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  • Writer's pictureMairin McCracken

The Huddle #20: I Am Dead Inside

Well. Our president just tweeted a highly classified satellite surveillance photo. The SF poop map is showing no improvement. And last but not least, Caelynn has to choose between staying in paradise with Connor or travelling the world with Dean in his home/van. Who will she choose? Will he regrow his mustache?? THESE ARE STRESSFUL TIMES, PEOPLE. 

Here’s the thing about stress: Our body is VERY good at turning on the stress response. As soon as our nervous systems gets a whiff of it, we automatically go into fight or flight. I like to picture it as someone hearing “Fire!” and pulling a fire alarm. What our body is NOT very good at, however, is distinguishing between the entire building on fire, and a small fire in the chem lab. Oh, and that fire alarm? It’s not going off on it’s own. 

In The Body Keeps the Score, author Bessel A. Van der Kolk describes how survivors of intense trauma are left with very little self-awareness- they have difficulty recognizing their surroundings and lose sense of their body in space. Some survivors even lose the ability to recognize themselves when looking into a mirror.  When the fire alarm is pulled, we begin shutting down the part of our brains that trigger emotion (i.e. terror), which also happens to be the part of our brain that controls our self-awareness. 

This is all to say that, when we feel stressed, even on a micro-level, we go numb. We’ve all been there-you're stressed at work, grab a bag of chips, then eat the entire bag without even realizing it. Or we get home after a stressful day and can’t remember the drive we took to get there. We become, as Michael Scott put so eloquently, dead inside. 

When I have days like this, my tendency is to keep feeding the numbness- go home, drink a glass of wine, watch five million episodes of The Office, and pass out. The problem is that our bodies think the fire is still happening. If we don’t address it, the stress response will continue to wreak havoc on our bodies.  You know how, during a fire drill, everything stops until you get the “All Clear?” That’s what’s happening in our bodies when we undergo stressful experiences. We have to go and find the alarm, actively turn it off, and signal the OK, loud and clear. Otherwise, we can feel the impact of stress on our bodies for the preceding days, months, even years. I’m talking immune system depletion, digestive problems, insomnia, even our sex drive gets affected...yikes.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to leave you all stressed about your stress. The good news? There are so many ways to turn off the fire alarm! For the big stuff, of course, it will take a little more work. But for everyday stress? Meditation, journaling, or if that’s not your cup of tea… how about a nice hot cup of tea? Something that allows you to pause, acknowledge what was stressing you out, and actively communicate with your nervous system that you’re safe, and ready to relax. You've got this.

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