset. It provides the “fight or flight” response. A way to think of it is as an accelerator.

The second nervous system is the parasympathetic (PNS), and it is our “power down” or calming nervous system. You can think of it as the brake to the accelerator.

The more we can activate the PNS, (and we can), the calmer we can feel, and the better it is for our whole body: our brains, our joints, our emotions and thoughts.

The first tip is to breathe. Yes, the five breaths a minute routine that meditation and other mind –body practices speak about is the easiest way to begin. Try slow easy breaths ( three to six a minute) for ten minutes.

This slows the heart, provides feelings of safety, and can reduce inflammation in our bodies.

Magic comes from slowly and mindfully breathing.

Magic also comes from thinking loving thoughts, remembering what you are grateful for, hugging, cuddling, petting your animals and even holding a teddy bear. Any and all of these behaviors can help your system return to a calm state and release the good brain chemicals that help us feel calm and hopeful – even in the midst of tough times.

Try this – and know that I am practicing what I preach!

Let’s keep in touch and let me know how it goes for you.

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