Growing up, we experience many new, unexpected encounters – and many of those encourage new behaviours to form which we then can classify them into separate clusters in our memories. One may be happy events which are unthreatening in nature and we classify them fondly in our memory banks as loving and cherished events which fosters our well-being as individuals. Another one may be unexpected, tumultuous events which we can classify as possibly threatening and classifying them under life-skills might be helpful when we run into a similar scenario again – for instance, how did we cope when a friend we were having coffee with unexpectedly fainted?
However, there exists a third category of events which is unsettling, and is not in the normal scale of events – the crisis. As we all currently are gripped with the ongoing crisis of the Thailand boys’ soccer team caught in a cave during the monsoon storm, we need to also understand the mental and emotional changes they might be facing, not just the physical and physiological demands their bodies will be making on them.
Image Source: Pexels
During the initial phase of the crisis, one’s body and mind is thrown into a ‘flight-or-fight’ response whereby the priority is to keep one alive – so when we are faced with a crisis our internal system cries ‘Danger! Danger!’ and we utilise tunnel vision to get to safety. Once that is done, our bodies then send out signals that indicate we are safe and it’s time to let down our emotional and mental guard, and usually that’s when we become aware of being physically tired and drained, as our system does a ‘internal maintenance check’ and demands fuel in terms of rest and food and water.
However, in cases whereby these resources are scarce, or very little, it is useful to utilise a ‘mind over matter’ approach to help the body utilise its own resources – and done in a mindfulness manner can help calmness spread over not just our internal self, but can affect those in our environment in a positive, way too. In a way, this was encouraged by the Thai coach who taught the boys mindfulness techniques to keep calm. This approach also gives the panicked brain something useful and congruent to focus on.
Image Source: Pexels
Once rescued from the crisis scenario and environment, we need to be aware that our brain processes events differently and we might be impacted via nightmares, not being focused at work or school, having difficulty sleeping or eating, and at various points during the day we might become reminded of the stressful event seemingly without a trigger and the memory which washes over us can be an extremely anxiety-provoking event. It’s important that once we leave the scenario of a crisis we take the time to not just do a physical examination of our body, but also complete an on-going ‘internal maintenance check’ of our mind.
One of the ways as mentioned above is to be able to calm our minds with mindfulness on a regular basis. By practising this, when we are caught unaware during a trigger memory, we can utilise the mindfulness method to help us calm down.
Another one is to keep a daily journal of thoughts that arise from the trigger memory – the most debilitating feelings we tend to associate with crisis and trauma is fear and helplessness – and those two feelings tend to hold us in paralysis. Once we are able to become aware of the strength of these feelings which hold us in a grip, we can then consciously decide to process them – either with a trusted friend, or in cases whereby the re-experience is intense or we are concerned that it will become debilitating, to process them with a trusted professional such as a mental health counsellor.
Ms. Usha Ponnudurai