It’s the beginning of a new year, a time when many individuals ponder new possibilities or resolve to incorporate healthier lifestyle changes for the coming year. As professional practitioners of positive psychology, we understand that successful changes usually come about with slow steady incremental steps and with the reinforcement of colleagues and community.
Our world, however, offers many diversions and distractions from our chosen path. We are inundated with negative news, triggering our unconscious into believing that war and famine are imminent and thereby driving a desire to consume, either for survival or for comfort. Indeed, we can’t seem to escape this onslaught of dread and negativity.
Over the past year, you may have even noticed a surge in very difficult news: the abuse of power encapsulated in assaults on women. Starting with the Presidential campaign, a time when sexual assault and bullying behavior first became nightly news headlines, we have heard from women who have courageously spoken out about such assaults and the abuse of power. While we fully support them in their efforts to achieve justice, we also understand that these discussions unintentionally release painful memories for many, many more women than those who have access to a public voice. In fact, in our roles as practitioners, we sit with such women in sessions and hear their stories of pain again and again.
Such stories may often bring up conditioned responses or and additional symptoms in our brains: hyper-vigilance, intrusive thoughts, mood changes, avoidance of normally engaging activities. Other symptoms include difficulties with sleep, appetite, relationships, ability to concentrate and focus. A way to understand our brains when faced with new traumatic or very stressful information is this. Dr. Michele Rosenthal describes three areas of brain function here:
1) Overstimulated amygdala: An almond-shaped mass located deep in the brain, the amygdala is responsible for survival-related threat identification, plus tagging memories with emotion. After trauma the amygdala can get caught up in a highly alert and activated loop during which it looks for and perceives threat everywhere.
2) Underactive hippocampus: An increase in the stress hormone glucocorticoid kills cells in the hippocampus, which renders it less effective in making synaptic connections necessary for memory consolidation. This interruption keeps both the body and mind stimulated in reactive mode as neither element receives the message that the threat has transformed into the past tense.
3) Ineffective variability: The constant elevation of stress hormones interferes with the body’s ability to regulate itself. The sympathetic nervous system remains highly activated leading to fatigue of the body and many of its systems, most notably the adrenal.
Healthy Coping Strategies
1. Consider reducing the daily onslaught of bad news. Remember: no one wants to read a week-old newspaper - it’s old news! In reality, there’s not much in the nightly news that needs your daily attention. Perhaps consider switching to a recap of the weeks events via a weekly summary (print or media) and making a commitment to act on what you learn.
2. Maintain healthy self-help practices: participate in active and life-giving recreation, seek out new art and music, read a great book, make one healthier nutritional choices each day.
3. Invite supportive friends and colleagues for intentional conversations about what you can do to get involved in promoting social justice and change.
Aside from these steps, we know that working through the thoughts and emotions of current and past trauma can and does help. Consulting a therapist can lessen the effects of both first-hand and vicarious trauma.
Here at Rock Springs, we offer a small group to help women explore paths for moving forward. Indeed, being with a group of women who are experiencing similar reactions, sharing insights, and forming a supportive community that feels safe can lead to life-affirming changes. We invite you to consider joining other women to share the difficult task of saying #MeToo, and together discovering life-giving ways to heal and thrive.
To find out details about this new group, please contact Rev. Melanie Stanley-Soulen at 678-378-8524 or email us at info@RockSprings.us.