Self Improvement — 21 September 2014
Resiliency in stress-inducing times

Our technological era has bestowed upon us the privilege of receiving verbal and visual information from throughout the world with exceptional speed. This privilege has also exposed us to profoundly disturbing images of human suffering and cruelty. How can we stay informed and sustain our emotional stability in the face of devastating images and information about tragedy, cruelty and pain suffered by others?

The benefits of information transmission are immense. To enhance our safety, security and survivability in an ever-changing world, we need and want to know about all the looming dangers of natural disasters, diseases, crime, violence, wars, accidents, economic and financial data, political and social issues and more. Yet, the emotional price of this ongoing information may be very high for many individuals.

Researcher Marie-France Marin and associates of the University of Montreal found that “women who were exposed to negative news showed significant increases in physiological reactivity to a subsequent stressor and have greater remembrance for this news.” Since these reactions were not found in men, the researcher’s explanation stated, “Women’s stress system is wired-up to ensure not only their own survival but that of their offspring as well. This requires a certain degree of empathy, a characteristic that seems more pronounced in women than in men.”

Elizabeth Kirby of the University of California, Berkeley explains, “Intermittent stressful events are probably what keeps the brain alert, and you perform better when you are alert. As the human brain evolved and increased in complexity, we developed the ability to worry and perseverate on events, which creates frequent experiences of prolonged stress.”

Daniela Kaufer, UC Berkeley Associate Professor of Integrative Biology, reported, “Chronic stress generates more myelin-production cells and fewer neurons than normal, which disrupts the delicate balance and timing of communication within the brain.” She adds, “Our findings could provide insight into how white matter is changing in conditions such as schizophrenia, autism, depression, suicide, ADHD and PTSD.”

Since these and many other studies document the ill-effects of compassionate stress to our brain functions and well-being, how can we still be informed and stay resilient enough to fend off the negative impact of stress-inducing daily information?

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Abstain from continuous viewing of news. Alternate news with music, entertaining shows, reading or engaging in pleasurable activities.
  2. Redirect your attention to daily tasks that bring order, routine and stability to your life.
  3. Count your blessings daily by reciting the positive aspects of your life.
  4. Engage in actions that help you feel capable, creative, appreciated or valued.
  5. Help others. It shifts your focus from identifying with the suffering of others to positive actions that produce rewarding results.
  6. Add music and nature to your daily life.
  7. Relate to young children. They are the best teachers of joy and wonderment.
  8. Play with your pets.
  9. Delve into your hobbies.
  10. Be affectionate, loving and appreciative of your mate, family and friends.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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