Cogjam Alert: Your Chance to Be Part of the Solution

It’s safe to say most everyone wouldn’t mind if all the political posturing and divisiveness took a sudden nosedive into the sunset. As mentioned in an earlier post, healing for this mental health disaster is a work in progress. Thanks to resilience, many of us have already found ways to step back, or do whatever else might tone down knee-jerk reactions from our overextended fight-or-flight chemistry.

One popular collection of strategies involves limiting input from sources that tend to pump up this type of stress:

  • Following only enough media reports to be informed
  • Being especially selective about which social media contacts’ newsfeeds to follow
  • While among others, simply not bringing up anything related to the socio-political situation

. . . and plenty more. My current draft of The Cogjam Effect includes suggestions similar to those above. Many people are discovering new ways to apply strengths, and doing it well. With this in mind, perhaps you have suggestions to add:

  • What have you noticed about your own coping?
  • What helps you calm the primitive brain’s surges of angst when toxic input crosses your path?
  • What new strengths have you discovered in yourself as you travel this journey?
  • Or, what do you see others do that seems to make things less tense?

This is your chance to share the wealth with those who are searching. Assessing your existing or newly emerging  strengths is also an important step for laying to rest your own symptoms of cogjam. Please leave suggestions or observations in the box below–a great way to be part of the cogjam solution.

 

Cogjam on the Loose

Why do we have such a hard time making sense out of what’s going on around us these days? Not just what’s coming down from the DC Beltway contingency, but how our own communities struggle so with staying coherent and connected. Why has everything become so complicated and confusing?

It’s not a new mental health affliction. It’s only cogjam on the loose.

That’s right, cogjam–the cognitive logjams that form when stress goes on for extended periods.

What’s Cogjam?

Cogjam is a word I invented to label a certain side effect of prolonged fight or flight. When we experience dire threat, our primitive brains take over, triggering instinctual and hardwired reactions that save our skins. More advanced thinking is temporarily blocked or filtered, so it will not interfere. After all, you might not escape a quickly advancing flash flood if you stop to assess which of all the trees in the forest is the best of the lot. You scramble up the first one that looks good.

Ignoring conscious thought includes ignoring learned social niceties. Getting everybody safely atop the tree of choice may require some really unsocialized behaviors–yelling, ordering, forcing, cursing, touching taboo areas of others’ bodies–as we shove everybody up to safety. Tact and sensitivities might take more time than you have to spare.

After the rowboat or helicopter rescues everyone, stress levels go down. Rational thought comes back on line, and planning begins for any long-term recovery needs. Everybody forgives and reconnects, recognizing that the earlier abrupt behaviors were survival related. Things go back to normal.

But what happens when adrenaline rushes are constant, as is true regarding the socio-political stress piling up over the last year? Sophisticated thought has had less chance to get back on board, limiting access to our best factual reasoning. Reconnecting is much more difficult, too, when episodes of posturing and polarization keep raising anxieties and driving us apart.

That’s cogjam.

How Do we Get out of This Mess?

There are many solutions. So many, that I’m penning a book about the cogjam effect, and the path to healing disrupted community and fractured science. There is hope. We can recover from mental health disaster just as we do after any disaster–one person at a time, each of us in our own way.

Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, you can start your own healing by spreading the word that there’s more on the horizon than the doom and gloom surrounding the DC Beltway contingency. There’s way too much gnashing of teeth and tearing of sackcloth going on out there. We can move beyond this. Sharing the word will also help you engage compassion, one of the cornerstones to healing both yourself and others.

And don’t forget there are many resources available on the topic of coping with disaster, such as:

Peace Like a River

big benRight now is all we have. That’s it, the sum of our existence.

Yes, we do plan for an expected future–probabilities certainly suggest that time will continue its trek. And we can’t ignore that the past once was. That is where learning occurred, how we each accrued personal encyclopedias of how to be or do in the world. But experiencing peaceful presence in day to day life, and achieving genuine connectedness with fellow human beings–that only happens in the now.

Now is as an ongoing flow, begging us to dip in our feet and appreciate its gentle currents. This is easier said than done in today’s world. Inner peace at times seems so evasive, so often dammed away somewhere upriver, leaving us to stew in our own juices. Judging, blaming, criticizing, uncertainties, fears, self-doubt–all prevent us from achieving the glow and peace of inner presence.

We do not purposely strive to be dysfunctional. If we did, our species would not have saber-toothed tigersurvived. On the contrary, roadblocks to peace are typically protective, standing guard for imminent threat or other forms of crisis. There is value in being constantly on the alert if the hostile tribe next door could attack anytime, or a saber-toothed tiger could be lurking around any corner. But most of us do not live in such a world. The adversities of modern society do not often require constant awareness of them in order to survive. But our neurochemistry does not know that.

Is it a lost cause, then? Are we slaves to the neurochemical dictates of trauma and survival? Continue reading

Why Are There Anniversary Reactions?

Another September 11th has come and gone. Remembrances were shared, stories told, honors given. We pick up, we move on.

Yet feelings may linger. Perhaps it is something you can’t exactly put a finger on–some timevague discomfort. Maybe it’s an unidentifiable sense of loss, anxiety, or anger. Whatever it is, it followed a crescendo as the date approached, and now slowly ebbs as time marches beyond.

Why do anniversary reactions happen? Not just on September 11th, but on any date marking an experience of trauma or loss? Continue reading

Once Again . . . The Charleston Shooting

It happened. Too many times, as President Obama and others point out. The weariness of it, perhaps even complacency forming over it, can lead to tuning out tragedies like the Charleston church shooting as redundant, something expectable of American society. Besides, there’s nothing to be gained by forcing ourselves to watch.

The impact on those affected will be there all the same, beyond the tragic deaths: trauma for the injured, for those who observed it or whose loved ones were killed or injured, and sometimes even for those who watch or hear about it from afar.

terror lurkingWe’ve heard it all before, the potential mental health effects of these experiences. Post-traumatic stress disorder gets the most press. But there are as many different potential reactions to trauma as there are people who experience it.

So what do we do about it? The authorities are always telling us to be prepared for disaster. How do you prepare for a mass casualty disaster? What do you do about this type of absurdity, the horrendous and unpredictable? Are we left only with looking for better ways to clean up whatever mess litters our psyches after the crisis passes? What can any one individual do in advance to fight the war on terrorism?

The answer: take back our vulnerability to terror. One person at a time.

Yes, tall words. Even taller-sounding expectations. Is it realistic to expect people to make themselves invulnerable to unpleasant emotions? Continue reading

Calming the Storm

gazelle running“Why do I always feel so worked up? Why can’t I just relax?”

Our bodies are blessed with a “fight, flight, or freeze” response system. It’s a chemical chain of events that kicks in during times of urgency. Animals in the wild most clearly demonstrate its value. Engaging a foe, running from a predator, and freezing to become invisible are all practices that increase longevity. They are essential to survival. Such physical activity also uses up the chemicals that pump up the response.

With human beings, how it might be funneled into survival is not always clear-cut, especially following disaster. At first a course of action may be obvious, like gathering up loved ones and/or possessions, getting out of harm’s way, or helping with sandbags or rescue efforts. At other times, it means a lot of sitting around: hunkering down in a shelter, anticipating news of what happened or if you can go home, and waiting for relief resources to move in.

After the storm passes, additional considerations emerge:

  • How widespread is the damage?
  • What happened to the rest of my family and friends?
  • How are our lives going to be affected by this?
  • Are we going to make it?
  • Is it really over?
  • Will it happen again?

Such worries pump up our bodies for action. It’s the same as a gazelle out on the savannah, running from a lion. During disaster there generally isn’t any lion for us to run from, perhaps not even an idea of what could be done at the moment. The result is that dealing with disaster can turn into sitting and stewing in our own juices. Doing so brings about a host of physical, mental, and behavioral ailments. Those of us who go through severe trauma during a disaster are especially at risk. Continue reading