Kindness in the face of hate

“Compassion is the basis of all morality.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

We see hate and violence everywhere and we feel powerless to stop it. While it is impossible for any one of us to call a worldwide ceasefire, we can offer kindness, care, empathy, and love. Kindness can fill the void that hate leaves behind and can bring light to the dark of ignorance and violence.

Like so many, I am in terrible pain to learn of yet another shooting, taking the lives of innocent people. The police kill innocent people, terrorists kill innocent people, and seemingly regular people kill innocent people. Political figures spew hate-filled messages and social media is rife with support for racism, rape culture, and bigotry. It can feel like the world is turning inside out.

When we feel hopeless and overcome with pain, let us turn our efforts away from blaming and towards empathy. It is through compassion and understanding that each of us can change the seething tides of anger and hate.

Consider doing something kind today – in the next ten minutes – if you can. Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, offer to buy lunch for your coworker, put money in the next expired parking meter you see. None of these acts need to be grand or heroic, they just need to happen. Be the antidote to intolerance and killing. Practice patience. Resist the temptation to meet fire with fire. Know that you can start kindness at any moment, regardless of what has come immediately before. Find love and warmth wherever they hide, nurture them, and share them with as many as you can.

“Love and hate are beasts and the one that grows is the one you feed.” – Shane Koyczan

Five Things You Didn’t Know About Panic Attacks

Anyone who’s ever had panic attacks will tell you that they feel horrible and science knows so little about where they come from. Here are some things we definitely do know:

PANIC ATTACKS FEEL LIKE YOU’RE GOING CRAZY…YOU’RE NOT

Panic attacks feel like a sudden feeling of being overwhelmed or out of control of your mind and body. There is often a significant increase in heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure. People may shake or sweat and it is really common to think that you are having a heart attack or going insane. Lots of people get GI issues including feeling nauseous or getting an upset stomach. Panic attacks generally feel dreadful, like your body and mind are running wild without your consent.

THEY CAN HAPPEN ALMOST ANYWHERE

Panic attacks can be triggered by many different thoughts or experiences and it’s not uncommon to have no idea what triggered your most recent attack. Sometimes just the fact that you’ve had an attack in a specific place (like the produce aisle at Trader Joe’s) can trigger another attack when you are in that setting again.  When people get repeated panic attacks outside of their home this can cause agoraphobia which, in it’s most extreme forms, keep people shut inside their homes for fear of feeling panicked and out of control should they go outside.

PANIC ATTACKS ARE TREATABLE

One of the best things we can do to treat panic attacks is realize that although panic is really uncomfortable, nothing catastrophic is going to happen. In other words, we learn to tolerate the feelings of panic, which then gives panic less and less power over time. One way to do this is to think logically about the worst thing that could actually happen as a result of panicking. At work, the worst thing that could happen is usually that you need to spend some time recovering in the bathroom or by talking to a trusted coworker. At the grocery, the worst thing that could happen is you get so distracted by panicking that you don’t get your shopping done and you have to come back another time. You might have thoughts of humiliating yourself in front of others but realistically nothing seriously embarrassing or awful happens during a panic attack. You just feel uncomfortable.

THEY FEEL CATASTROPHIC (BUT THEY’RE NOT)

Usually the thing that people do to worsen a panic attack is allow themselves to believe that this time something catastrophic really will happen. The more you believe that a panic attack is actually something dangerous the more likely you are to feel more panicky. For some people a mantra like “it’s just a panic attack, it feels bad but I’m safe” can be really helpful to defuse the pattern of panic (and avoid panicking about panic).

PANIC STARTS WITH MISINTERPRETATION

One hypothesis about the origins of panic attacks is that people misinterpret harmless body sensations as being indicators that a panic attack is starting and then panic about the possibility of panicking. Before you know it, you are in a full blown panic attack. For that reason, a therapist will often teach you some basic skills and knowledge and then encourage you to do things that simulate panic. You might be encouraged to spin around (so that you feel dizzy), hold your breath (so that you feel hot and short of breath), or do jumping jacks (to get your heart rate and adrenaline elevated) and have you notice that feeling the symptoms of panic is actually not dangerous like your mind tells you it is.

The bottom line: panic attacks can be caused by lots of different thoughts and situations and panicking feels dreadful. However, panic is never actually dangerous, it’s just uncomfortable, and one of the best treatments for reducing panic over time is to learn to tolerate the feelings that you get during an attack.

If you are someone you know is struggling with panic attacks, reach out and schedule an appointment.

Resilience and Healing from Trauma

Consider a tree in a storm as a metaphor for healing from trauma. The tree has several options:

  • Withstand the storm by staying firmly upright and trying not to budge in the wind
  • Bend in the storm so as not to be uprooted by the wind and, after the storm is over, snap back to its usual upright position
  • Bend in the storm and, as a result of bending, reshape itself after the storm

What is Resilience?

Resilience is the ability to recover from and, perhaps, grow as a result of trauma and pain. There are several ways in which the human organism can do this.

The first tree that held it’s ground during the storm is a manifestation of the “stiff upper lip” attitude towards trauma and stress. In the Western culture it is not uncommon to hear “just get through it” or “soldier on.” We tend to conceptualize resilience as the ability to be unperturbed by our experiences and simply withstand pain. As you can probably imagine, the risk that we run in doing this is that our tree, with its inflexibility, looses branches or even becomes uprooted in gale force winds.

The second tree is an example of recovery. Like most trees, it bends to the wind and snaps back like a rubber band when the storm has passed. For this tree, a stressor is disruptive at the moment that it happens and then is quickly forgotten. Our tree has not learned anything from the experience and also has not lost anything. Chances are this was not a very severe storm.

The final tree is engaging in reconfiguration. As a result of the storm, the tree may have changed its growth course. The injuries that the tree sustained from the storm inform how the tree continues to grow, making it unique in it’s architecture and more prepared for the next storm.

Trauma and Growth

Post-traumatic growth is the ability to gain something valuable as a result of struggle. The final tree, that of reconfiguration, has undergone post-traumatic growth. In the course of a human life, trauma is essentially unavoidable; disaster, assault, loss, and fear will accost us all. Like the third tree, however, there can be something beneficial in recovering from our wounds.

Against all odds, most people find that they have gained something vital as a result of trauma. One of the most common outcomes is a realigning of values: perhaps you are a kinder and more attentive friend, or you experience value and gratitude where you previously overlooked it, or you feel less tempted to waste your time on unfulfilling pursuits. Trauma can put our lives in sudden, sharp focus. In a moment you may realize that your time is precious. This radical, intense discomfort makes space for our unique growth following trauma.

Setting Things Right Again

When we are wounded, we can foster resilience by righting the wrongs of our traumas. Trauma, by definition, implies being alone (either in reality or in perception) and being disempowered. Following trauma, we can begin to right these wrongs by seeking community and justice.

As social creatures, we are programmed to seek support when feeling frightened or overwhelmed. Following September 11th, 2001, there was a flood of interconnectedness as we all tried to establish safety in numbers. People sought to receive and offer support and there were very few who aimed to stick it out alone; we underwent collective grieving. Following trauma, we can seek resilience by finding others who understand our tragedies from the inside. By forming a support group or calling a friend we get to notice that we are not, in fact, alone.

When we feel as if our voice has been taken, our instinct may be to take it back. The Columbia student who carried her mattress around in protest of the university dismissing her rape allegations made her experience visible to the naked eye. She took something that was silent and that she burdened alone and turned it into a monument to which others could bear witness. Following police killings of innocent black men, protesters chanting “Black Lives Matter” asserted their voices to a system that wanted to quiet them. In doing so, these protesters are advocating for the dead and protecting the potential victims of the future. By reasserting what has been taken during trauma we not only allow our own voice to be heard but we speak for others who are voiceless.

Coping with Terrorism in New York City

In the wake of the horrific attacks on Beirut, Paris, and Kenya last weekend, many New Yorkers are coping with the pain of those attacks and the threats voiced against New York City. For many, viewing terrorism through the media serves as a reminder of the losses we all experienced on 9/11 and can bring about feelings of intense sadness and fear. So why does this happen and how do we cope with it?

Vicarious traumatization in terrorism

Vicarious traumatization refers to the pain that we experience when we see something terrible happening to someone else. This means that we can feel the effects of trauma even when we are not in immediate danger.

For survivors of terrorism and other traumas including accidents, domestic violence, and war, viewing terrorism can trigger intense emotions. Common experiences include feeling helpless or fearful, being afraid to leave the house, intrusive or recurring thoughts/images of the trauma, withdrawing from your normal life, and feeling overwhelmed or out of control. Even those who don’t feel intense emotional symptoms can still experience pain and stress. These are normal reactions when your body and mind fear for their safety. They are coping mechanisms that are intended to keep you safe but, if left unchecked, can cause distress.

NYC’s Resilience Following Terror

The pain around the world this week due to terrorism is undeniable. The losses, however, do not have to be meaningless. I remember the incredible heroism and outpouring of support in New York City following 9/11. Although we all witnessed something terrible, we also witnessed humanity’s power to unite and sacrifice for the greater good. We saw first responders risk their own safety in the hopes of finding survivors. Many of us saw small act of kindness to friends and strangers alike. Even something as simple as asking someone if everyone they knew was alright was felt as a deep expression of empathy and concern. Perpetuating this kindness is essential. If you are feeling overwhelmed by what you have seen on the news lately, consider redirecting your attention to help others. This may be asking a friend how they are coping, donating to refugee efforts, or volunteering your time with a worthy cause. It can be a powerful experience to channel fear and helplessness into something meaningful that benefits others in need.

How New yorkers can cope with ongoing threats

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the ongoing news of terrorism around the world there are some straightforward steps that you can take to make the situation more manageable.

  • Most importantly, consider limiting your time watching the news and on social media; overexposure to terrorism coverage can be damaging.
  • Remind yourself that your symptoms are a valid reaction to trauma and that feeling fearful does not have to rule your decisions.
  • Take control by remaining engaged in your life and keeping up with relationships and activities that give you meaning and fulfillment.
  • Ask for help. Reach out to your support system and express what you are thinking and feeling. If needed, consider seeking help from a professional.
  • Keep in mind that New York City is highly sensitive to terrorism and has spent 15 years putting in place effective safeguards.

To read more about coping with terrorism, click here.