Finding Your Calm after a Week of Traumatic Events
The focus on North Korea’s possible nuclear attack of early April seems like a distant memory after this week’s events. The Boston Marathon Terror bombing followed closely by the ricin-tainted mail discovered in both White House and Senate mail and then the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion. Americans of all walks of life were shocked back into the reality that ours is a world in which bad things can happen to good people.
Those who were close to the explosions are likely walking around with undiagnosed concussive injuries, which can display itself with emotional as well as physical symptoms. I hope that hyperbaric oxygen therapy will be made available. (For more on that check out the International Hyperbaric Medical Foundation) For those of us not directly affected, stress can and likely still is a factor. It does not matter if you live in Boston, Washington, Dallas, San Diego, or Spokane, the stress of these traumatic events takes its toll. If you have previously experienced a similar trauma, such as the residents of New York or Washington on September 11, or served in a war zone, these events may jolt you right back into the emotions of those events. The same for those who were in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina or the tornadoes in the South and Midwest. These are the times that we all need to pause and check on our own stress levels and seek the calm within.
I was frustrated on Sunday morning to hear one of the doctors on Fox News jump right into promoting the use of medications for anxiety and depression, which I am sure happened on other news outlets as well. One cannot medicate oneself back into feeling safe, so the suggestion is false on its premise (and loaded with risks as well as many of these drugs have risks for suicide in black box warnings on the labels.) The challenge of course is that in the current gun control debate, that psychiatrists, psychologists and other doctors may report their patients to a ‘no gun buy’ database not unlike the ‘no fly list’ because they have deemed a patient as ‘no longer mentally fit’ for gun ownership. I find the idea that a doctor, with no objective measures can be handed such power, with the medical community at large is ‘anti-gun’ is an egregious miscarriage of policy. It this proposed database does become a reality, it will become a deterrent for those who truly need this type of medical care to seek assistance. This however is a discussion for another day. If you need medical attention, please seek it.
What you do you to find your calm?
Everyone has their own stress relievers, ways that they seek to find an emotional calm. I have one friend who reaches for her bottle of anti-anxiety pills the moment she gets stressed. Both my parents had been heavy smokers when I was growing up, but my father stopped smoking in mid-life. However, when his mother passed, he bought a package of cigarettes and smoked half a pack on his drive from Pennsylvania to Maryland. He needed to find some calm and thought the cigarettes would help. Other people I know will turn to alcohol to dull the emotional sensors they are experiencing. There are other ways, some of which I discuss below.
Take a Walk
When the stress becomes too much, turn off the news and go outside and walk. Other forms of exercise are also helpful. I put my earplug in (I only use one ear plug so I am not totally absorbed while I’m walking and cross the road without hearing traffic) and turned on music (this week a mixture of Bach, Beethoven, and Jon Serrie) on my smart phone and walked my dog a little bit more on good weather days. If you want to put a spring in your step, consider the Beetles collection – there is something so stress breaking about listening to the early Beetles songs – Pop music at its finest!
The Power of Breath
There are a number of practices that encourage the focus on breath – meditation, QiGong and Yoga. Each encourage breathing techniques. Taking the time to simply breathe, deep belly breathing (like that taught to singers) counting to five as you breathe in, pausing and then a slow exhale of breath through the mouth is tremendously calming and has been shown even to help reduce blood pressure.
Mindfulness meditation or what is now being used with some war veterans, mindfulness exercises or ‘therapy’ in which meditation, stretching and acceptance of thoughts and emotions are utilized is a valuable tool for getting through stressful times like we are all facing.
If you do not know how to meditate, there are lots of audio sources, even from online resources. My good friend Dr. Frank Lawlis has a series, The Quick Relief Collection, which can now be downloaded from I-tunes or Amazon.
The Power of Prayer
Whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist or other spiritual practice, there is a reason we refer to God in some texts as ‘the Comforter’. The power of prayer alone and as a group is tremendously calming and sets the intention of finding your calm. On April 18, 2013, the United States Senate Chaplain, Dr. Barry C. Black offered the following prayer at the start of the day:
Let us pray. Hear our voice, O God, and listen to our prayer. You know our inward thoughts even before we think them. As we place our trust in You, enable us to experience Your joy. Breathe upon our Senators the fresh Spirit of Your love that old things will become new and the darkness will turn to dawn. Amid the dangers and destruction in our world, give us the miracle of Your peace. Make us good stewards of the gifts You have given us. And, Lord, we ask You to comfort the victims and families affected by the explosions in West, TX. We pray in Your great Name. Amen
I also find great calm in reading spiritual texts like the Bible and even the Qu’ran as well as poetry. A favorite is Rumi. The King Fahad Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qu’ran has what is likely the best English language translation. I am not one that blames the acts of terror on the religion of Islam, rather, having lived in Saudi Arabia many years ago know that such acts of violence are a violation of this and all religions.
There are a number of complementary therapies that can be utilized to help find that place of calm. If you have access to an acupuncturist, I find acupuncture to be a very powerful way to deal with stress overloads. After September 11th and the subsequent anthrax attacks, while working for Congress and being on the Capitol Complex, my stress levels were through the roof. Many times, I called my physician who was also an acupuncturist and asked if he could fit me in to his day for an acupuncture session. It got me through impossible times and helped me find my calm.
Massage therapy, Reiki and Shen are other complementary therapies that can be very helpful.
Unlike pharmaceuticals, gentler approaches to dealing with stress are flower remedies, homeopathy, and dietary supplements.
The one that immediately comes to mind is Rescue Remedy is a specific Bach Flower Remedy that is a combination of 5 flower remedies, all working on emotional imbalances associated with stress. Rose Rock and Star of Bethlehem are specific Bach Flower remedies that may help as well.
In homeopathy, there are a number of products that may help with stress including (but not limited to: Aconite (Aconitum napellus), Argentum nitricum (Arg-n), Arsenicum album (Arsenicum, Ars), Calcarea carbonica (Calc), Gelsemium (Gels), and Ignatia amara (Ignatia, Ign). It is important when picking a homeopathic remedy to make sure the characteristics described with the product ring true with you as different remedies are used with people of different personality types and differing characteristics. This is a field I am fascinated with and have on my list of things to become more expert in. The subtleness of homeopathic healing is so powerful and tied I believe into subtle energies.
There are also dietary supplements that are helpful during stressful times. The B vitamins are essential. I always ramp up my B complex during these times as B is considered the ‘stress’ vitamin, our body uses and needs more during these times. Vitamin C is a given. I think most of us get too little Vitamin C each day in our diet, so supplementing is important.
There are other ingredients or products that may be helpful. Kava kava (Piper methysticum) was originally used in the South Pacific in places like Fiji as a ceremonial drink. It has properties that promote well being, contentment and relaxation. There are scientific studies in its use for anxiety. About 10 years ago there were 30 reports of liver injury in Europe from but it was never confirmed if there were drug interactions with the kava, or other herbs interacting with Kava or whether it was Kava at a very high dose that led to liver injury. I have previously used kava kava in low doses and found it helpful. Obviously if you have concern about liver issues, speak to a trained herbalist or nutritionist with training in herbs.
Sam-e (S-adenosylmethinone) is another important dietary supplement and one that I think gets too little attention. It has been tested both as an injected drug and as an oral supplement for depression and inflammation. It is important to make sure you are taking a good B-vitamin with folic acid, and vitamins B6 and 12 when if you take Sam-e. There are some drugs that it interacts with, so make sure you read labels or seek expert advice (and check it out online.) I have found some fact filled information at the University of Maryland website http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/s-adenosylmethionine-000324.htm
Be smart about any products you are going to use, read labels and take into account what your own personal medical history.
Food for Thought
Paying a little attention to your diet in stressful times is important as well. Make sure you drink plenty of water. If you are like me and you use caffeine therapeutically, then be careful not to turn two cups of coffee in the morning to six. Consider switching the type of caffeine you use from coffee to tea for a day. Tea is more soothing.
It is spring and berries are coming into season. Enjoy the bounty – strawberries, blueberries, etc. All of the anti-oxidants are important to overall wellness.
For many of us, stress eating can be an issue. I could write the book on this, but for now, I will simply say, know yourself. Identify foods that may be unhealthy stress options, and be conscious of your stress eating. If chips, chocolate and ice cream are stress foods for you, do not keep them in your house.
Keep it Simple Sweetheart (The KISS Method)
We are one week out now from the Boston Marathon Terrorist attack, and many are working to get back to normal. Today, at 2:50 pm there is a moment of silence planned.
During these stressful times, just keep things simple. If you feel overwhelmed, simply breathe, focus on the in and out of your breath until your emotions settle. Do not overload yourself with projects and a long “To Do” list.
Be kind to those around you. Stress can make us short tempered, usually with those we love the most. I was thrilled yesterday to see the ‘hug patrol’ out in Boston. The power of a hug cannot be discounted.
Take time to appreciate the blue sky and spring flowers. Appreciate what you have and those that love you. There is a dawn after the long dark night. We all can find our calm. These stress tips I hope are useful here and to my friends around the world.