A handy guide to sur­viv­ing try­ing times.

The world feels ex­tra-fright­en­ing right now. What should we do?

ELLE (Canada) - - Insider - BY SARAH TRE­LEAVEN

HERE’S AN IM­POS­SI­BLE TASK IN 2017:

Go an en­tire day with­out hear­ing some­one—be it on TV, on the In­ter­net or in the of­fice el­e­va­tor—use a phrase like “in to­day’s world,” which we all know is code for the messed-up, scary, ter­ri­ble-things-in-over­drive mo­ment in time we live in. If you feel like there are more things than ever for you to worry about (and that’s not even in­clud­ing the stuff go­ing down in your per­sonal life), you’re not alone—and you’re def­i­nitely not wrong in feel­ing over­whelmed by it all.

“Be­fore so­cial me­dia, we used to hear about world events in a factual con­text, like a news­pa­per,” ex­plains Dr. Mithu Storoni, au­thor of Stress Proof: The Sci­en­tific So­lu­tion to Build­ing a Re­silient Brain and Life. “Now, with so­cial me­dia, we have this in­stant, co­or­di­nated group re­ac­tion to neg­a­tiv­ity, which makes you feel like more things are im­pact­ing you per­son­ally.” Whether it’s ter­ror­ism, Trump or the threat of World War III, re­cent events mean we’re liv­ing in a par­tic­u­larly un­cer­tain time—and that’s a huge stres­sor for us hu­mans. “Our brains have a big­ger stress re­sponse to an­tic­i­pat­ing pain—which may not even come—than they do when we’re ac­tu­ally hurt,” she says. “News is es­sen­tially a re­port on things chang­ing, and com­bined with the fact that it’s pre­sented in a more hyped-up, emo­tional way than ever, we’re en­gag­ing with un­cer­tainty much more fre­quently.” And since iso­la­tion in a Wi-Fi-free cabin isn’t re­ally an op­tion, what you need is th­ese ex­pert-ap­proved strate­gies for find­ing calm in Crazy­town.

“A DIS­TURB­ING WORLD EVENT JUST OC­CURRED, AND I’M BOTH SCARED FOR MY­SELF AND OVER­WHELMED WITH SAD­NESS FOR THOSE AF­FECTED.” If you’re scared, that’s your body’s fight-or-flight re­sponse kick­ing in. Your brain re­acts the same way whether you’re faced with a real threat or a per­ceived one. And given that most of us re­late a world tragedy or nat­u­ral dis­as­ter to our own lives—Could this hap­pen here? What would I do? Are we safe? What if some­one I love were there?—the fear flood­gates open and your body tends to re­act in much the same way as if you were in ac­tual dan­ger. Think adrenalin pump­ing, heart beat­ing faster, blood pres­sure soar­ing and anx­i­ety. Breath­ing ex­er­cises are the best way to con­trol this im­me­di­ate re­sponse, says Dr. Ruth La­nius, di­rec­tor of the post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der (PTSD) re­search unit at West­ern Univer­sity in Lon­don, Ont. (They help reg­u­late the au­to­nomic ner­vous sys­tem, which con­trols all of the above symp­toms.) Try breath­ing in for five counts and out for five counts, or take a deep breath, hold it for five counts and slowly ex­hale. If you feel sad, that’s nor­mal too. “Be­ing em­pa­thetic and car­ing are good things,” says Vivien Lee, a psy­chol­o­gist with the Cen­tre for Ad­dic­tion and Men­tal Health’s phys­i­o­log­i­cal-trauma pro­gram. Vol­un­teer­ing or giv­ing back can min­i­mize the feel­ings of help­less­ness that follow th­ese trau­matic events. (We’ll get into that a bit later.) If you still feel jit­tery in the weeks that follow, try as­sign­ing your­self “worry time,” says Lee—15 min­utes a day to bask in your anx­i­eties. Or come up with a safety plan. Sure, it sounds like some­thing your su­per-keener fifth-grade self would have or­gan­ized, but a lot of our fear stems from our lack of con­trol over a sit­u­a­tion. So, if ar­rang­ing a meet­ing point for fam­ily and friends in the case of an emer­gency or Googling a venue’s se­cu­rity mea­sures or the lat­est travel ad­vi­sories makes you feel bet­ter, that’s okay, says Lee.

“I’M FINE ALL DAY, BUT THE SEC­OND MY HEAD HITS THE PIL­LOW MY BRAIN TURNS INTO A WASTE­LAND OF ANX­I­ETY, STRESS AND WORSTCASE SCE­NAR­IOS.” The Noc­tur­nal Jour­nal is the brain­child of Lee Crutch­ley, a writer who says the “tl;dr” an­swer to what keeps him up at night is “lit­er­ally ev­ery­thing.” So the over­think­ing in­som­niac cre­ated a work­book of ac­tiv­i­ties to help you har­ness the power of that other kind of woke (the kind you don’t want to be). “We have per­ma­nent, un­in­ter­rupted ac­cess to ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­one, and the whole time our own brains are fight­ing to be heard,” he says. “We con­stantly push our thoughts and feel­ings to the back of the line...un­less they’re worth tweet­ing, of course.” When you try to sleep, how­ever, there’s a vac­uum of stim­uli...and all those ig­nored thoughts come rush­ing in. Now, this book won’t nec­es­sar­ily put you to sleep, but it will take all of that rac­ing, ur­gent in­ner di­a­logue and fo­cus it into some­thing pos­i­tive. Take the ex­er­cise that asks you to stare into an ex­is­ten­tial black hole and write or draw what looks back at you. “Th­ese days, it’s likely an ad­vert, a news up­date or some­one else’s post star­ing back at us,” says Crutch­ley. “It’s rarely our own abyss. It’s so im­por­tant to sit and be you, with­out out­side in­flu­ence and stim­uli. It can be ter­ri­fy­ing to have only your own brain for com­pany, but it’s much more re­ward­ing than star­ing into other peo­ple’s lives, and it’s def­i­nitely less ter­ri­fy­ing than the news.” If you still find your­self count­ing sheep, Storoni rec­om­mends get­ting at least 30 min­utes of day­light three times a day. (This reg­u­lates your body’s re­lease of sleep-in­duc­ing mela­tonin.) Also, eat early (there’s a sci­en­tific ex­pla­na­tion for this, but trust us: It’s bet­ter for your body clock) and stop scrolling Twit­ter in bed—the anx­i­etypro­duc­ing news and cir­ca­dian-rhythm-dis­rupt­ing blue light are the per­fect storm for an un­planned all-nighter.

“I JUST SAW A REL­A­TIVE POST SOME­THING IG­NO­RANT ON FACE­BOOK, AND I WANT TO CRY/ PUNCH SOME­ONE.” Walk­ing away from your phone is a good, ob­vi­ous first step—but it’s what you do af­ter­wards that will make all the dif­fer­ence to your el­e­vated cor­ti­sol lev­els. “The worst thing you can do is flop on the sofa and rest,” says Storoni. “You can dis­en­gage from the sit­u­a­tion phys­i­cally, but if you’re re­play­ing the scene over and over in your mind, your body con­tin­ues to ex­pe­ri­ence the stress­ful event be­cause it’s trig­ger­ing that same emo­tional re­ac­tiv­ity.” In­stead, do some­thing that ab­sorbs all of your at­ten­tion, like Tetris or a su­per-in­tense run. “That stops your emo­tional brain from run­ning away with it­self and sig­nif­i­cantly shrinks the in­ten­sity of a stress episode.”

“I SAW SOME­THING AW­FUL ON THE NEWS, AND 10 SEC­ONDS LATER I WAS LAUGH­ING AT A GOAT VIDEO. NOW I FEEL LIKE A HOR­RI­BLE PER­SON.” Ah, yes, the clas­sic “I feel bad for not feel­ing bad.” Don’t, says Storoni. In­stead, con­grat­u­late your­self on hav­ing an evolved re­sponse to the hurly-burly of mod­ern life. She com­pares your pre­frontal cor­tex to a con­duc­tor who di­rects the orches­tra of your brain and tells it where it needs to al­lo­cate its fi­nite re­sources. That helps to ex­plain why you might have had an over­whelm­ing emo­tional re­ac­tion to the first ter­ror­ist at­tack you can re­mem­ber but as time goes on you find your­self mov­ing on quicker and quicker. That’s a good thing. “In or­der for you to sur­vive as a hu­man be­ing—do things like get up, go to work, make de­ci­sions—you can’t have ex­ces­sive emo­tional re­ac­tiv­ity be­cause it takes up re­sources within your brain,” ex­plains Storoni. “Your brain copes by re­duc­ing your re­ac­tiv­ity to the same kind of story over time. It ac­tu­ally saves your life by do­ing that be­cause it helps you main­tain con­trol of its over­all per­for­mance.”

“I WANT TO HELP, BUT IT DOESN’T FEEL LIKE THE $ 40 I THROW AT THE RED CROSS IS ENOUGH.” Yep, some­how, writ­ing a cheque doesn’t in­spire the warm fuzzies. Our ex­perts sug­gest think­ing smaller and vol­un­teer­ing lo­cally—even if it’s for a cause that’s un­re­lated to global head­lines. “[Any vol­un­teer work] can help to build a sense of com­mu­nity, which is so im­por­tant af­ter scary and iso­lat­ing events,” says Lee. Stud­ies have shown that vol­un­teer­ing helps pro­tect against de­pres­sion and lone­li­ness and even re­duces the like­li­hood of de­vel­op­ing high blood pres­sure (the lat­ter for peo­ple over 50). Not sure where to start? The app Meetup con­nects you to peo­ple and causes—from knit­ting blan­kets for the home­less to link­ing new Cana­di­ans to com­mu­nity re­sources. n

Af­ter­wards, Aron asked the sub­jects to stare into each other’s eyes for four min­utes with­out talk­ing. Some be­came close and one cou­ple even mar­ried six months later. The ex­per­i­ment has now been ref­er­enced in hun­dreds of stud­ies. The (gen­eral) take­away: A con­nec­tion doesn’t hap­pen to you; you make it hap­pen.

Mandy Len Ca­tron def­i­nitely took the re­sults to heart. The Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia English pro­fes­sor at­tempted an ad hoc “36 ques­tions” with the hope of learn­ing to “love smarter” af­ter re­flect­ing on her own failed ro­mances and watch­ing her par­ents’ re­la­tion­ship un­ravel. She wrote about the ex­pe­ri­ence in a 2015 New York Times Mod­ern Love col­umn, which went vi­ral. “I used to think that the most im­por­tant thing when you’re choos­ing a part­ner is the in­ten­sity of your feel­ings,” says Len Ca­tron, whose es­say has since been ex­panded into a book, How to Fall in Love with Any­one. (She’s still with her test sub­ject.) “I would now sug­gest that you’re bet­ter off find­ing some­one you know is a good per­son and trust­ing that your feel­ings can and will de­velop.” (To be clear: This isn’t an in­vi­ta­tion to set­tle down with the next per­son you swipe right on. Nor is it an ex­cuse to stay in a crummy re­la­tion­ship.)

If this ap­proach to dat­ing sounds ter­ri­bly un­ro­man­tic, fear not: Think­ing more prag­mat­ically about ro­mance could be bet­ter for your love life in the long run. A 2014 Univer­sity of Toronto study of peo­ple in long-term re­la­tion­ships found that those who view them­selves as be­ing on a “jour­ney”—not in the cheesy Bach­e­lor sense but of the mind­set that re­la­tion­ships can grow and be built on over time as op­posed to sim­ply feel­ing “des­tined”—are hap­pier with their part­ners. That’s be­cause they’re more ac­cept­ing of the ups and downs that come with be­ing with some­one for more than five min­utes. “If [the study par­tic­i­pants] were primed to think about soulmates and then asked about even mi­nor con­flicts in a re­la­tion­ship, they re­ported less sat­is­fac­tion,” says Len Ca­tron. The im­pli­ca­tion is clear: If we be­lieve in the idea of a per­fect, strife-free match, any­thing else seems like a lousy sub­sti­tute. Other stud­ies sug­gest that those who be­lieve in “the one” may be less likely to try to work through a rough patch—be­cause there shouldn’t be a rough patch if you’ve met the Prince Charm­ing to your Cin­derella, right?

Still, it can be hard to re­sist the fan­tasy. Len Ca­tron says that about half of her first-year stu­dents con­fess to be­liev­ing in soulmates. They fear that think­ing about love sci­en­tif­i­cally will ruin its in­her­ently mys­te­ri­ous qual­i­ties. It’s a wor­thy query: Do we lose any­thing when we ditch the fan­tasy and ac­cept that long-term love is just another job you have to show up for ev­ery day?

Car­rie Jenk­ins, pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy at the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia, says that, at the very least, we should stop think­ing about a “stan­dard model” for suc­cess when it comes to love. “A re­la­tion­ship is like a liv­ing thing, like a per­son: If it’s healthy, it grows and changes,” says Jenk­ins, who cov­ers the sub­ject in her new book, What Love Is and What It Could Be. “Think about what you want from the ro­mance buf­fet. In­stead of a set menu of scripted ex­pec­ta­tions (sex, monogamy, liv­ing to­gether, mar­riage, kids, death), each re­la­tion­ship can be cus­tom-built.” Be­cause whether you be­lieve in soulmates or not, in the end, all that re­ally mat­ters is that your re­la­tion­ship is the per­fect fit for you. h

“I USED TO THINK THAT THE MOST IM­POR­TANT THING WHEN YOU’RE CHOOS­ING A PART­NER IS THE IN­TEN­SITY OF YOUR FEEL­INGS.”

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