THE IMPORTANCE OF EFFECTIVELY DISCHARGING ACCUMULATED STRESS AS OUR WORLD MOVES INTO CRISIS

by
Jerry Allen, MFT, MPH, in collaboration with Suzie Gruber, MA, SEP
© Copyright 2011 Jerry Allen, MFT, MPH, all rights reserved

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April 1, 2011, Sebastopol, CA – Here is a piece written by my colleague, Jerry Allen, emphasizing once again the need for inner preparation in the face of collapse. Jerry has worked in Child Protective Services here in Sonoma County for twenty-one years, miraculously maintaining a compassionate open heart in the face of constant familial crises, making him well-suited to write on this topic. Emotional preparation is often dismissed as being unimportant, prioritized well-behind physical preparation. At the end of the day we don’t know where we will be when a crisis hits and we can only count on our inner resilience being available at all times. – Suzie Gruber

]Emergency responders value the ability to be cool-headed in a crisis. It takes people with that ability to handle urgent tasks effectively. Yet as we look toward the long emergency of the end of the era of boundless economic growth and the beginning of hard limits, shortages, permanent energy crises, and the decay or collapse of many complex human societal institutions and much of industrial society, a question arises. How can people and communities prepare ourselves emotionally, bodily, spiritually and socially to effectively handle the rigors and stresses coming at us with flexibility, adaptability, love, honor, integrity and kindness?

Some of these values are being seen right now in quake and tsunami ravaged towns in Japan, people reaching out with generous hearts to take care of each other, a very moving, noble example. Some people naturally have that gift of a generous heart. But how can more of us be both effective and adaptable and to be good leaders in our communities, especially in times of crisis? Much of what we face in coming years will be potentially traumatic, with a lot to grieve about the loss of what has been, and much to fear about our unknown future. How can we ready ourselves to move through those experiences and remain balanced, resilient and adaptive?

If we turn to what is known about trauma and trauma recovery, we see that most animals in the wild live with daily life-threatening events, like being chased and nearly eaten. They are able to discharge the highly arousing survival energy and move on to be ready for what comes next. They reset themselves, or re-regulate their nervous systems. Humans have that ability as well. If humans are able to discharge stress and re-regulate our nervous systems during and after crisis events, then accumulated stress in our nervous systems doesn’t build up, so no post-traumatic stress. In human cultures back through the ages, the use of storytelling, dance, song and ritual has served that vital purpose of restoring balance and preparing for action.

In modern culture much of that has been lost. Pioneers such as Peter Levine have articulated the way stress accumulates in humans and developed educational body-based methods to help people quickly unstick themselves when post-traumatic stress has a grip on them. Our bodies are at the heart of such work. Mental work in our heads doesn’t resolve trauma. Body-based work can. Other pioneers are working on re-invigorating the use of dance, story, music, sweats, Aikido, and rituals to the same ends, with a strong body orientation.

Learning to effectively release accumulated stress is not some peripheral process that is needed primarily to treat returning soldiers and victims of abuse, as important as that treatment is. Learning to let go of accumulated stress and discharge new stresses is a vital skill for all of us who are preparing ourselves to face the unknown future. It is as important as doing physical emergency preparations. We have witnessed the chaos, rage and panic that can grip communities when devastating changes happen. When panic hits as someone yells “fire” in a crowded theatre, other voices need to be ready to stand aside and start singing loudly to calm the people and re-direct their energies. Such work has saved hundreds of people from trampling deaths in panicked crowds. If we are still too activated by our own build-up of trauma, we will not be in a position to discharge fast and take quick decisive community initiative.

As we prepare to serve in a helping role among many, it makes sense to train a vibrant cadre of community members on how to cultivate body awareness, let go of stress fast, remobilize our adaptive capacity and be ready for action. It also makes sense to explore and adapt the use of story, song, dance, ritual and whatever works to help our communities come together, heal together and strengthen our joint body for action.

We can do these preparations by making a conscious choice to work on this aspect of emotional, somatic and spiritual wholeness, while we also choose to work on physical community preparation. They go hand in hand.

How do we begin? Step one in each community is engage in dialogue. Find community members with training and experience in Somatic Experiencing trauma recovery or other similar modalities and who have a willingness to offer support groups. Encourage community members to attend. Use the feelings we have as we watch the headlines unfold as a starting place to grieve, discharge, and come into balance together. Inject some of this work into community meetings to widen the experience. Ask community members what support they need and respond. Another step is to devote conscious community intention to re-establish song, dance, story, Aikido and ritual time in community gatherings.

This may feel a little strange to some who are not familiar with the usefulness of such efforts, but keep at it. The relevance will become more obvious as the long emergency plays out.

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References

Levine, P.A., (2010), “In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness.”

Jerry Allen, MFT, MPH is a licensed marriage and family therapist with a master’s degree in public health education, and a certificate from UC Berkeley in financial and investment planning. He spent 8 years in hospital management, developing treatment clinics before training as a psychotherapist. He has spent the past 22 years in public child protective services helping families undergoing abuse, stress, violence and addiction. He holds three black belts in Aikido, and has a lifelong interest in the peaceful resolution of stress and conflict and the development of healthy families and communities.

Suzie GruberM.A., SEP., holds advanced degrees in chemistry & psychology and spent 15 years working in the biotechnology industry before waking up to the reality of peak oil, climate change and economic instability. In response she completely rebuilt her career, becoming an energetic herbalist, a Somatic Experiencing® practitioner and a 5Rhythms® moving meditation teacher. Working one on one with people in person and over the phone, she uses a holistic approach to help her clients restore physical, emotional and spiritual balance, with particular emphasis on working with those on the front lines of societal collapse. You can contact Suzie directly at stardancer260@sonic.net.

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