The stress and trauma of this election cycle -- and fears for the future -- are real. Many are enduring abuse now in their daily lives. All of us are trying to metabolize a painful year and what was for many a very shocking loss.
We need to take care of ourselves. Here are 20 things to know about stress and what to do to stay healthy and resilient. We all need our health to fight back and stay in the space of love. We will win this thing in the end if we take deep care of ourselves and of each other, and if we try with all our might to raise ourselves up and refuse to be demeaned, destroyed, or defeated.
When we are stressed or have experienced abuse or trauma, our executive functioning brains shut down. That means we aren't able to think clearly. We can feel disoriented and confused as a result. This is all a result of the fight or flight reaction that we -- as animals -- experience after trauma. This is a very real physiological thing. Don't let anyone tell you differently. Some reactions may seem "dramatic" etc. They're not. Read below for more details.
The common thread throughout these tips: your body needs to be tended to before anything else. Then your imagination needs to be nurtured. Try to take care of your animal-selves and get into play. Get away from thinking and worrying.
While some of these tips below are common sense, I find the reminders helpful. Please pass it on to support others.
20 tips for releasing stress and healing trauma:
1) If you find yourself shaking, let your body shake. This is a natural mechanism of our animal selves to release stress. Humans are often embarrassed or scared by the shaking that may occur in stress so we shut it down. Try not to. If this process can unfold naturally, you'll feel relief when it's over and stress that might have been trapped in the body just goes away.
2) Energy or tension in your fists/hands/arms/shoulders can be trapped from the "fight" response. Energy or tension in your legs/feet can be from the stalled "flight" response. Don't be scared by this energy. Try to let it out. Punch a pillow or run it out until you get to emotion or exhaustion. If you start crying, let it out until is stops on its own.
3) I repeat: if you start crying, try to let yourself cry/sob/wail until it stops naturally. Remember to breath through it. Stay out of fear. Try not to think you're being "weird" or "dramatic". The more this can come out of you, the more resilient you will be overall. If you can't cry wherever it starts, try to find a safe place and kindly, consciously "compartmentalize" until you can get back to feeling what you need to feel.
4) If you find yourself going through cycles of cold / hot fever states from emotional stress, again let it happen. Your body is working to release stress. Try not to worry about it or make it go away. Like a fever with infection, it will pass on its own and leave you healthier and happier. (Of course, if this cycle continues for too long, check in with your doctor.)
5) If you find yourself spacing out and worry that something is wrong, you are probably dissociating. This can be an indication of the "freeze" state -- the third option to "fight or flight". The freeze state is the animal-body way of mimicking death as a last resort to being eaten by a predator. Humans do this too. We unconsciously go into paralysis and leave our bodies. This is natural at the moment of shock/attack/suffering but it can get "stuck". So if you find yourself in a semi-catatonic state for too long or over days, try to go on a walk, do some yoga, or sleep. Read below for more tips on this.
6) Sleep as much as your body wants and as much as you're able. Sleep and REM sleep naturally process stress. We don't get enough of it. If you start to fear that you're sleeping "too much", try some of the other tools and tips to get your body back to life and your spirit lifted.
7) Remember to eat good food. If you fear that you're not eating anything, reach out to friends, get a good supplement. Here's one good option that I recommend when cooking and eating in emotional stress is hard. Try also to limit alcohol, sugar, coffee etc., all which can throw off the adrenal system and cause anxiety and more stress.
8) Get hugs and affection and provide the same with safe people. This is absolutely necessary for the management of stress and trust in safety right now. Same goes for talking and crying. If a person cannot hold your tears and feeling, don't ever let them tell you you're "taking things too seriously" or "being dramatic." Find someone who can listen.
9) Find a therapist trained in EMDR -- a very simple trauma processing technique that is highly effective and heavily researched. Even a few sessions can help to get to the root traumas that this whole horrible election cycle and loss may be kicking up. If you're feeling "overly" reactive, it is likely that an underlying trauma is being triggered. (*If you don't feel comfortable with the therapist you find, find another one).
10) Find a therapist trained in Somatic Experiencing -- another trauma therapy modality that is excellent and based in the fight/flight/freeze response. There are fewer of these trained therapists than EMDR, but it's a great option. (Again, if you don't feel comfortable with the therapist you find, find another one.)
11) Walk walk walk. This is a very natural way that humans process stress. It has real, physiological and emotional benefits. Grab friends and walk together.
12) Any bilateral movement helps to integrate stress into the brain/body. In addition to walking, you can do things like tap your right leg with your right hand, then your left leg with your left hand and so on. It seems too simple to be true, but this is basic animal stuff of bilateral stress relief that helps us relax. You could also buy two stress balls and squeeze them one by one. Think of a cat kneading a blanket before settling down.
13) Remember to breath. Practice breathing. Take 2 minutes periodically to breath more deeply. Lengthen your inhales and exhales. After a long inhale, try to swallow before exhaling. If fear arises while doing this, counter the fear with love and keep going. You are releasing stress. Repeat this 10 times. This simple practice can help regulate emotional stress very effectively. Another great option is to just stare at that triangle thing at the top of this page.
14) Laugh and smile. Yup, even if you have to start by forcing it, it helps. Don't be stubborn! If you need an aid, get to your TV shows, movies, or podcasts. Get the heaviness off your chest. 14b) Dance! Turn up whatever music gets you going. 14c) Listen to music that soothes you too. The therapeutic value of music is real, people. This is not "woo woo". It's been researched. (Oh, and our ancestors knew music was helpful empirically, without having to research its effects...)
15) Read fiction. Good fiction. May I suggest this book for instance? Or this one? Excellent page turners will help your brain and heart to come back together. Also, these books written by brilliant women, about brilliant women are good for the soul.
16) Read and watch Hero's Journey stories. Harry Potter is a good one. Take them in. Star Wars (the originals, of course). Karate Kid. iRobot. (And those elusive ones with interesting female leads that Hollywood still needs to make.) Channel your inner warrior. We are entering a battle between good and evil. We need to be prepared to listen to our instincts and take care of each other. We were made for these times. Soak up what our world's stories already know about how to move forward.
17) Bolster yourself with the histories of feminism and civil rights. Learn from them. Soak up the stimulation and the intellectual nutrients. Watch really good documentaries that can help sooth you. Immerse yourself in our collective history. The Makers Documentary series is an excellent place to start. Remember how much fight and love we all have in us.
18) Create create create. Do not judge anything you want to do or that wants to come through you. Your creative self will help you heal, and will almost certainly help to move your community forward. Make art, make music, write, get your imagination moving. When we're scared, the imagination contracts. Fear and paranoia are the antithesis of imagination. Reverse it. Be determined. Work to expand your sense of hope by giving space to your imagination. Remember: this is *useful* to society as well! We need your heart and your ability to see the future. The system of white supremacy / patriarchy tells us that only "practical" things are valuable. Don't believe it! Your imagination is critical. Your soul is critical.
19) Find an object that expresses love and resilience to you and keep it with you wherever you go. It may be a small stone that you can use to help you remember to breath. It may be a small animal figure of a bird or a wolf or a lion that you can hold in your hand and help you regain strength. Maybe it's an image of your most powerful ancestor. Carry it with you. Touch it when you need to remember love instead of fear.
20) When you're ready, emerge from any feelings of being helpless or useless. Helplessness is a result of the freeze state. It is a very natural response to trauma, but try not to let your brain buy-into it. We need you to come back to life and trust that whatever small and large gifts you can provide to one person, one animal, or a whole big group is what we need. You are profoundly useful. Your art is useful. Your hugs are useful. Your writing, your cooking and baking, your ability to fix things, your knowledge, your kindness, your directed anger and passion, your teaching, your leading, your sense of beauty. You do not have to "be useful" all the time (bleh!), but it's important to try to fight out of the feeling of helplessness. Take your time in exploring how you can honor what you're able to share with the world. Don't rush it. It does not need to be volunteering or donating money. We need your unique gifts, big and small, to help all of us move forward. (If this step feels too confusing, return to the body stuff over and over again. Bring your body back to life and the rest will follow)
You are each valuable. Don't let anyone tell you differently. Keep up the fight for love and kindness for all. First and foremost to yourself.
Sending love to you all,
Satya Doyle Byock