Mercy, mercy we: Managing stress in traumatic times

August 22, 2014

136628067Are we living in 1964 or 2014? Yes, I am aware it is 2014, but with all that has taken place recently one must wonder. I mean c’mon, it seems like every week we have to hear of or deal with a tragedy that tops the one before. The news, community conversation, social media platforms, TV and radio all seem to spew the same message with no solutions.
Violence and reports of it in this magnitude, overlapping moment by moment, can eventually take up residence in a society’s mind. Like combat veterans, every day citizens – especially our youth – develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As many as one-third of children living in our country’s urban neighborhoods have PTSD, according to recent research and the country’s top child trauma experts. That’s nearly twice the rate reported for troops returning from war zones in Iraq. Can you imagine what the number is for adults who are bombarded with violence on all media platforms and not to mention their daily life stressors?
My questions in the midst of all of this are, where do we go to process our emotions, who do we turn to, how do we deal with it all and what can we do to stay sane and mentally healthy in these stressful times?
First, let’s look at some of the symptoms of stress.
Your behavior:
• An increase or decrease in your energy and activity levels
• An increase in your alcohol, tobacco use, or use of illegal drugs
• An increase in irritability, with outbursts of anger and frequent arguing
• Having trouble relaxing or sleeping
• Crying frequently
• Worrying excessively
• Wanting to be alone most of the time
• Blaming other people for everything
• Having difficulty communicating or listening
• Having difficulty giving or accepting help
• Inability to feel pleasure or have fun
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Your Body:
• Having stomach aches or diarrhea
• Having headaches and other pains
• Losing your appetite or eating too much
• Sweating or having chills
• Getting tremors or muscle twitches
• Being easily startled
Your Emotions:
• Being anxious or fearful
• Feeling depressed
• Feeling guilty
• Feeling angry
• Feeling heroic, euphoric, or invulnerable
• Not caring about anything
• Feeling overwhelmed by sadness
Your Thinking:
• Having trouble remembering things
• Feeling confused
• Having trouble thinking clearly and concentrating
• Having difficulty making decisions
More than likely, you’ve experienced one or more of these symptoms, but may not have considered yourself stressed. Here are five healthy techniques that psychological research has shown to help reduce stress for short and long term results:
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Take a break from the stressor. It may seem difficult to get away from a big work project, a crying baby or pick up and move from a violent neighborhood. But when you give yourself permission to step away from it, you let yourself have time to do something else, which can help you have a new perspective or practice techniques to feel less overwhelmed. It’s important to not avoid your stress (those bills have to be paid sometime), but even just 20 minutes to take care of yourself is helpful.
Exercise. The research keeps growing — exercise benefits your mind just as well as your body. We keep hearing about the long-term benefits of a regular exercise routine. Even a 20 minute walk, run, swim or dance session in the midst of a stressful time can give an immediate effect that can last for several hours.
Smile and laugh. Our brains are interconnected with our emotions and facial expressions. When people are stressed, they often hold a lot of the stress in their face. So laughs or smiles can help relieve some of that tension and improve the situation.
Get social support. Call a friend, send an email. When you share your concerns or feelings with another person, it does help relieve stress. But it’s important that the person whom you talk to is someone whom you trust and whom you feel can understand and support you. If your family is a stressor, for example, it may not ease your stress if you share your work woes with one of them.
Meditate. Meditation and mindful prayer help the mind and body to relax and focus. Mindfulness can help people see new perspectives, develop self-compassion and forgiveness. When practicing a form of mindfulness, people can release emotions that may have caused the body physical stress. Much like exercise, research has shown that even meditating briefly can reap immediate benefits.
Do what works best for you or try something new, but by any means necessary protect your mental well being.