Madeleine Eames

- Psychotherapist
- Mindfulness Teacher

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Seeking safety in times of stress…

“Your true home is in the here and the now.”
Your True Home: The Everyday Wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh

It dawned on me the other day what this work is all about… and it came rather unexpectedly from a comment by Bessel van der Kolk, leading trauma researcher and psychiatrist. He said that after 911 in NYC, very few people actually experienced post-traumatic stress disorder. Why was that? How could that be after such a horrific act?

What Dr. van der Kolk said was … what were people doing in photos after 911 happened in NYC? They were running. Where were they running to? Home.

Of course, when we are under threat, we react and we look for safety. Our fight-flight-freeze-faint mode is like a homing pigeon looking for a safe place where we know we are safe, we are ok, and we matter. This is very handy when there is real danger, but unfortunately our old reptilian brain cannot distinguish between a real threat and a full inbox, or a perceived slight to self-esteem, and sends a similar signal.

Mindfulness helps us to distinguish between a real threat and a perceived danger. Often, it is not the actual situation, but our interpretation of it that creates the reaction. If you are in real danger, your homing pigeon will kick in. Other than than… it’s not life threatening so calm that mind down, and CHOOSE how to respond as opposed to that good ol’ knee jerk reaction to run. We can breathe, and find refuge in the fact that we are safe, we can come home to ourselves time and time again and trust that in the present moment, we are usually ok, minus the stressful thoughts. Finding safety means coming home to a feeling of peace and safety inside yourself.

Think about it. Where do you look outside for safety after a stressful event? It helps to shine light on this so you can uncover the healthy safe spots from the unhealthy. Is it talking to a spouse or friend? (Sometimes talking can be a defense against feeling). Is it complaining or blaming or gossiping? (really common) Is it an escape into alcohol or Netflix? Or perhaps a walk in nature or a yoga class?

All of these are ways to calm and reset the nervous system, only some are temporary and actually make things worse (guess which ones :)). Take a good look at where you run to. It’s ok, it’s learned and natural to want to feel better. But maybe you can feel even better by expanding your repertoire of safe spots. Or even better, can you come home to yourself and find safety within, knowing that you are ok. You are enough.

 

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