RELAXATION AND STRESS REDUCTION

One thing we can do in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, is remember to relax. As silly as that might sound, too often we allow ourselves to get wound up by listening to all the hype in the media (indeed, it’s difficult to escape these days) until we reach the point we are operating on autopilot and in a state of almost constant anxiety. It’s time to take charge again and chill out!

Indulging in a little mind-time can be quite rejuvenating. Relaxing doesn’t have to be a big production, although there is room for more complicated techniques too. But, consider taking a few minutes each day to try one or more of these methods of relaxation:

  • Take a hot, soaking bath. Throw in a handful of bath salts, light a candle and turn out the lights. Maybe even add some soft music.
  • Read a good book, one that gets you right into the plot and right out of your head!
  • Play your favorite music. Sing along, and crank it up!
  • Go for a walk in the woods. Not necessarily a power walk, but taking the time to notice the sounds, smells and beauty of your surroundings.
  • Visit the local beach. Yes, take care to adhere to social distancing recommendations, but there is something about watching the water that is relaxing and compelling at the same time.
  • Play with or cuddle your pet. Contact with the pets we love can lower blood pressure and be heart healthy for us.
  • Indulge in your favorite craft, be it wood-working, sewing, painting, etc.

There are many other ways to relax. Not all will work for everyone. Not all will work instantly. Sometimes it takes 10-12 repetitions before you start to develop a habit and the activity becomes something enjoyable. Try different methods until you find one or more that work for you, then don’t feel guilty for taking some time for yourself.

DISORDER OR INJURY?

I’ve seen several programs on television recently that have included a character that was suffering with PTSD.  In one episode, the main character said it should not be called PTSD because it is not a disorder, instead, it is an injury.  PTSD occurs because you have witnessed an atrocity.  It is caused by an injury…an injury to the psyche.  It is also a disorder because the injury causes actual physical damage in the brain, resulting in how chemical signals are processed.  It is a wound in the psyche and therefore requires healing to take place in the psyche, not just the physical body.

I may not be saying this well, but I believe it is why PTSD is so difficult to heal.  How do we heal a psychological wound that has physical manifestations?  I believe the answer is that we must resort to healing modalities that result in psychological healing.  Prayer, meditation, and talk therapies are perhaps the most powerful methods, those that put us in touch with our psychological side.  Perhaps that is also why the things that are esthetically appealing also seem to help us heal.  Things like walking in the woods, or stopping to appreciate how beautiful the flowers are in springtime, or sitting by the river watching the water.  All of it touches a place inside us that has suffered a significant wound.

Does it matter whether PTSD is a disorder or an injury?  No, what matters is that we seek until we find those things that put back into our spirits what has been damaged and torn away. Only then will we begin to heal.

THOUGHTS MAKE A DIFFERENCE

What you think affects the way you feel. We can’t separate our mind from our body; thoughts affect our health. By changing your thoughts then, you can change, at least to a degree, your health status. Let me give you an example.

Suppose you are very upset because you believe something bad is going to happen, such as having your car slide off the road in a winter storm. You fret over whether you should go out at all, and you realize you are physically uncomfortable too. You don’t feel good in a general way – your head may not ache, but you feel congested and tired. Your back hurts and you feel sore all over.

Then you go out on your trip – and you don’t slide off the road. In fact, the sun comes out, the snow melts off the road, and you realize you’re feeling better! Sound familiar? What we think affects how we feel. Therefore, how we think can have an impact on how we feel.

There are many ways to change our thoughts – prayer, meditation, relaxation exercises, and talk therapy, to name a few. Not all of them will work for everyone, and it may take some time and persistence for any of them to work. Don’t give up trying different methods though until you find what works for you!

FINDING THE SWEET SIDE

Everything and everyone seems to be focused on Covid-19 these days, and while I understand our need to stay updated and informed, I think there is a danger of forgetting there are also good things happening. While these may be the times that put pressure on all of us, many, many people are stepping up and reaching out to help each other. It’s heartening and it reestablishes my faith in humanity.

I have a friend who is extremely functionally disabled. He struggles to stay independent, working with multiple disabilities. His friends have stepped up and are bringing him food and dropping off his medications so he doesn’t have to go out (one of his disabilities is COPD). They are calling him almost daily so he doesn’t get lonesome, and they will even drive to his home, sit outside while he stands on the steps so they can visit while respecting the social distancing order. He’s making it through; without these friends, I don’t think he would manage.

Another person I contacted recently told me that a local church member had dropped off a basket of food for her. She was wondering how she was going to manage as she was so afraid of going to the grocery store.   She also has breathing difficulties and felt it was too dangerous to go outside her home. She was so thrilled because it seemed to her as if each item had been specifically hand-picked for her enjoyment. And, remember, this was not a church where she attended.

There are many more stories of people who might not have made it if someone hadn’t helped. Can you lend a hand today? Is there someone you can call, someone you can befriend who could use a little help? Try reaching out to someone in need today and find the sweet side of life again!

SEEKING THE GOOD

Staying positive during all this stress is difficult, yet, like everyone else, I need to focus on maintaining my sense of humor.  With the news about the Coronavirus focused on how many victims have expired, I’m flooded with negative images and thoughts of how this could affect me, yet I’ve been through hard times before, and I’ll make it through this difficult time too.

I’ve found that limiting my exposure to the news and all the hype helps. I tune in once a day and listen to the latest reports on what’s happening locally and worldwide, then I stay away from the news.  Instead, I’ve been reading books, working on my craft projects, playing music, and taking walks.  I avoid other people when I’m walking, and I’m lucky that I’m sheltering at my sister’s home while this is going on.  I figured if she or I got sick, we’d be able to care for each other.  I didn’t want her to face this alone, or to face it alone myself.  It’s nice to have someone to share the burden with!

I’ve been impressed by the good I see coming out of this pandemic. It warms my heart to hear of those who have medical experience that are answering the call for help in New York and are flocking to step in where needed.  That to me is the essence of the human spirit!  I try to remember that when I hear about the selfishness of students who don’t care if they spread the virus to older people simply because they are young and won’t likely die from it.  Perhaps they don’t care if their parents or grandparents are victims?  And, perhaps it says something about the youth of today and how morally barren some of them are…but isn’t that true of every time in history and every culture?

Staying positive is hard work, but it’s something we all need to do in these troubled times.  There is good coming from all of this, and it reminds me of the old saying, “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  Perhaps that’s true too.

 

 

LIFE WITH PTSD

Living with PTSD is not a picnic, and sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s my reality and I just have to deal with it. The toughest part is the anger. I’m angry a lot of the time, my temper has a hair trigger, and I can explode with little provocation. There is a reason though: PTSD is based on chemical changes in the brain.

That’s not an excuse for bad behavior, it’s just a fact. I still have to put the effort into controlling my temper and not lashing out at others. I think knowing that chemical changes in the brain drives those behaviors makes me more determined than ever to find a way to overcome the changes and “reclaim” myself. Sometimes I feel as if I’ve lost who I really am to PTSD. I don’t like feeling that way.

So, what do I do to reclaim my even nature? A lot of the time it involves isolating myself while I get a grip on my anger. I journal to seek what’s behind my rage; is it really that someone or something is bothering me, or is it simply that I’m already more than half way to a state of frothing anger and sometime ridiculously small has tripped me the rest of the way? Once I answer that question, it’s easier to let go of the anger. While I know isolation is a problem for people with PTSD, I also know that in order for me to get my anger under control, I have to cut down on the outside stimuli coming at me, or there is so much, I can’t get a handle on it.

Living with PTSD is not easy. No one said it would be. It’s up to us to learn as many different techniques for coping as possible. Somewhere in all those techniques are the keys to caging the tiger. I’ll find it. Just give me a little more time and I’ll find it!

REFLECTIONS

I am so looking forward to this New Year! The past couple of years have been quite trying for me, so looking at a clean slate coming up is a delight. This year I would like to make some progress on stabilizing my finances. I have the tools to do this, and was quite successful last year, but then unforeseen circumstances pulled me back into the mud again. I don’t like being broke all the time, so it’s time to step it up and get back on track.

I’d also like to find more ways to reduce the stress in my life. I’m getting older now and find that stress affects me more negatively than it did when I was younger. For one thing, I am facing knee replacement surgery soon, and I’ll also need cataract surgery on both eyes. I’ve been putting it off for several years now, but I don’t think I can get away with that much longer.

As the New Year comes in, I want to have a plan for reaching some of the goals I have. I know that writing a plan down increases the likelihood of achieving it by greater than 50%, so I will think it through and write it down. These things are worthwhile to me as I want to achieve some things before I retire.

I hope the New Year is filled with blessings and prosperity for you too, and that, as a nation, we can learn to live in peace with each other and with ourselves. Happy New Year!

RETROSPECT

As 2019 draws to a close, I find myself reviewing all the things that have happened, and the effect it has had on me. I survived one of the worst years of my life, and that, I feel, is a success. I took on some new responsibilities, gave up some old ones, and found things to look forward to even in the midst of all the chaos. Although I would not want to repeat this year, I believe I have done a pretty fair job of getting through it.

Sometimes we have to look back to see how far we’ve come in order to appreciate the distance we’ve traveled. It also helps us to not become overwhelmed by all the negativity that life can throw at us. While I have to say there are things I could have done better, I can also say I’m a survivor and I made it through some very tough times.

I’m looking forward to 2020. I know there will still be tough times ahead – there always are. But I also know I can get through them, no matter what is thrown at me. And, as I enter this year, the slate is clean and perhaps things won’t be as bad as they were last year; that gives me some hope.

As this year closes, I congratulate you on being a survivor too, and I hope the New Year will be one of prosperity and peace for all of us. Happy New Year!

TOO MUCH

Christmas has been my favorite time of year since I was a child. We were very poor when I was young, but at Christmas time, it was a happy time anyway. I have a brother and two sisters, and we all shared one present, usually a boy’s gift because my mother felt it was better for her girls to play with a toy that traditionally was given to a boy, than for her boy to play with a toy traditionally meant for a girl. I didn’t mind. I didn’t know anything different. The season held such joy for me, and most of it revolved around things that didn’t cost anything. The lights, the music, the smell of the pine tree in the living room was so special. My how things have changed!

Last night, as I was driving into Grand Rapids to do my volunteer work for the week, I realized that I was not enjoying the beautiful Christmas lights like I usually do. As I thought about that, I realized I wasn’t even seeing them, I was too busy worrying about all the stressors that are overwhelming me. How will I pay for the rest of the presents I have to buy? I need a new furnace; where is the money for that coming from? Will the snow-blower start again this year? How long is my car going to go without falling apart?

There are a million things to worry about, and it seems that lately, that’s where my focus is. The problem is, worrying about things I can’t change, robs me of the joy of the season. I was fortunate in realizing what was happening before the season was over. I slowed down, said a short prayer of thanksgiving that my car is running, I can still shovel snow if I have to, and the holiday isn’t about how much money I spend. I actually was able to recapture some of the joy of the season!

If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that there will always be problems; that’s what life is about. It’s taking the time to be appreciative of what you have and for the good things in life that make it worthwhile. Take a few moments to stop this holiday season and appreciate all the wonders of the holidays. It will be over soon enough and you can get back to worrying then! Happy Holidays!

HYPERVIGILANCE

Hypervigilance is another way of saying you are rabidly alert.  I’m very aware (no pun intended!) of the effects of hypervigilance.  When I was younger, I was able to monitor every other person the same room I was in to ensure they were not a threat to me.  Fortunately, I no longer feel I have to be that alert in every situation I’m in.

So, how did I get to this level of acceptance?  I’m not sure I can answer that other than that age has made a difference.  Each day that disaster didn’t strike convinced me that I could be reasonable safe.  Perhaps my expectations were lowered over time too as I didn’t feel I was threatened every moment.  I’m not sure how I got here, just that I’m in a different place today than I was 20 years ago.

That’s good to recognize because sometimes I feel PTSD is going to affect me forever and that I’m powerless to change it.  I need these times of recognition that I am getting better and finding it easier to live with having PTSD.  These are the moments that keep me going

I may never be entirely free of the symptoms of PTSD, but it’s nice to know that I’m reaching the age where it doesn’t have such a negative impact on my life.  I hope the healing continues as I get older too!