The deer are on the move and I’ve seen more of them in our fields and in our neighbour’s woods than I have all winter. One day last week I noticed a doe watching me from about 400 m (the length of the track at school). Her neck was stretched sky-ward, her body stock-still, her gaze fixated on me (the potential threat), making my way across the thawing field. Then suddenly she turned and bounded away, her tail bobbing like a large white duster suddenly joined by the smaller white duster of her yearling fawn. Boing, boing, boing they bounded to the end of the field where they both stopped to turn and assess the situation. Satisfied I was no longer a threat, they bounded over the cedar-rail fence where I am certain they gave their whole bodies a mighty shake before resuming their grazing in a relaxed, yet alert state.
Wild animals do that. They cycle back and forth between states of activated vigilance and normal, relaxed activity. But imagine how different it would have been if the yearling’s foot had somehow become trapped and I had continued to walk towards it. Can you imagine how frantic it would have become trying to release itself?
The thing is, those of us who are receiving information about the pandemic minute by minute, hour by hour are not unlike a trapped yearling. The information is perceived by our nervous system as a repeated threat and unless we can do something about it we will most likely find ourselves feeling increasingly more helpless and terrified. But the thing is we can do something about it. Firstly, we can expose ourselves to the events around us in manageable doses. My manageable dose is 2. I can handle an influx of news twice a day. I know this because anything more takes me out of the state of informed/managed/intelligent concern to being like a trapped deer. We can all reduce our stress levels when we turn off the TV, radio, or social media feeds for chunks of time and reconnect only when we feel we are able to handle it (Visuals of disturbing events impact us significantly because so much of the brain is responsible for visual processing). Secondly, we can use some of the exercises I’ve already mentioned or one of these additional ones:
The Calf Pump (from Brain Gym) – Stand and support yourself with hands on a wall or the back of a chair. Place one leg behind yourself and lean forward and bend the knee of the forward leg. The straight leg and the back should be in a straight line. At first the heel at the back is off the floor and the weight is on the forward leg. Then the weight is shifted to the back leg as the heel is pressed to the floor. Exhale while pressing the heel down and hold for a count of ten, and then release as you breathe in. Repeat this three times on each side.
Brain Stem Release – This is also a simple exercise. It involves clasping your hands behind the head and then holding your gaze off to both the left and right sides of your body. Please see the following video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHkrwSUFydc
Want to know some of the science behind this? Whether someone is coming at us with a club, or we are being bombarded with fear-invoking news, our brains respond the same way with the fight or flight response. The brain produce peptides which turn on the body’s stress response. The body’s stress response signals to the brain to produce more peptides and around and around it goes till we post nasty comments, yell at the nearest person or kick the dog out of the way – all attempts to disrupt the loop and restore balance to our poor fried nervous systems. It’s so much simpler to just not fry the poor thing in the first place by reducing the stresses you are exposed to!
Calf Pump – When a creature (be it a deer or a human) perceives danger the tendons in the feet and lower legs shorten to prepared for running. By pressing down the heel and lengthening the tendon in the calf, you discharge the fear reflex and the muscles can return to their normal tone. You break the feedback loop where the body is telling the brain there is a threat.