Posted by: mariabro | April 15, 2011

Margarita Therapy

Everyone handles stress in a different way.  Some are fighters, some are flighters.  I tend to be a flighter according to my husband.  But on some occasions – when I know I am right – I am a fighter.  Generally though, I tend to avoid confrontation and walk away, slamming doors as I go.

According to website, when fight or flight hits, your nerve cells fire and chemicals are released into your bloodstream. You breathe more rapidly. Your blood is redirected from your digestive tract into your muscles and limbs. Your pupils dilate. Your awareness intensifies. Your sight sharpens. Your impulses quicken. Your perception of pain diminishes. Your immune system mobilizes. You become prepared—physically and psychologically—for fight or flight.

Dr. Linda Semlitz, director of clinical services at Tokyo English Lifeline, says, “The fight or flight response to acute stress can save your life.  It prepares you to flee or fight in order to defend yourself from danger.”

This is the potentially life-saving response to acute stress.  But what about what we are experiencing now?  Long-term acute stress?  Or chronic stress. How will living under the new normal of long term aftershocks, threat of radiation and feelings of survivor guilt, affect us physically and psychologically?  Additionally, I wonder if the effect may be different for expats versus locals.  Of course, the Japanese feel stress and are traumatized.  But they have lived with this kind of latent threat all their lives.  I wonder if the philosophy of Shougani, or “it can’t be helped”, was developed as a defense mechanism?  An inherent way to handle long-term, chronic stress.

Semlitz says chronic stress is a negative physiological and emotional response when it is intense and unresolved.  This kind of stress leads to wear and tear on the body and mind.  It can compromise your immune system.  You get more colds and feel run down.  Many of my friends are feeling tired and listless.  The evidence is overwhelming that a cumulative buildup of stress hormones, if not properly metabolized over time, can lead to disorders of our autonomic nervous system (causing headache, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure and the like) and disorders of our hormonal and immune systems (creating susceptibility to infection, chronic fatigue, depression, and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and allergies.

We have stayed in Japan after the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear radiation threat, which may be construed as fighter behavior.  Positive fighter behavior may include confronting the issues, doing charity work, or starting a blog?  Negative fighting behaviors could be aggressiveness or argumentativeness. Similarly flight behaviors can be positive or negative. Hopping on a flight out of Japan is a flight response, literally.  Withdrawing from social interaction, even by watching television or even surfing the net, could be viewed as a a flight behavior.

So, how have my friends and I handled it?  Well, not handled exactly as that  implies some kind of mastery.  Just done the best we could to not fall apart would be more like it.

We get together and talk.  Over margaritas or Starbuck’s.  We workout more.  Channeling that adrenaline onto the tennis court or the gym.  We do charity work; Hands On Tokyo, Second Harvest, Living Dreams.  We update Facebook with helpful information.  We try not to obsess about the news and try to keep our kid’s routines as normal as possible.  We go to talks to learn about radiation and coping with stress.  We prepare our families and ourselves with earthquake kits, extra water on hand and passports in our purse.  For me, writing is therapeutic.

But we also make lots of mistakes.  We yell at our kids and lose patience too quickly.  We wonder how long we should let them sleep in our rooms after the disaster.  My youngest son would be happy to sleep there forever.   We are too indulgent in an attempt to make them forget about the trauma they experienced.  We argue with our husbands when they seem to be oblivious to the stress we are facing.

Eating well, not too much, getting our sleep, spending time with nature, participating in recreational and sports activities and being involved in the community is recommended.  In short,  pretty much what you should be doing anyways.

Resiliency is the inborn way you cope in the midst of hardship.  If you are born resilient you are fortunate.  For others it will take some time to rebound from the trauma we’ve endured and to adapt to the new normal.

Published in In Touch Magazine June 2011 issue


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