Toddlers teach us the lesson of the tantrum. They hold their breath until they turn blue, then they scream and kick and writhe in anger for interminable periods of time. There is a scientific explanation for the phenomenon.
Feeling becomes emotion of violent living through chemistry. Frontal lobes of our brains recognize the shortage of oxygen as a grave threat. Panic sets in, triggering primitive brain structures to stimulate the release of adrenaline which becomes norepinephrine in our brains. This is the neurochemical which leads to the fight/flight response.
Evolution. The tantrum saves our lives because we fight or flee with the strength of our chemically enhanced prowess. We survive.
Reminder: For the next few months, this blog is dedicated to my reflections on a book by Ashley B. Hart II, PhD, called An Operators Manual for Combat PTSD: Essays for Coping.
PTSD is a learned condition of living these episodes of tantrum-like fight/flight reactions to stimuli, internal or external. It could be a noise, some smell, a light/shadow combination, an unexpected touch, or maybe a dream or wakeful intrusive thought. Maybe just a conflict or feeling, and we are off on a tantrum, a wild ride or dinosaur dump, lasting up to three or four days.
There is a solution. Breathe. Yes, it could be that simple. Recognizing the signals in time allows us to stop the chemistry.
- Exhale (as in a deep pool of water, coming to the surface);
- Inhale through the nose slowly and deeply to a count of one thousand one, one thousand two, filling lungs to maximum capacity;
- Exhale through the mouth even more slowly to a count of one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand four;
- Visualize your clear space (safe zone, medicine area, sacred place), some peaceful, serene place where you are powerful;
- Repeat a second time;
- Repeat a third time;
- Stop at third, fourth, or fifth.
The key is to recognize signs of the tantrum before you start holding your breath. We have been conditioned, and the only defense is conscious awareness of our feelings, especially of our bodies. Remain alert for the warning signs.
- Any recognized feeling trigger;
- Chest tightening;
- Tongue pressed to roof of your mouth;
- Fists clenched;
- Biceps or triceps flexed;
- Jaw set;
- That tiny voice in the back of your head that can’t quite seem to say, “Stop!”
Look around you. Still alive? Cool. That wasn’t so bad.
Monitor your feelings and your breathing. Give yourself a pat on the back for preventing the dump. It might be wise to linger awhile in your clear space—besides, you are happy there, free but not vulnerable.
Our conditioning will not be unlearned. Our amygdala will not shrink back to healthy size and our hippocampus will not grow back the normal volume. That is okay. We can cope with the symptoms and the triggers. All we need are awareness and inspiration.