The spate of mass shootings in the United States has caused most of us to pause. Bad stuff can happen to good people. We wonder what we would do if we found ourselves caught up in such violence.
Sometimes just hearing about such tragedies can lead us to feel tense and uncertain. And that can cause us to become irritable and even emotionally explosive.
You may never have imagined you could become a victim of your own emotions or someone else’s. But perhaps we should think about it more.
When I was in law enforcement, we were taught to always maintain a survival mindset: awareness, preparation and rehearsal. Always be mindful of your surroundings, prepare for a threat and rehearse appropriate responses so you can tap into them should you need them.
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‘What if’ questions are critical in developing effective responses. Figure out how you can get out of an area before you find yourself in it. Is there an escape path? Is there somewhere suitable to hide nearby if you can’t get to the exit? Do you practise slowing your own heart rate so you can think through an emergency?
In a crisis, we will perform as well as we’ve practised. In the absence of rehearsal, there’s a good chance you will respond in undesirable ways and could become a victim of the panic and mayhem.
When people go into a crisis state, it affects the way they think, feel and behave. So developing a system for staying calm and alert can go a long way to fostering a survival mindset.
Here’s a simple system for developing a calm state of mind that you can practise every day. You might be surprised at how the daily repetition eliminates all that unnecessary tension we normally carry around.
Get into a comfortable seated position and give your body a chance to relax. Now point your toes away from your body like a ballerina. Notice the tension in your ankles.
Next, point your toes toward your head, again creating tension in your ankles.
Then let your feet fall to the floor, take a deep breath and relax.
Now tighten your buttocks and then your thighs by pressing down on your heels as hard as you can. Hold the tension as you count to five and then let go, take a deep breath and relax.
Take another deep breath. Fill your lungs completely and flex your chest muscles, creating a coat of armour. Hold, then exhale and relax.
Now arch your back as though it were a bow. Avoid straining and keep the rest of your body as relaxed as possible. Notice the tension starting down by your tailbone and moving up your spine to your neck. Hold as long as possible, then slump forward, take a deep breath and relax.
Bend your elbows and tense your biceps and forearms in the classic Charles Atlas pose. Clench your fists at the same time. Tense these muscles until they feel taut. Then straighten out your arms, shake out your hands, take a deep breath and relax.
Now hunch your shoulders and pull your neck in like a turtle. Press your chin against your chest and tighten your throat. Experience this uncomfortable sensation, then drop your shoulders and allow your head to fall forward. Now slowly and carefully roll your head to the side and back of your neck. Then roll your head the other way. Take a deep breath and allow your neck and shoulders to relax.
Now move your attention up to your head and face. First make a frown by wrinkling up your forehead like a walnut, as tightly as possible. Next, scrunch up your eyes, flare your nostrils and clench your jaw. Compress your lips into a tight O. Pull your lips as tight as a miser’s purse strings. In short, make an ugly face. Hold it, tighter and tighter. Then relax and let go. Take a deep breath, relax your lips and blow out forcibly.
Mentally go back over the whole process. Feel the relaxation in your feet, calves, back and chest, neck, shoulders, arms and hands, your head and face, jaw and lips.
If you can do these exercises as part of your daily routine, you should notice an overall reduction in tension. You should be less irritable because relaxation has become an automatic part of your life.
Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications. For interview requests, click here.
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