Merriam-Webster has added the term “Dumpster Fire” to the dictionary, calling it the phrase of our time. The informal noun is defined as “an utterly calamitous or mismanaged situation or occurrence, a disaster.”
We left 2020 with high hopes for 2021, yet here we are near the end of another tumultuous year.
Perhaps we could coin 2021 Dumpster Fire 2.0.
So what does it mean to keep calm? And how do you stay calm during a global crisis? Also, are there specific scenarios when it’s okay not to be chill?
We’ve all been put through the wringer the last couple of years, and it can be overwhelming to think about all the challenges humanity is currently facing. Raging forest fires across the globe had us spending our “best summer ever” inside because the outside air had become unbreathable. The massive economic downturn had people wondering if they’d even have an inside to stay in, not to mention the heartbreaking political polarization of society caused by the Pandemic. People are angry, scared and exhausted. The end of this ordeal seems only to be getting further away.
So I don’t blame you for feeling nervous, angry or expressing strong emotions. There’s an abundance of misinformation and negative controversy spewing from our devices 24/7, making it increasingly difficult to know who to trust.
The Pandemic has undoubtedly caused worldwide trauma. We’ve endured daily emotional distress and fear, creating unparalleled uncertainty about our future. The impact of trauma can be subtle, deceptive or downright destructive. So no matter where you land on this scale, trauma is trauma. Whether it’s one instance, multiple or long-lasting repetitive events, it affects everyone differently, but it affects everyone.
So I’m not going to tell you to “keep calm and carry on” because traumatic stress reactions are normal reactions to abnormal circumstances. And these times are far from ordinary.
I will tell you how to utilize your EQ ( emotional intelligence) to navigate your way through the chaos. What warning signs to watch for and some helpful ways to induce relaxation, downgrade your nervous system and return to your centre so you can continue to function optimally despite these stressful times.
“The mind is like water; when it is turbulent, it’s difficult to see. When it’s calm, everything becomes clear.” – Prasad Mahes
To be calm, we need to understand the impact of trauma and the sequence of trauma reactions. Coping styles vary depending on individuals’ experiences, accessibility to support, life skills, and responses of the larger community.
Initial reactions to trauma can include exhaustion, confusion, sadness, anxiety, agitation, numbness, dissociation, confusion, to name a few. More severe responses can look like continuous distress without rest periods, severe dissociation, and intense intrusive recollections that continue despite returning to safety. Trauma can also have delayed reactions, including persistent fatigue, sleep disorders, nightmares, fear of recurrence, anxiety-focused flashbacks, depression, avoidance of emotions and sensations or activities associated with the trauma.
Many people can cope and continue to live relatively normal lives. However, some people may still suffer from acute stress disorder or PTSD. The Pandemic has exacerbated symptoms and even onset underlying conditions for those who have experienced previous trauma in their lives.
Trauma reactions can feel like anger, fear, sadness, shame or denial. Some people may experience emotional dysregulation, substance abuse, engagement in high-risk or self-injurious behaviours, disordered eating, compulsive behaviour such as gambling or overworking.
Not all reactions to trauma are adverse, though. Some people self-regulate and get creative, finding healthy ways to manage trauma, like renewed commitments to physical activity and joining or starting a support group.
The key to keeping calm is the ability to identify and understand your emotions. Learning coping skills like indfulness practices, cognitive restructuring, and trauma-specific desensitization such as exposure therapy can help regulate your nervous system.
Trauma also has physical symptoms like upset stomach, racing heart, headaches and a list of other physical ailments and even chronic pain.
Our brains are also significantly affected by trauma. Developmental areas of the brain can become damaged, impairing many areas of life. It can cause a person to experience cognitive errors, excessive guilt, and idealization. A person can demonstrate inaccurate rationalizations or justifications of the perpetrator’s behaviour, mainly if the perpetrator is the caregiver. A person may experience hallucinations and delusions and have intrusive thoughts and memories, causing them to feel different. They may feel like “damaged goods” and struggle with reaching out for help. They may not believe anyone could understand what happened or how they think. They may also feel like they don’t want to burden others with their struggles and further isolate themselves.
Understanding stress-related reactions help us to practice empathy towards ourselves and others. It also allows us to identify how we feel and positively reframe our thoughts and responses to trauma—recovering through resilience.
- Resilient responses to trauma look like
- A strengthened connection with family and community.
- Redefined or improved sense of self-purpose and meaning.
- Increased commitment to a personal mission, like exercising regularly or meditating daily
and eating healthy.
- Revised priorities, strategizing, cutting costs and creating backup plans for worst-case
Increased charitable giving and volunteerism.
The number # 1 ingredient in trauma recovery is learning to manage triggers, memories and emotions without avoidance and desensitization to traumatic memories and associated
#2 is establishing, confirming and reestablishing a support system. Social supports and relationships can prove to be protective factors against traumatic stress.
So how can you utilize this information to strengthen your emotional intelligence and keep your cool?
Welcome to EQ 101
1. Identify your triggers/ pet peeves.
2. Know how you react when you’re upset or angry.
3. Forecast the conflict, and plan your response.
4. Reflect on your daily emotions, keep a journal.
5. Press the pause button during the heat of a situation.
6. Explore positive reframing, practice bridging the gap from negative to positive thinking.
7. Try being humorous; look for the light.
8. Know when to walk away.
Emotional intelligence is an acquired skill that takes practice. Regulating and managing powerful emotions and harnessing the ability to maintain composure and steadiness in times of crisis can be easier than practicing your ABCs.
A. Ask questions first.
B. Second, Breathe!
C. Third count, pick a number… maybe it’s 10 seconds or 12-24 hours. Give yourself time to get control of your emotions so you can respond rather than react.
And remember to practice empathy, think about others’ interpretations, encourage curiosity and understanding. This will reduce reactivity and broaden our perspective, providing greater breadth to handle hard times.
Here are some simple things you can do to help regulate your emotions and stay calm.
• Take a trauma-informed yoga class.
• Download a meditation app.
• Practice self-care, like going for daily walks, exercising regularly, eating healthy.
• Get regular massages.
• Establishing a support system.
• Be open-minded.
• Be a good listener.
• Don’t sugarcoat the truth.
• Apologize when you are wrong.
• Practice humility.
• Practice self-evaluation/ know your blind spots and weaknesses.
• Take responsibility.
• Examine how your actions affect others.
These practices help strengthen self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and
relationship management. Know that you can identify and regulate your emotions and
understand the feelings of others. You can utilize your senses to relieve stress, communicate
effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict.
You’ve got this!