Back • Return Home
Handling Stress, Anxiety, and Trauma
Warning: None of this is to be considered medical or psychological advice, merely a sharing of ideas that have been helpful to me. Please seek out the assistance of caring professionals whenever necessary. Likewise, the inclusion of a link is not necessarily an endorsement of all of its contents, merely some extra information to explore at your leisure. Not all of this may be useful to you, nor should you feel obligated to try all of it. Trust in your intuition to find out what will work the best for you personally. If you feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable, pause and come back to it later.
• Part 1: Defining Our Terms
• Part 2: Sequence & Cycle
• Part 3: Methods
Part 1: Defining Our Terms
[Note: This section may seem overly analytical. If these sorts of nuances do not appeal to you, please skip to Part 2 for a simple model that might be more helpful, or to Part 3 for a list of specific methods intended to aid you in your healing.]
The first step to understanding is to define our terms.
We will define "stress" as a general sense of discomfort in response to life events. It is "acute" if that discomfort is intense, and it is "chronic" if it persists for a prolonged amount of time. It is associated with emotions that one might normally consider "unpleasant" (such as anger or sadness).
Stress is strongly related to "anxiety" or "panic", which we will define as worry. Thus, a "panic" or "anxiety attack" would be an intense sense of dread that leads to physical sensations like sudden sweatiness, shaking, "hyperventilation" (i.e.: rapid breathing), blurry vision, dizziness, headache, nosebleeds, fainting, "nausea" (i.e.: upset stomach), involunary "urination / defecation", etc.
We will define "trauma" as an acute stress which is brought about by significantly life-altering experiences. It may lead to "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder" (or "PTSD"), a chronic stress that induces anxiety attacks long after the experiences have ended.
Generally, we could consider stress as any move away from our "emotional baseline" (i.e.: our "normal" experience of what is "comfortable"), anxiety as the actual bodily sensations associated with that move, and trauma as a combination of the two. Trauma has a tendency to shift one's entire emotional baseline in such a way that anxiety is more likely.
There are generally four different instinctual reactions to a stressful or traumatic experience:
1. "Fight" - attacking in order to defend oneself from a threat
2. "Flight" - retreating to safety from a threat
3. "Freeze" - stuck, unresponsive to a threat (like a "deer in the headlights")
4. "Fawn" - overpowered by a threat, surrendering, attempting to be as agreeable as possible in order to avoid a conflict that seems inescapable
People often find the first two quite familiar and refer to the bodily sensations associated with them as "fight or flight". This is when one's body fills with "adrenaline", a chemical produced by the "adrenal glands" that prepares one to attack or to run (e.g: by increasing bloodflow to one's muscles, "dialating" or opening up one's pupils, etc.).
["Adrenal fatigue" is a sense of tiredness from continually being within a state of "fight or flight", although there seems to be some controversy as to whether or not such a state is actually related to the adrenal glands. In general, I think everyone can agree that chronic stress often produces fatigue, even if it may not be fully clear what all of its underlying causes are.]
"Coping mechamisms" or "coping strategies" are how we process and handle stress. These might not always constructively impact our lives. For example, it can include mental-emotional habits that may be considered harmful, such as:
• "Obsession", a seemingly uncontrolable amount of attention on a specific subject
• "Compulsion", an involuntary desire to continuously repeat an action
• "Addiction", the inability to cease a behavior to the detriment of oneself and their relationships
"Desensitization" is when one's sensitivity to something is lessened. In some cases, it may no longer be apparent what one's own needs are or the consequences that our actions produce. If we try to use desensitization as a coping strategy, it can sometimes lead us down a self-destructive path (e.g.: attempting to numb one's pains through self-medication).
"Compartmentalization" is when our memories become fragmented in such a way that our mind splits off traumatic experiences from our awareness. It serves as a means to protect ourselves. An "abreaction" (literally "negative reaction") is when a person suddenly re-lives that experience. They might seem to be in a "trance" (e.g.: unaware of what is actually in front of them in that moment until they "snap out of it").
Depending upon the nature of the trauma, one's perceptions of the experience can also be affected. For example, "Survivor's Guilt" is when a person feels shame for having survived a situation in which others have perished.
[Using the term "guilt" here may seem inappropriate as guilt is a discomfort that usually arises in response to someone acknowledging that they have made a "mistake". This sense of regret for having caused others pain in some way is often referred to as one's "conscience".
When a person naturally lacks this trait, it is referred to as "psychopathy". If a person is conditioned to become desensitized to this trait, then it is called "sociopathy". Both are different from "sadism", which is to take pleasure in the pain of others. Psychopathy and socipathy become dangerous when they cause people to harm others without remorse.
Therefore, it can be healthy to feel guilt sometimes, and this guilt usually dissipates when one sincerely attempts to resolve the situation.
"Shame" on the other hand is the labeling of oneself as a "bad person", whether or not they seek to resolve the situation. It may eventually produce a distorted "self-image" (i.e.: one's view or understanding of oneself).
When one is "shameless" they do not care how they are perceived by others. It can be tricky to reach a balance in this regard. On the one hand, we should take constructive feedback seriously. We are not always perfectly self-aware, and being humble enough to listen to others is important. Yet, on the other hand, we cannot justify cruelty that is directed at us without provocation, nor should we follow trends simply because others follow them too. "Peer pressure" (i.e.: when people feel pressured into behaving a certain way by their peers) sometimes arises from a sense of shame.
All in all, the words "guilt" and "shame" are often used interchangably and some may disagree with the interpretations given here.]
These types of responses to trauma can extend to those who try to help others find healing as well. This is because it is possible to mirror another person's mental-emotional state. For example, notice how even just observing a traumatic experience can make a person anxious, like when our bodies shudder or we flinch when we see another person experience pain. We call this "empathy", and people can become overwhelmed by it. This is especially common among people whose profession involves dealing with potentially traumatic experiences on a repeated basis (such as doctors, nurses, therapists, police officers, soldiers, and so on).
A sincere desire to help others may degrade into a kind of desensitization over time. For example, a nurse might become somewhat inhospitable to a patient, not because they don't care, but because they care "a little too much". Plauged by guilt and shame about whether they are doing enough, they might start to shut-down in order to cope with their workday. This process is called "vicarious trauma". It is a kind of trauma brought about by encountering the trauma of others.
While we used the example of a nurse, it can happen to anyone in any role. If we are frequently trying to help others without also taking the time for self-care, then we can "burn out" (or become exhausted to the point of wanting to give up). Sometimes an obsessive desire to be helpful (or "overcare") arises from a sense of personal insecurity. We might become a "people pleaser" in order to "prove" our own self-worth. But there is nothing to prove. Everyone is worthy of sincere caring, both towards themselves and all others simultaneously. There is also a strong difference between abuse and care.
Now that we have a general idea of what stress, anxiety, and trauma are, as well as some of their effects, let's take a closer look at a process that often occurs within us...
Part 2: Sequence & Cycle
A "trigger" is something that is sensed or imagined, whereas a "belief" is how we interpret it, what it means to us. An "emotional reaction" is the set of feelings and sensations that arise from that interpretation, and a "behavioral response" is what is done as a result.
Trigger → Belief → Emotional Reaction → Behavioral Response
Notice how each of these "stages" naturally flows into the next. Oftentimes, this processes is instaneous and outside of our awareness, but we can bring each aspect of it into focus through honest self-questioning.
This table gives a few examples of the kinds of questions that we can ask ourselves...
|• Is it possible to avoid it?
• Is it reasonable to exclude it?
|• Will changing our interpretation of the trigger change our feelings about it?
• Is the belief an "opinion", an idea that we are not overly attached to, or is it a "core value", some idea with which we deeply identify and connect to our essential character? In other words, is it a fundamental aspect of our being or can we "let it go" without compromising the constructive?
|• Why did the emotion appear? If you "don't know", take your "best guess".
• How does the intensity of the feeling correspond to the beliefs about the trigger?
|• Does the response sustain or redirect any of these aspects? In other words, does it guide one into situations where they experience more triggers, is a personal habit being used as confirmation or "evidence" for one's belief, or does the behavior heighten the emotion instead of calming it?
Different kinds of questions can assist us in uncovering hidden assumptions, bringing clarity to our thoughts and feelings. This is especially helpful when trying to manage or heal stress, anxiety, and trauma.
Stress, anxiety, and trauma can sometimes leave us stuck, looping around inside of this process in a way that is self-destructive. When the "stages" within a destructive cycle reinforce the cycle itself, it is called a "vicious circle", and when they make the situation progressively worse, it is called a "downward spiral".
Through careful self-awareness, we can start to find balance, redirect these processes towards the constructive, and change our habits. Next, let's look at some useful tools that can complement this awareness...
Part 3: Methods
If at all possible, we should always get to safety first, whether that means leaving a hostile environment, treating an injury or illness with "first aid", and/or some other critical action. Then, we can take further steps to handle the effects of those experiences...
Anxiety can affect how we breathe. Notice that anxiety attacks are often composed of hyperventilation, dizziness, and fainting.
To give a simple explanation as to why this happens:
We extract a gas from the air that we breathe in (i.e.: "oxygen"), and release a gas in the air that we breathe out (i.e.: "carbon dioxide"). To "suffocate" is to cut off a source of oxygen.
A person who is hyperventilating may be breathing deeply, but can become dizzy or faint from the fact that their brain is suffering from a lack of oxygen in that moment.
It might seem counter-intuitive that a person can actually receive less oxygen the harder that they breathe. Why is this the case?
The body needs a certain balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide. [This is called the "Bohr effect".] When the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood get out of wack from rapid breathing, the blood vessels to the brain "constrict" or tighten. The brain is literally suffocating and the response is to become dizzy or faint.
Therefore, one way to treat hyperventilation is to breathe into a paper bag until one's breath becomes steady again. This increases the amount of carbon dioxide that we get because we are re-breathing some of the same air, but does so without significantly restricting our overall intake of air like a plastic bag would. [Perhaps it is needless to say, but do NOT try to use a plastic bag for this purpose. We do not want to accidentally cause suffocation.]
In short, too much carbon dioxide in the blood ["hypercapnia"] is just as bad as not enough ["hypocapnia"].
You might also notice that during hyperventilation, breathing often switches from the nose to the mouth. If we are having trouble breathing, our instinct might be to start sucking in air through our mouth in an attempt to take in more air. But as we have seen above, this may not help. Slow and steady breathing through the nose, neither too shallow, nor too deep, seems to be key in getting the proper amount of both oxygen and carbon dioxide.
The act of breathing in through the nose has other beneficial effects as well. It helps to balance the temperature and humidity of the air that we breathe by making it warm and moist. The hair and boogers within the nose also filter that air. [Yes, I had to use the word "boogers" here instead of "mucus". ☺]
While it is good to breathe through our nose as much as possible, we might not always be able to do so for various reasons. For example, I have some scar tissue inside of my right nostril that keeps me from breathing through it easily.
An anxiety attack can also sometimes increase blood pressure to the point where the small blood vessels within the back of the nose pop and cause a nosebleed. If you are ever faced with this type of nosebleed, do NOT lean your head back to try to stop the flow! This can make the blood run into your "sinus cavity", somewhere that we do not want the blood to go. Instead, tilt your head slightly forward and lightly pinch the top of your nose (near your "nose bridge"). Then, slowly breathe through your mouth as you patiently wait for it to scab over.
Other than instances like this, making a habit of breathing through our mouth seems as if it does more harm than good. For example, it may contribute to conditions like:
• "Asthma" - an "allergy", or reaction of the body to some substance (or "allergen"), that negatively impacts the breathing by causing coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and muscle "spasms" (or twitching)
• "Sleep Apnea" - pauses in breath during sleep that often follow a bout of snoring; this can cause tiredness from poor sleep, and in the worst case scenario, possibly even death from lack of oxygen
While they are not "panaceas" (or cure-alls), there are a few methods (such as "Buteyko", "Papworth", and others) that might help to provide relief in some cases. At the very least, the exercises contained within these methods can be used to assist us in gaining control over our own breathing as best as we can. It can be tricky to break a habit of mouth-breathing, sneaking into our sleep and leaving our throat dry upon awakening. Some people go so far as to do "mouth taping" (i.e.: literally sealing shut one's mouth with surgical tape or special "sleep strips").
Whatever you decide, awareness of breathing can go a long way towards improving our overall quality of life and help us to reduce stress and anxiety.
To summarize: mouth = food, nose = air.
A "neurogenic tremor" is when a human or animal shakes out of stress, anxiety, or trauma. For example, if someone becomes afraid, their body might start to quiver.
Many people have a tendency to suppress this sensation, thinking that expressing fear might make them look "weak". However, the body uses this reaction as a way to release tension.
There are a set of five body movements called "Trauma Release Exercises" (or "TRE") that are intended to induce neurogenic tremors.
Everybody reacts differently to them, but people usually sigh, cry, or laugh while doing the final movement that releases all of the tension built up by the previous four exericses. Unfortunately, TRE might be difficult to do if one suffers from leg or back problems, so do not force yourself to try them. While they should feel like exericse to some extent, they should NOT be painful.
Muscles are made up of fibers that move in different directions. These fibers contract to get our bones and tissues to move. Stress, anxiety, and trauma have a tendency to cause these fibers to stay contracted throughout the body. The term "Muscle Armoring" is sometimes used to describe this tension. It can cause "myofascial trigger points" (or what are more commonly referred to as "knots"). Trigger points can cause painful lumps within the muscle, or spots that are only apparent because they are tender to the touch.
The pain that these trigger points cause can show up within particular areas that are easy to locate, or it can show up on some other part of the body far away from its source. This is called "referred pain", and in this case, it appears because many of the muscles are quite long and/or are connected to other muscles. There is also another type of tissue called "fascia" that connects together many parts of the body and may create pain within the muscles when it becomes tight.
Some common areas where muscle tension tends to accumulate are the lower back, shoulders, neck, jaw, and scalp. This tension doesn't always occur from anxiety or trauma though. For example, "repetitive strain injuries" can result from the overuse or improper movement of joints and muscles during daily tasks. Wherever it may come from, there are several things that we can do to help heal it...
As long as it is not an injury that would be more suited to treatment with "R.I.C.E" (i.e.: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation), massage can be very relaxing for sore and tired muscles. If you have suffered from traumatic experiences that make it uncomfortable to be touched, or if there is no one around to help, a little bit of simple self-massage is worth learning.
There are really only two pieces of information that are vital to know:
1. Some places on the body (such as our "glands", "lymph nodes", "arteries", etc.) should NOT be massaged directly. It can be very dangerous to press firmly into them. If they need some movement, this can be safely accomplished through body stretches and aerobic activities like "rebounding" (i.e.: bouncing up and down).
2. Muscles that would benefit most from massage are in particular locations and their fibers run in specific directions. Knowing this will help you to rub knots out effectively. [There are some moderately priced books which teach this kind of information, such as the Trigger Point Therapy Workbook by Clair Davies.]
Taking some time to stretch and massage various easy-to-reach parts of the body (such as our hands, feet, neck, face, and scalp) a couple of days a week is a great way to manage stress and anxiety. There are also a lot of different kinds of massage tools (e.g.: "canes", "rollers", etc.) which can help us to get hard-to-reach spots like our back and shoulders. These tools don't have to cost a lot of money either. You might already have a few regular household items that could be repurposed for self-massage, like a tennis ball or an old rolling pin. Just be sure that you do not use anything sharp or "brittle" (that could break, splinter, or come apart in some manner if you press into it or rest your body weight upon it).
A few of the results of stress and anxiety can be alieviated directly through self-massage. For example, if tense scalp muscles are contributing to a "tension headache", then we can gently rub the pads of our fingers in circular motions along the scalp to get it to relax. Another helpful technique is to pull our own hair (if we have any). This might sound strange, but if you grab a big chunk of hair close to the "root" (i.e.: as close to the scalp as possible) and gently pull and release a few times, it doesn't hurt and the muscles in the scalp will start to relax. As long as one isn't too rough, most of the scalp can be massaged. However, if one rubs their "temples" (i.e.: the soft spots on either side of the forehead) they should do so with as little pressure as possible. These spots are very tender and have blood vessels that should NOT be pressed firmly.
Sometimes, when people are desperately seeking relief from bodily tension, they press too hard during massage and end up hurting themselves. Like breathing, gentleness and patience is key. For those days when we are too tired to dedicate some time to self-massage, soaking in a warm bath might be a good alternative. Do not force yourself to do it. It should be associated with relaxation, not obligation.
The muscle tension brought on by stress and anxiety can sometimes lead to other effects as well, like "Bruxism" (i.e.: jaw clenching and/or teeth grinding). It can occur while we are awake or while we are asleep. In some cases, Bruxism will naturally dissipate when the underlying stress and anxiety are healed. In other cases, it may be severe enough to require surgery. Either way, it can be beneficial to try to stay mindful and relax the habit of jaw clenching as best as we can while we are awake. We might even be able to repair the effects of tooth grinding to some extent through "enamel strengthening" toothpaste and a specific diet.
In general, physical exercise has a deep connection to our mental-emotional wellness. "Resilience" is the ability to recover from shocks. It is probably not too surprising that a resilient body is related to some extent to a resilient mind.
There are many different ways of getting some healthy bodily activity:
• Stretching (by practicing things like Yoga or Pilates; there is even a form of Yoga designed specifically for handling trauma)
Some slow stretching can be very relaxing. Don't have a lot of time? Don't worry! A good strech can be had in as little as 15-minutes.
• Strength Training (through Aerobics / Calisthenics)
No equipment or complicated routines are needed. Five exercises that engage all of the different parts of the body are enough.
Walking or hiking gives the added benefit of being out in Nature. Running can sometimes lead to the experience of a "runner's high" too!
As long as we don't overdo it, and it is balanced by plenty of water, proper nutrition, and adequate rest, exercise can be a great way to facilitate physical health and mental-emotional well-being simultaneously!
Whenever one feels terrible, an amusing thing to do is to go to a mirror, make the cheesiest grin you can, and hold it for as long as possible. Even if you didn't feel like it before, you are likely to break out into some laughter. Our body often takes on certain positions when we feel a particular way. For example, one often rests their head on their hands when they are bored or depressed, and looks up when they are inspired or happy. We can use this information to our advantage.
Sometimes we get into the habit of ignoring ourselves, pushing aside thoughts and feelings that seem to be a "waste of time", but are actually giving us helpful guidance. For example, pain is often a signal that something might be harmful to the body, but if we push it aside without careful assessment, then we may eventually end up hurt.
Therefore, whenever we feel frustrated, it is good to pause and take a moment to reflect upon why we are feeling that way. There is a clever little acronym that can remind us to do this: "H.A.L.T.". The word "halt" reminds us to stop, and each letter suggests questions to ask ourselves when we do:
• "Am I Hungry?"
• "Am I Angry?"
• "Am I Lonely?"
• "Am I Tired?"
Do not simply dwell on the feeling itself, but explore why it appears. If we know why, then we can take steps to remedy it.
If the feelings are intense, it can take some self-control to slow down enough to remember to ask ourselves these questions. If this is the case, there is a technique called "Quick Coherence" that might be helpful. First, we imagine breathing through the center of our chest for a few seconds to steady the rhythms of both our breath and heartbeat. Then, we try to evoke a feeling of appreciation or care until we become calm. Once we get used to it, this entire processes does not have to take more than thirty seconds to a minute in length. [The above link has a short MP3 audio file that describes this process more thoroughly.]
People can be so tortured by their own thoughts and feelings that they are hesitant to look within, so they distract themselves in whatever ways they can without realizing that there is nothing to be afraid of. Our own thoughts and feelings will not hurt us if we take the time to fully understand them and sincerely attempt to guide them towards the constructive.
Whenever we have some quiet time alone, such as right before bed each night, we can use it to become present within the body and really listen to what is going on inside of ourselves. Personally, there are times when I have done this and noticed that all of my muscles were tense, as if I was still attempting to hold my body up even though I was lying down. Sometimes we have to consciously choose to completely relax and we are only partially at rest until we do.
There are many tools that can help us to increase this kind of bodily self-awareness, such as "Energetic Psychology". All of the approaches within Energetic Psychology are united by the idea that the body has an "energy system" in the same way that it has physical systems (like the "circulatory", "respiratory", "digestive", and others). This "energy system" processes information. On some level, the structure of the body is a reflection of the experiences that we have had and continue to have. Whether or not one believes any of this to be true, some of the activities are worth trying...
For example, one approach within Energetic Psychology is known as "EmoTrance". It suggests that whenever we repeatedly feel a strong negative emotion, we should attempt to sense where it is "stuck" inside of the body. Then, rather than holding on to it, relax and allow the sensation to move freely. This is called "Soften and Flow". The analogy of a block of ice is often used to describe it: The negative emotion "freezes" in some spot of the body, and our loving attention "melts" it. This can produce relief, making it easier to understand why the feeling appeared in the first place and to assess what would be the most constructive response to it. [There is a process called "Focusing", which is similar in some ways, but is founded upon the approaches of "traditional" Psychology.]
Other tools for gaining bodily self-awareness (such as "Feldenkrais Method" and "Alexander Technique") seem a little less introspective and more "exercise-based", retraining one's posture and movements in a way that is intended to be beneficial.
Again, none of these methods are panaceas, so we should be cautious of any claims. But if we are open to exploring all of the information that is freely available and testing it out, then we might find things that can be helpful to us personally. Our safety, health, and well-being are always worth investing in, and it doesn't necessarily have to cost anything other than our time and attention to do so.
Conversation and Journaling
It can be important to check-in with people sometimes (especially chldren) to see how they are coping with events, both within their personal lives and society at large. Loneliness and isolation can lead to depression, anti-social behavior, and a whole slew of negative health effects.
Having an understanding person to converse with (and attempting to be an understanding person ourselves) can lead to dialogues where both people learn more about themselves and each other. As long as it doesn't degrade into argument, complaining, or gossiping / spreading rumors, simply being able to express our concerns out loud can often help to reduce stress and anxiety.
If we don't have anyone to speak with, or with subjects that are intensely private for us, we can write them out. Writing can give our thoughts and feelings a space outside of ourselves so as to better observe, analyze, or release them. However, we don't necessarily have to keep or share these writings! If you do not want anyone to read it (e.g.: because you consider it embarassing), just shred or burn the paper afterward.
Our brains are composed of "brain cells", and "brainwaves" are the rate at which our brain cells oscillate. Different frequencies have a tendency to put us into different mental-emotional states. "Entrainment" is an attempt to intentionally place ourselves within these states through the rhythm of something external, usually sounds of a particular "pitch" (or frequency). Two types are common:
• "Isochronic Tones" - a single sound (or "tone") that starts and stops at regular intervals
• "Binaural Beats" - two different sounds (or "tones") within each ear; the combination of the two sounds produces a third one called a "beat"
Not everyone enjoys brainwave entrainment; it might make some feel dizzy or uncomfortable. Likewise, even if we find benefit from brainwave entrainment, it can be challenging to find high-quality audios that are helpful to us personally. Some of my favorites are by Dr. Jeffrey Thompson, many of which are available for free on YouTube.
It is important to point out that we should NEVER listen to brainwave entrainment audios when driving or operating any other kinds of heavy machinery. This is because they can put one into a state where they cannot respond appropriately to the situation. For example, if one becomes drowsy, they could crash.
Stress, anxiety, and trauma often produce tiredness and "insomina" (i.e.: the inability to sleep). It may be hard to get restful sleep when our minds are racing and we are overwhelmed by emotional and physical pain. The following brainwave entrainment audios have been very helpful to me when I've had a hard time sleeping:
• Delta Sleep System - One
• Delta Sleep System - Two
• Delta Sleep System 2.0 - Peaceful Slumber [I've used this one a lot!]
• Delta Sleep System 2.0 - Dreamtime
• Rejuvenating Sleep
Our sleep cycle is regulated by a chemical called "melatonin". While some "sleep aids" (i.e.: over-the-counter medicines for treating insomnia) contain melatonin, the process that forms melatonin in our brain is balanced out by the amount of sunlight we get. Therefore, if we consistently work at night and sleep during the day, stay indoors for extended periods of time, or live in an area that has "overcast" (or cloudy) weather, then it can lead to the amount of melatonin in our brains getting out of wack. Sometimes people become depressed during the winter months for this reason (suffering from what is called "Seasonal Affective Disorder" or "SAD"). One way of handling this is to invest in a "lightbox", a device which produces "full-spectrum lighting" (similar to sunlight) at any time of the day that we need it.
Inversely, when it comes time to sleep, it can help to make our sleep area as dark as possible (with things like "blackout curtains" that block out light). This includes staying away from computer, television, and phone screens approximately 30 mintues to an hour before bedtime. There are also programs like f.lux, Redshift, and others, which automatically change the "color temperature" of our screens throughout the day. Generally, color temperature is how "warm" (reddish) or "cool" (bluish) the light coming from the screen is. Using warm colors throughout the evening puts less strain on our eyes.
Food & Entertainment
We have spoken before about how diet can profoundly affect the mind as well as the body.
We build up our bodies by what we "ingest" or take in. The same is true for not only food, but also things like music, movies / shows, and video games. Hearing or seeing things which are violent, vulgar, or overly stimulating can contribute to our experience of stress and anxiety. For example, a person might become anxious when they see an action or horror film. Funnily enough, people often partake of these things in order to "unwind", but even if we have convinced ourselves that it is "just fantasy", the body reacts.
Being cautious of what we allow in does not mean that we cannot enjoy ourselves though! In the same way, eating healthy does not necessarily mean that it must be flavor-less or bland. We can find things which are engaging mentally, but which also bring us peace emotionally. For example, as corny as it might sound, cooperative boardgames are a fun and relatively cheap way to meaningfully connect with the people around us.
Affirmations & Visualization
An "affirmation" is a statement that contains a constructive thought that we continuously repeat in order to make it into a habit. They are always written in the "positive" or "affirming" sense. For example, we would say "I feel peaceful" instead of something like "I am not stressed". This is because we are trying to focus in on the behavior that we want (e.g.: peace), not on the behavior that we do not want (e.g.: stress).
Ideally, we would place these statements in every tense and point of view. For example:
• "I have been peaceful."
• "[Name] has been peaceful."
• "You will be peaceful."
• "I am peaceful."
• "[Name] is peaceful."
• "You are peaceful."
...and so on.
We want to experience it in every way that we can. Say them out loud. If people are around and you would rather keep them private, then repeat them in your mind and heart.
Whenever we say them, we want to "visualize" (or imagine) a situation in which that is "true" for us, and then hold onto the feelings of gratitude and hope that arise. We are not trying to convince ourselves that it is "true", merely explore what it would be like if it was. We are most likely to become what we continually invest in. Affirmations are helpful for remembering important ideas and visualization can aid learning by helping us to explore different possibilities.
The regular practice of meditation can produce many health benefits. Meditation does not need to be overly complex or mysterious. All that it requires is a location that is safe and quiet. Here is a simple meditation:
Get as comfortable as possible within a sitting position and close your eyes. Leave your hands in your lap, palms upward. If you need something to focus on, observe how your breath moves in and out. Do not try to "stop" your thoughts or feelings, just relax them as best as you can. If your attention drifts away from your breathing, gently bring it back. Settle into the quiet place within. Rest here for awhile. Once you are ready to continue with your day, open your eyes, blink a few times to focus your vision, and slowly arise. That's it!
There are many programs and books on Mindfullness-Based Stress Reduction (or MBSR), or that go deeper into the subject of meditation and bodily awareness, such as:
Benson, Herbert. The Relaxation Response. William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1975.
Stroebel, Charles F. QR: The Quieting Reflex. Berkley Books, 1983.
Greenberg, Melanie. The Stress-Proof Brain. New Harbinger Publications, 2016.
Symbolic Rituals & Prayer
There are occasions where we are incapable of doing something to resolve a situation (e.g.: when someone dear to us passes away). In these instances, we can do symbolic rituals as a means to process that pain. For example, to handle grief we might do something that we once did with that person, not as a way to lament their death, but as a celebration of their life. Although it may seem as if nothing has changed, holding a particular intention makes a difference.
Likewise, stress, anxiety, and trauma often create situations where surrendering everything to a transcendent constructiveness is the only way to continue on. There have been many times in my life where I have given up completely, totally worn out, only to feel a loving hand pick me back up and guide me along. In the moments that you despair, help is only as far away as a sincere prayer.
I hope this article is, and continues to be, a useful resource for you. If there is any way that I can help, please let me know.
Thank you for reading! ❤️