The Brain & Fire
I am writing in response to the recent fires in northern California. I hope this email finds you safe and unscathed. In light of these circumstances, I have returned to studying the brain’s reaction to fire as well as ways to reroute this evolutionary reflex and better understand what many of us are experiencing.
Simply put, instinctual systems in the brain and body are activated when the smell of unexpected smoke is detected. The stress hormones epinephrine and cortisol are released, and the sympathetic nervous system is activated to have a fight-fight-or freeze response. Your body is telling you to get the heck out or do something to get safe right this minute - fast! This rapid physiological reaction causes fear and anxiety that is difficult to calm, especially when the smell of smoke lingers in the air for days or weeks after the initial emergent situation has been tended.
It is important to focus on regulating the body and the mind together and separately. Physical regulation requires sleep, grounding meals, hydration, gentle movement like stretching or yoga to integrate the shift back from hyper-alert to out of harm’s way. The mind also needs settling through quietude or meditation, intentional self-talk that focuses on safety and present-moment attention. This blended approach will help the entire physiology recenter. Also, be weary of news overload and information inundation as this tends to be a natural part of the trauma response and ends up sustaining the trauma, rather than allowing it to subside.
These practices do not eliminate grief, anger, sadness, and the myriad of emotions that follow such wide-spread loss and destruction. The shock is hard to process and is also a natural part of the process. However, without applying regulating practices in the midst of it, PTSD, prolonged anxiety, sleep issues, and many other challenges may remain in the wake of it all.
Interestingly, the way the brain reacts to fire and the recovery regulating processes are similar to what the athlete or performer experiences under pressure. The upshot is that we need to remain committed to our daily practices no matter what. In fact, maybe the practice needs increased commitment, more quietude, sleep, present moment attention or whatever is centric to your personal recipe.
If you need some support processing, please reach out to me or a trusted support person. Remember, we are herd animals and we NEED each other. So lean this way or on someone, knowing that there is strength in reckoning with our challenges.