The incessant focus on what’s going wrong (or what can go wrong) keeps the body in a state of chronic emergency response and puts the sympathetic nervous system into overdrive. This is not healthy in an ongoing manner for anyone or anything!
Turns out that much of our angst is caused by us and not by what all is happening around us. Once a threat comes to our awareness, we tend to hyperfocus on it resulting in our bodies producing chemicals to have us ready to respond at a survival level, even if things aren’t life-threatening at the moment.
But there are a number of things you can do to calm this over-reactivity of your nervous system and return you to a natural physiological state of inner peace — even in the midst of adversity and its aftermath.
Consider what folks eventually learn to do to calm a screaming baby when it can’t yet calm itself. You can likewise benefit from much of the same kind of soothing stimulation and calming vibration.
- Calm The Breath. The first thing to do is to slow down your breathing. Make your exhale longer than your inhale and gradually slow down your breath (it helps to be seated or lying down). This is much like how you might breathe if conserving your oxygen while swimming underwater, or blowing a balloon, or even blowing bubbles! The slower the sustained breath and the pauses in between (but not forced), the calmer you will feel. A type of yoga breathing called Ujjayi breath can also be helpful!
- Stimulate your Parasympathetic Nervous System. This is the part of the nervous system that brings the chemicals that help you “rest and digest” and calm the heart rate and blood pressure. It is involved with the “relaxation response”. Some of it is done through light stimulation of the vagus nerve. Check out this article for how to calm your nerves in this way.
- Make Friends with Fear. Allow yourself to be nonjudgmentally and humbly curious to transform fear about what you think and feel that’s happening all around you. This is about accepting and making friends with fear.
- Exercise Compassion. Be generous with compassion to yourself and others. Assume the best of outcomes, even if the worst of predictions were to be accurate. This involves both what you DO and DON’T allow yourself to focus on!
- Increase Calming Stimulation and Decrease Negative Vibrations. Cease unnecessary access and contribution to all forms of negative vibration, while increasing those things that induce a restful peace. Stop the incessant watching/talking about the news — enough already — a difficult discernment to make in the midst of a crisis! Instead, increase heartfelt appreciative focus on those things for which you can be grateful, despite it all. Amp up your generosity and find ways to help others in need.
- Meditation and Prayer. Spiritual guidance is of utmost importance as a way of living your life. This is foundational and provides your with a peace beyond all understanding, including in times of adversity. Living in alignment with your spiritual being holds you in a center of inner peace.
And regarding how to calm and soothe the baby, similar techniques and vibrations help grown-ups too! This can include anything like bouncing or rocking a baby, to the vibrations of your singing and breathing with the baby against your body, to the vibrations felt when the baby is being driven around in your car. Some report the vibrations felt on a motorcycle has a similar effect on them.
In any moment, you can also simply place your hands over your own heart space and imagine breathing in and out through that space. and feel those vibrations. This can be interestingly soothing at any time!
Finding and maintaining a mindful center can hold you in a place of inner peace much like being in the eye of a hurricane. It can allow you an opportunity to position (or re-position) yourself more effectively in any moment that has arisen. Being mindful also means you must let go of judgment and worry and simply remain fully present with all of your wisdom and senses to the moment.
If you are unable to nonjudgmentally focus on what’s happening around you during an adversity, then create calming things on which you can appreciatively focus:
Calming Visuals – focus on the things and colors that are pleasing to you — even pictures can help
Relaxing Sounds – listen to soothing music and nature sounds
Appealing Smells – try natural scents or even light a scented candle
Soothing Touch – pet your furry critter or apply a soothing body balm
Favorite Tastes – fully taste your food or favorite beverage or treat by holding it on your tongue longer than usual
The more of your senses you can use together in this way, the better.
Even a hurricane and its aftereffects can provide a multitude of cues that you can use to bring yourself back to a calm and mindfully wise center once you have instituted some of the above suggestions. This requires a courageous presence within yourself at times such as this.
If you already meditate or practice mindfulness, then here is what you can do in addition to what has been discussed. In this moment here and now try fully being present, nonjudgmentally and with full compassion, of what you experience through each of your primary senses even in the height of the storm or in its aftermath:
Senses of Sight and Sound: The sights and sounds of rising waters, blowing winds, and pelting rains.
Sense of Touch: The sensations on the body of changes in barometric pressure along with high humidity.
Sense of Smell: The smell and feel of the damp air on and all around you.
Sense of Taste: Perhaps consider the unique tastes the weather brings to you in the food and beverage you choose, or perhaps you can even somehow taste of weather itself!
Just remember that even when the wind whips and waters rise, attitudes of judging or worrying have no power to alter what is or will be. Recalling what has happened in previous adversities or thinking of all that can possibly go wrong next, only takes you away from the present moment and into the past or future and definitely away from a calm center of the moment. You can think and plan better for the next moment in this calm centered space of inner peace.
To do this nonjudgmentally, choose to accept whatever each moment brings. Mindfully stay connected to your authentic self and act in full alignment with your highest wisdom. This allows you to do what is necessary and required of each moment of time, and actually makes you much more effective for the precise time you need that extra wisdom and energy the most!
Meanwhile, don’t forget that the sun, moon, stars, and clear blue sky always co-exist in the atmosphere beyond the clouds of any storm.
When you remain ever present, you can find that space of inner peace. Then you will be fully present for the moment of rainbow and star shine when the sun and moon eventually show themselves again.
Originally published October 8, 2016 during Hurricane Matthew. Revised and reposted during Hurricane/Tropical Storm Florence, September 16, 2018.
Dr. Cindy Hardwick is the creator and founder of The Authenstory Way, a set of authentic self-leadership principles to spiritually guide you on your human journey of life and work. She brings you nearly four decades of experience, plus a sprinkle of her own bit of magic, as she integrates current research and best practices with ancient philosophical approaches to facilitate meaningful change in those she serves. She is known for her creative, intuitive, and nonjudgmental approach.
Learn more about Cindy and ways to work with her at CynthiaHardwick.com.