When we are faced with a medical crisis, our world turns upside down. Even if we had hints of a problem, the eventual diagnosis can be a crushing blow. Many patients feel as though they are in a literal hurricane of fear, confusion and pain. It is a chaotic situation for which we are totally unprepared and many of us become victims as the walls come crashing down.
Gaining control may seem like an unreasonable expectation but it can be the most vital step in survival. The key is managing emotions that trigger the “fight flight” response, the hardwired chemical changes that help us fight or flee a real or perceived threat. When we’re in an emotionally charged state, control of the brain shifts from our rational mind (the prefrontal cortex) to the brain stem--the most basic survival mode we often observe in wounded animals. Psychologically and physiologically, we become very defensive as we look for the enemy, blocked from our capacity to evaluate the situation clearly, logically and objectively.
Start by recognizing that your situation is distorting your decision-making abilities and commit yourself to minimizing those elements that are impairing your thinking. Try these three techniques to get control:
1. Manage your emotions. Fear and anger are the fuel of the fight/flight response. Get help from a psychologist, spiritual advisor or trained counselor. When these emotions insist on invading your thoughts, recognize them as culprits that derail your plan for survival.
2. Count your blessings. It can be hard to find gratitude in a crisis and your blessings may be outside of the situation you’re coping with. But embracing any positive aspect of our lives helps us change our perception of reality. It’s the glass half empty/half full idea. In a glass “half full” mindset, we are able to think creatively about possibilities, recognize opportunities and construct better choices.
3. Get tools and use them. Meditation has a calming effect on the mind and spirit, reduces stress and gives one a feeling of peacefulness. Exercise reduces stress hormones that cause the chemical changes of fight/flight.