It’s shaping up to be a sunny and warm week here in Austin, Texas. Last week at this time, the power was out and, like so many others, I was wandering around my apartment in a bit of a daze. The power was out, the temperature was rapidly dropping, and all my plans to gracefully ride out the storm were rapidly diminishing as my nose, toes, and fingers grew numb.
What about you? Where were you during the week of the Texas snowstorm? How are you doing right now?
We all experienced that storm in our own individual way. And yet, some outcomes are collective. We’re all coming back from a shocking, even traumatizing, event. We all want to restore a sense of normalcy. The ice has melted and the sky has reflected that beautiful shade of Texas blue again, but your nervous system may not have gotten the memo. If you’re having trouble sleeping or your digestion is affected or you can’t focus or you feel like you’ve lost your bearings…you’re not alone and your reaction is a normal response to an abnormal and overwhelming event. These feelings do not need to last forever, though, and the following tips may help you to overcome them as you return to a calmer and more grounded state.
~~~Chronic vs. acute stress~~~
I always tell my patients that knowledge is power. It’s a resource that can help you to change course as needed. It is comforting to feel as though you can choose wisely and interpret accurately. In this context, then, it may be useful to acknowledge that most of us have been dealing with chronic stress for a while, which has its own set of outcomes and annoyances. The storm that crashed down upon Texas, in contrast, was an acute and traumatic episode. The first may alter your blood sugar due to long-term high cortisol levels, for example, leaving you with digestive disfunction, sleep troubles, or chronic anxiety. The second involves another stress hormone, and that is adrenaline. Do you feel like you just got in a car accident or you sort of lost the entire week last week and you’re tired now but you can’t calm down enough to sleep?
Many of us had no power and/or water, it was freezing, and the threat to survival was visceral. That makes your adrenaline rise and your fight, flight, or freeze response kick into high gear. Especially for a person who has been chronically stressed all year long due to COVID and other 2020 chaos, an acute situation like this storm really hits hard.
Here are a few things you can do to reset your nervous system so that you might feel better and more in control of your situation:
Move your body: It helps to become un-stuck and to break the sense of being frozen in place when you move. Can you put on a favorite song and dance for a while, or would you prefer to try yoga or tai chi?
Hum or sing: This can help to soothe the longest nerve in your body, the vagus nerve, which helps to regulate your parasympathetic nervous system (the one that is in charge of your “rest and digest” processes).
Cry: Don’t be embarrassed if you need to cry for a bit. Tears contain stress hormones and when you shed them, it’s a form of cleansing. A good cry can be healthy!
Laugh: If you want to learn more, google “laughter therapy” but the short answer is this: laughter boosts mood, reduces stress, and is a wonderful way to release tension.
Breathe mindfully: Many of us hold our breath when we’re anxious. Do you? This compounds stress and sets us up for neck pain and other ills. Remember to breathe peacefully and practice doing so mindfully.
Eat easy to digest food: Were you craving pasta or cookies or cake when the power was restored? Suddenly, you felt really hungry and only sugary or fatty or salty would do? That’s normal, but it’s not in your best interests to overeat, especially when it comes to sweets and starchy carbs. Don’t restrict your intake, but do keep in mind that moderate eating and easy to digest foods are less stressful on your already-stressed system. Now is a good time to signal to your body that you do have resources and there is food, so no need to wolf down whatever crosses your path. Right? Yes!
Actively engage with others: Especially if you were alone during the blackout and/or had limited contact with others during the worst of the ice and snow, now is the time to reconnect with others.
Get acupuncture: If you have never tried acupuncture and the thought of needles freaks you out, there are alternatives (as you can see if you click this link). But truly? The needles are small, they do not hurt, and the honest truth is that acupuncture is fantastic for calming the nervous system and for restoring equanimity, good sleep, improved digestion, and more.
Focus on what you you are proud of that you did or learned during this past week: We had a challenging week, didn’t we? But you made it. You are here now. What happens when you think back on how resourceful you were, or what you did right? How do you feel when you think about something wonderful you learned? I know that I learned that my neighbor across the way is a friend, not just a pleasant acquaintance. I already knew that I’m lucky to live in a safe, well-run apartment community, but I learned just how fortunate I truly am and how grateful I feel for the wonderful management where I reside. I learned that my local Buy Nothing/Sell Nothing group is a true community, not just a group of strangers who clean their closets and pass along things via Facebook. I learned … well, I learned a few good things and I’m sure you did, too. What are these things, and how do you feel when you ponder them?
~~~Self care & self awareness~~~
That last suggestion is an important one. We are wired to remember the negative and the dangerous as a way to not repeat actions that may put us into mortal danger. Hyperawareness is a superpower if you really need it. But if you don’t need it, it’s detrimental on so many levels. Honoring your experience and not repressing anything but, instead, releasing what does not serve you, is a great skill to have. Do remember the good. What about the neighbor who helped you or the story about community that made you feel encouraged? Or when you took a deep breath and managed to overcome a scary, demoralizing moment? This happened. You are here. The sun is shining. Things will get better.
Long story short? It helps to know what sets you off and know what makes you feel soothed and strong. It’s good to rest. As ever, acupuncture and holistic health is here for you. Your inner peace and equilibrium will return. You’re going to be ok and things will get better for all of us.
We are, after all, Texas strong.
Paula Bruno, Ph.D., L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, an AOBTA-CP traditional Chinese bodywork therapist, and a wellness educator. She maintains an active and growing practice at her Austin, TX offices. Dr. Bruno is also available for distance appointments for wellness consultation or coaching.
In her first career, she was a Spanish professor.
Dr. Bruno’s specialties as a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner include: • Musculoskeletal health (acute or chronic pain relief; Ehlers Danlos syndrome & hypermobility support) • Digestive support, gut health, and weight loss • Aesthetic treatment, including scar revision • Men’s health • General preventative care and immune support for all persons.
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Note: Material on this web site site is not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any disease, illness, or ailment. A TCM practitioner in Texas identifies syndrome patterns but does not diagnose illness. Material on this web site does not purport to identify syndrome patterns.