“In all honesty,” my husband said after a carefully worded introduction, “You’re about as jumpy as a frog on a plata.” That’s hot-plate in Hebrew. “Is everything okay?”
When the phone rang, I jumped. When the bedroom closet shut a bit too hard, I jumped. When milk spilled, I jumped. Besides this, my jumps were often accompanied by a loud, sudden gasp.
My behavior made those around me jumpy, too. Well, it drove everyone nuts.
“Ma – please, don’t do that!”
“I’m not doing it on purpose!” I said.
When did this happen to me?
As a therapist, it didn’t take long for me to consider some shade of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: The exaggerated startle response, besides other symptoms such as insomnia, irritability, and even poor concentration – all manifestations of what was long ago called combat neurosis or shell-shock.
Back in 1990, I held my firstborn baby tight for six long weeks as 39 missiles came firing in our direction. I have been stoned numerous times on buses traveling from Jerusalem to Neve Yaakov. I heard the 2001 explosion on Ben Yehuda Street from my mirpesset in Maalot Dafna. In that same year a terrorist fumbled; instead of his bomb exploding in town, it detonated just around the block shaking the walls of my bedroom where I’d been sleeping moments before. (I developed an eye twitch for several years after that incident.) I have watched missiles fly over Jerusalem on their way to Tel Aviv, and several survivors of terrorist attacks are personal friends. All this is aside from hearing, empathizing, and re-experiencing the traumas of my brave and precious clients who have entrusted me with their stories.
But no matter where in the world you live or what your line of work may be, life is stressful — and everyone can benefit from learning strategies to help establish calm; to help relax and reorganize the nervous (sometimes, very nervous) system.
The quickest, most direct way to settle nerves is through the breath. Practice deep and natural breathing when you’re not under much stress so that when you are, natural breathing will be second nature. The best way to learn natural breathing is by observing babies. Notice how their bellies go up and down, not their chests. See my blog to learn more and to get some great breathing tips!
Physical activity helps release the energy your body generates when under stress. Try aerobic exercise, dance, rebounding…even a semi-brisk walk each day to spend that energy so that it doesn’t remain trapped inside your body wreaking havoc on your nerves.
Listen to great music. Music’s calming effect is your body’s response to natural Melatonin (the feel-good hormone) that is released when you listen to music.
Sleep in the dark. Darkness, too, helps the body release Melatonin.
Drink water. Soak in a bath. Visit the ocean. Water has a universally calming effect that soothes and nurtures.
Eat great food such as fish, meat, vegetables, and fruit. Plus lots of olive oil. Add omega-3 and the orange spice, Curcumin (turmeric), to your shopping list. These foods have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body which may help restore chemical imbalances that are the result of PTSD.
Seek professional help if you feel you’re spending a lot of time panicking over nothing. Or – panicking too much over anything. Check out EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, a technique used frequently today to help treat PTSD. Or find a psychotherapist in your area who can help you process your experience fully so that you can finally let go.
Most important, understand you’re not going nuts. PTSD is your body’s perfectly natural reaction to the environment in which you live. PTSD is almost always treatable, as is any other milder variety of stress…so no need to feel stressed out about that! Take care of yourself, and appreciate the messages your compassionate (and communicative) body sends you.
All the best (deep breath) and be well.