Week 35/Hurricane Edition: Calm in the Storm

Dorothy Hunt’s quote brings me great solace and comfort as I sit down to prepare this week’s mindfulness post, which will reach many readers that are busy preparing for Hurricane Dorian. The ability to receive warnings and track major storms brings both the ability to prepare in advance, as well as many days of potential angst and panic. It is in times like this that I draw upon mindfulness practices to help me weather the internal storm brewing in both my mind and body, as worry thoughts of the potential storm impact start creeping in. The most effective tools for me all start with AWARENESS of my thoughts, followed by a willingness to accept the thought as just a thought, and then a great big deep breath, followed by a slow steady exhale.

The pre-storm hysteria can bring out the worst in people. We see a lot of irritability and anxious energy released through the fight response and this is often projected onto those in close proximity, like our loved ones. The anxiety brought on by a storm warming or any other warning functions as an adaptive mechanism in humans to energize and activate us for preparation (the flight response). In these moments, it is important to recognize the common humanity of people your encounter – rushing through stores, getting gas, and trying to secure their homes. At times the intensity of the anxiety in an individual is excessive (because of multiple stressors and/ or a preexisting anxiety disorder) and may lead to immobilization, best known as the freeze response. The fight, flight, freeze responses are all responses to signals of danger and it is helpful to recognize the presence of these states.  If you are anything like me you may find yourself moving through all of these states over the next week. Ideally, with the use of tools we are able to move through them and restore some equanimity.

The fight/flight responses both respond to similar tools; they are both responses to the activation of the sympathetic nervous system that releases adrenaline and noradrenaline, preparing the body for action. The amount of these neurochemicals are in excess of what is needed and can fuel some serious aggressive behaviors, such as road rage or vulnerability of losing your temper. If you feel yourself loosing control, try out the DBT skills that follow.  And don’t forget to bring awareness to your actions and BREATHE.

STOP Skills

Stop, literally stop what you are doing or saying (if driving slow down)

Take a deep breath, inhaling slowly through the nose, hold 1-2 seconds, release slowly through the mouth…repeat several times.

Observe what you ae sensing in the body (heart racing, tension, stomach churning, etc), observe your thoughts and look for all or nothing, catastrophic, or overgeneralization in your thinking. Catch the exaggeration and name it without judgment or invalidating the feelings. Name the emotions and notice the thoughts that are feeding the emotions. Continue to use your breathe until it is regulated.

Make a list of things needed and then take action steps one at a. time

Freeze Mode

If you find yourself in a freeze mode, running in circles, clouded thoughts or even immobilized you can employ the 5,4,3,2,1 technique

Name 5 things you see: A tree, dog, grass, cars, a sign

Name 4 things you hear: cars buzzing by, bids, phone ringing, clock ticking

Name 3 things you feel: softness of your shirt, a/c blowing on you, feet on the ground (if they are not on the ground place them on the ground and gently press to sense your feet grounded).

Name 2 things you smell: the grass, perfume/oil

Name 1 thing you can taste: Perhaps keeping candy, gum, flavored water nearby to sip

After the STOP and 5,4,3,2,1 skills you can take a moment to bring awareness back to the present moment. Assess do I feel calmer, clearer, and more emotionally regulated? If so, proceed with your preparations or engage in an activity that is soothing or distracting. Look for more ideas and tips on Sacred Treehouse and Therapeutic Oasis Facebook pages.

For our local readers, we will be cancelling Tuesday evening meditation. However, I will be practicing at 6 pm so join me from your homes and will be sending Metta to all!

Proceed mindfully with greater perspective, wisdom, and self-control….and please be safe! Peace in this moment….even in the storm…look toward your center.

Patty Thomas Shutt, founder of Sacred Treehouse, is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches Dr. Shutt is passionate about helping others discover the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.  She offers Beginner Meditation & Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse, in addition to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindful Self-Compassion and various book studies throughout the year.