Harvey and the Rest of Us

In spite of mayhem already wreaked by Hurricane Harvey, we do not yet know what its total impact will be. Right now, those in the path of rising waters are still focused on seeking safety and self-protection – as they well should be. That’s fight or flight chemistry at work.

Eventually the waters will recede. Recovery efforts will begin. And as occurred after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we can expect many devastated survivors to take to the four winds as they seek temporary refuge or a new life elsewhere. We will likely meet them locally.

What can we do to make a difference? Yes, we can volunteer services that will help them get back on their feet. But what about the emotional consequences of their experiences, ones that social connections play a such a huge role in alleviating? Is there any way we can help?

The answer is right there, at our fingertips. We can share what we’ve learned in our fight with “cogjam,” those cognitive logjams we sometimes fall victim to with ongoing socio-political stress.

No, cogjam is nowhere near as devastating as what those in Texas are going through. But emotional coping is the same, regardless of the disaster: compassion, self-awareness, perspective taking, prayer, mindfulness, conscious effort to move forward, or whatever else helps you find inner peace.

What have you learned from your experiences with cogjam? How has it affected you? What are your solutions for coping, or defeating it overall?

We can share what we’ve learned. Likewise, they may be willing to share what they’ve learned. They will find personal strengths they never knew they had in their process of escaping catastrophe and moving forward.

It’s a win-win for everybody.

For information about providing psychological first aid for disaster survivors, see handouts listed at http://www.who.int/mental_health/world-mental-health-day/2016/en/.

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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: