I experienced a hurricane last week, and my body dove directly into fight or flight. My body didn’t care that Hurricane Irma was on the other side of the country in Florida while it, and the rest of me, was in New Mexico. This was a perfect example of the power of our thoughts. Events can be in the past, present, or future. Events can be in a different state. Our bodies can still experience fight, flight, or freeze when our thoughts about those events throw us into a downward spiral of stress.
We don’t make great decisions when we are stressed. Parents yell at their kids. People forget their passports racing out the door to the airport. People get hurt because they aren’t paying attention to details. What can we do to move back into calm when we sense ourselves moving into stress? Here are a few ideas.
Sit with It - I spent part of my hour drive back from the airport in Albuquerque the other day sitting with my feelings about Hurricane Irma. I felt fear, helplessness, sadness, and concern. I missed my friends. I felt a little displaced. I felt annoyed that I was still affected by Florida weather even though I live in New Mexico! I allowed myself the space and time to fully feel each feeling, without any tricky mental distractions or judgments. What came out on the other side was seeing how courageous my friends are, how much I love them, and how capable they are. They had this! The result was a greater sense of ease along with the freed up ability to add humor to conversations with my Florida dear ones. Pamela Dunn of Your Infinite Life Training & Coaching Company has a terrific video on feeling your feelings all the way through and out. Watch it here.
Slow Down and Breath - Breathing has a huge impact on all the systems of your body. Scientists are discovering more about breathing and the impact of breathing on memory and fear. The inhale has a different impact than the exhale, as does breathing through your nose and your mouth. Those of you who take yoga know the influence of your breath. Breath deep belly breathes. Exhale slowly. Listen to a guided meditation that includes breathing exercises. Experience the calm it brings.
Give Hugs - Giving hugs will connect you with others and get you back into your body. If no one is around, give yourself a hug! Hug your dog or cat. Hug a pillow. Hugging will reduce stress and hugging possibly even has health benefits. Hugging will help those around you experience more calm. Hug, hug, hug!
Reframe Your Emergency in the Moment - It is so easy to add urgency to situations especially when a state of emergency has been declared in your city, county, and state during a hurricane. It creates an alarm in your head is screaming, “Alert, alert, alert!” To counteract the effect of “high alert” on your body and mind, examine what is happening in the moment. Reframe the emergency. Make it important rather than urgent. Yes, it is important to know that a hurricane is coming. It is not vital to watch 24-hour news coverage, as compelling as it is. Yes, it is important to prepare. It is not vital to move so quickly that you feel anxious or get hurt. Remind yourself that you have time, there is enough help, and you are safe in that moment. Keep practicing moment by moment.
Have a Plan - Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin says that you experience cloudy thinking when stressed. Your brain releases cortisol, which impairs rational, logical thinking. He suggests in this TEDTalk that we put systems in place to assist when our thinking is cloudy. That applies to parenting. When you have a plan for handling typical challenges with your child, you will increase your chances of responding in the calm way you prefer. That applies to other stressful situations, such as hurricanes. When you have a plan around staying safe in the storm and you follow the plan, you increase the chances of a positive outcome. If you have a plan for communicating during the storm with those in your family who may be across town or across the country, everyone feels more secure and connected. Plan, and then follow the plan.
Look for the Connections - It was lovely seeing the connections on social media. People checked in with one another. Neighbors assisted neighbors. People focused on those connections and the goodness that came out of them. I think people not only weathered the storm but came out on the other side as a more deeply connected, powerful community.
I am proud for you Florida peeps! You did good!