In the midst of many highly emotional situations we tend to look for an end date. Picture when you might have taken midterms and knew that as of a particular day, whatever happened, the stress would end. As we know, there is no foreseeable end date to the war and pain within our nation. Many of us are going through our lives with intense heartbreak, anger, panic or detachment. As I had written in a previous column, there is no wrong way to cope.
I would like to offer some ideas, though, of what you can do practically—regardless of how you are coping at this time. We are surviving a collective trauma—and I do not use this word lightly. While not everyone who experiences trauma also experiences Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), everyone who experiences trauma is impacted with regard to his or her nervous system and/or functioning, at least in the short-term.
Many of us feel foggy, extra tired and have difficulty completing tasks or focusing. Some of us may feel extremely focused at times, but then have a polarizing sense of fatigue when not in that acute state. We read the news or go on social media and feel angry and fearful—outraged by what we see. Below are some practical tools that I believe can help in any of these states to bring us to a closer state of being grounded. (For those of you who attended any of the groups I recently ran, this will help as a refresher.)
- Activate Your Logic-Mind: When we are feeling intense emotions it can be hard to connect with the logical part of ourselves. Instead we are flooded and may make decisions from that emotional state. To activate your logic-mind you want to cause your brain to problem solve in a simple but not rote manner. You can do this by saying song lyrics aloud, counting in alternating languages (example: achat, two, shalosh, four, etc.), or doing simple math problems. The idea is that once your prefrontal cortex is “back online” you can recognize parts that you may have been missing when your emotion-mind was in charge, or be able to make the next best decision for yourself.
- Come Back to Your Body: It can be extremely difficult when feeling overwhelming emotions to feel present in the world. Sometimes pausing what we’re doing to bring ourselves fully back can be helpful. This may need to be done intentionally (set an alarm once per hour), especially in the beginning, as it can be easy to disconnect or even to feel like this isn’t really “needed.” Engage in progressive muscle relaxation—tightening each muscle starting from your head down to your toes and follow each tightening by a relaxation—this is more effective than just relaxing each muscle. Take 8 deep breaths—counting to 4 as you inhale, 4 to hold the breath, and exhale as long as possible. It helps to shake your body or have the exhale be audible. You can also physically lay on the ground (if possible) and count to 30 to touch something in the space around you, especially if it can be cold, like cold water or something from the freezer.
- Bring Your Mind and Body Together: We have no control over the situation and there may not be much we can remind ourselves to ultimately make us feel “better” or “safe.” So it is instead important to focus on turning on our logic-minds, bringing ourselves back into our bodies and then engaging in some brain work. This can mean asking ourselves if we have been taking care of our physical needs, making a plan of what to do next in the mindset of minute by minute, recognizing what might help us feel more safe, and even knowing what to do as a means of caring for ourselves—whether this be speaking to a friend, disengaging from social media, or recognizing how to connect with the rest of Am Yisrael.
The goal of these tools is to support your resistance through survival. They will not take away
our current suffering but they may bring you down from that heated anger when you see a video online or the rising panic when we think about what our future holds; I like to say that they can take you from a 10 to a 6 in terms of your intense emotions. The hope is that these skills help you maintain connection to yourself and others, and that they lessen the intensity. I recommend you try. The more we can care for our minds, bodies and souls the more we can act as a light for others and rise up as one nation. Am Yisrael Chai—BeYachad, uVeEzrat HaShem, Nenatzayach.
Temimah Zucker, LCSW works in New York and New Jersey with individuals ages 18 and older who are struggling with mental health concerns, and specializes in working with those looking to heal their relationships between their bodies and souls. Zucker is an adjunct professor at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, an advocate and public speaker concerning eating disorder awareness, and a Metro-New York consultant at Monte Nido. To learn more or to reach her, visit www.temimah.com.