Stress Management: Psychic Numbness

Jeff Herring

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In World War I, they called it shellshock. In World War II, they called it combat fatigue. After Vietnam, they called it posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD for short.

PTSD describes a set of characteristics common to people who have been traumatized in some way. These are folks who have seen and/or experienced more than the mind and emotions can handle at one time.

My notion is that, in our current stressful society, we live in a constant state of trauma, which leads to a sort of “post-modern PTSD. "

We are bombarded daily with overwhelming amounts of traumatizing information. A study by George Washington University monitored the evening national news for 100 nights. The researchers found 6,500 negative news items and only 370 positive news items.

What this may mean is that we are grossly over-informed about catastrophes we can do little or nothing about.

We get so overwhelmed by things we can do little about that a sort of “psychic numbness" sets in.

Here's how it happens:

In his book “Lifetime Guarantee, " Stu Gilhelm uses a great metaphor. Picture a meter that runs from zero to 10. Gilhelm calls this our feeling meter. Under normal circumstances, the meter rests on zero.

As we respond to different We get so overwhelmed by things we can do little about that a sort of ` psychic numbness" sets 111. events in our lives, the meter moves upward toward 10 and then comes to rest again. When we are exposed to an overwhelming amount of stimuli, the meter goes up but never gets a chance to come back down again.

We get used to the feeling, and a level of five or six becomes the normal resting place instead of zero. And we begin to believe we are helpless in the face of these overwhelming events. Helplessness leads to nervousness, anxiety and isolation.

Let's take a look at some of the symptoms of this stress and trauma and then some of the actions we can take to deal with it effectively.

Symptoms of post-modern PTSD

  • A sense of helplessness

  • “psychic numbness"

  • A feeling of isolation

  • Not being able to take action, feeling impotent

  • Recurring thoughts and images of traumatic events

    Actions to take

  • Live in strong community with others. Robert Fulghum, in “Everything I Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten, " suggests “when you go out into the world, hold hands. "

    Scott Peck, in his book “A Different Drum" stresses the need for community. I'd be willing to bet that half of the people reading this column don't know the names of their neighbors next door or across the street. If that's true for you, go find out.

  • For one week, don't listen to the TV news. See how that can change your stress level and perspective.

  • Do something, anything, that positively affects the world immediately around you.

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