Trains have always fascinated me. As a counselor, I often refer to the “STOP, LOOK and LISTEN” sign found at railroad crossings as an anxiety reduction technique to help my patients get back on track.
I’ve found this technique is helpful in coping with the changes in our current political and social systems. It optimizes resilience in confronting challenges. Typically, my patients use it to address a personal matter that is unique to them, although more and more people have been struggling with today’s current events.
We have an unceasing flow of information coming at us in a rate unparalleled in history. Remember, the first iPhone was released less than a decade ago. Our brains have not evolved to handle that much information and it’s natural to for us to get flooded both cognitively and emotionally.
That’s where the “STOP, LOOK and LISTEN” technique is helpful. Let’s consider each of these three steps:
STOP — The constant flow of input.
Shut off the constant chatter of news that is coming at us literally at the touch of a finger. Except for rare news bulletins, we used to have to wait for the newspapers or television news at their scheduled time. Raw, upsetting video footage in real time is something no previous generation had the benefits and challenges to confront. So turn it off!
No matter its usefulness, we all need to be able to disconnect from that electronic news feed and connect with ourselves. We have all had the experience of getting so immersed in electronic screens that we lose our sense of time and self. Think of yourself as a curator of your time when it comes to electronic media. Instead of getting sucked into perusing things that don’t matter, carefully choose what has the most meaning to you personally.
LOOK — Within.
Take some deep, slow breaths and connect to what you are feeling right now. Be aware of how your breath expands as you increase your oxygen and balance your cortisol level. Cortisol regulates our body’s response to stress. Each breath will bring renewed energy into your mind and body to help the endorphins and dopamine increase.
One of my favorite bumper stickers is “Don’t Believe Everything You Think.” Ask yourself: Are my thoughts and fears based in objective reality?
Look in your “resilience toolbox.” What techniques have you used in the past? What has worked?
• Keep a journal.
• Read a book.
• Write three things you appreciate every day.
• Subscribe to some positive news sources such as The Week’s “Good News Newsletter.”
• Remember past challenging times you have had the resilience to confront successfully.
LISTEN — To your inner self.
Find your core by using centering techniques such as exercise, healthy diet, music, social contact, and enough sleep. And then start listening:
• Listen to music.
• Listen to your gut. Have you had enough bad news for the day? Limit your screen time, and don’t absorb stressful news just prior to bed or upon awakening.
• Listen and connect with your own moral, ethical, spiritual values to guide you in your decisions.
• Listen to what arises from that calmer place, and take action.
• Listen to a friend. Good listeners are in big demand. If you need a friend, start by being a good listener. Listening to the news is not the same as listening to someone in person. Tending and befriending others can help you as much as them.
It may take some practice but I think you’ll find this strategy will reduce stress and enhance your resiliency. Take effective action in line with your own moral compass. It is a helpful way of reducing your feelings of anxiety and hopelessness. Act from your center in the way that you are uniquely suited to offer.
And remember as you go about your day, be kind and patient with others. It’s likely they, too, are feeling concerned and uneasy.
If you want to learn more about friendship, come to my free Monday night lecture at the Ashland Food Cooperative, Community Classroom: 300 N. Pioneer St. at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 20.
The class topic is: "Going for the Gold! How to go from friendly to friends."
Current research shows that one of the keys to resilience and happiness is developing and maintaining meaningful relationships. Join us as we explore how to dig deeper and create the friendships you want. You will meet new people and even make new friends!
Allan Weisbard is a licensed clinical social worker who counsels his patients to reduce stress while increasing their resilience. Check out his website at www.HealthyOptimism.com to read tips on how to become more resilient.