Coping with the unexpected

Today, at the tail end of my work day, I had one of those moments that gets the adrenalin going, but where I had to stay calm. (I’d say it ended well, but while the library side of it was about as well-handled  as one can expect that kind of thing to be, I’m afraid that at least two people are worse off than they were this morning. Which is not so good.)

But a conversation with a friend by IM afterwards, where she asked me about how the Pagan-related skills helped, made me realise I had something useful to share about that. (This is what a friend of mine refers to as being a professionally-trained stunt priestess, which always makes me grin.)

So, three general tips, and then the list of things I keep on hand at home to help with this kind of thing.

Tip #1: Good core skills are never a waste of time.
We talk about centering, grounding, and shielding in ritual – but really, they’re useful in all sorts of times and places. Today, I used all three to stay calm and appear reasonably relaxed while dealing with the situation (which involved stalling someone until appropriate help could get there.) And when the situation was over, I used the same skills to help myself calm down.

(Want my basic intro to all three? Check out the Practices index on my Seeking site.)

Tip #2: Mental preparation never hurts.
One of the reasons I read widely in fiction – and one of the reasons I’m particularly fascinated by long-term online game settings that allow for deep character and world-building –  is that it helps my brain get a handle on dealing with situations that I haven’t faced yet in person. [amusing example about that from today in footnote 1]

Seriously, though. I panic a lot less when I’ve had comparable moments of “Argh!” in the past. And since I try not to live *that* exciting a life, fiction helps a lot.

Mental rehearsal can be a really powerful tool. (This concept also applies in magical and ritual work: if you talk through the things that might go weird *before* they go weird, you are more likely to be able to cope smoothly.)

Tip #3: Know what happens with your body when you have a crisis reaction kick in
It didn’t surprise me that I went a little shaky. Or that I started feeling cold when the reaction wore off. Or that I wasn’t able to concentrate much for an hour or two. Those are all totally normal biochemical reactions to the body working through a whole bunch of survival instinct chemicals that just got dumped into your bloodstream.

There’s a reason the stereotypical British response to crisis involves a cup of tea – warm hot liquid does a lot of good for you, and a little sugar doesn’t hurt there either. (I try to avoid caffeine, so I drink herbal tisanes, but the same principle applies.)

Bag of tricks:

There’s also some stuff I keep at home (and with me, if I think I need it – in this case, I didn’t have much with me, but I also live five minutes from work and haven’t put together a new portable kit since the move.)

Something to distract me:
I asked friends for awesome distracty links online today, but I also keep a little mental list of things that will help me take a step back and decompress. Amusing YouTube videos are awesome for this. If you’re not going to be near a computer or want something different, this is where my comfort reading books come in. Good music can work great too.

Chocolate:
Speaking of J.K. Rowling (see footnote 1), she really is totally right about chocolate being a useful magical remedy. The combination of fat, sugar, and various brain-soothing chemicals in the chocolate is a really useful and fairly portable thing to have around.

(To give it a little soothing boost, I usually have a bar of Dagoba’s Lavenderberry chocolate in the house, but that’s me.)

Music that makes me smile:
For me, this is usually a combo of lyrics and beat – something with a strong 60-70 beats per minute is particularly awesome, because that’s about what your pulse rate should be, and it’ll help you calm down.  But the stuff that makes me grin works best.

For best effect, set up a playlist or mix that makes you smile *before* you need it. Stick it on any device you might reasonably listen to music on, burn a CD for your car. Whatever it takes.

Something to help me adjust body temperature:
One of the after effects of the thyroid issues is that my internal thermostat is still a little wonky – and that means a stress reaction still throws me off more than it did a few years ago.  It’s pretty normal to feel chilly when you start coming down from the reaction, though. (When you’re under stress, your body pulls blood to your core, so your extremities can feel colder.)

I spent about an hour being unusually chilly (given how I normally feel in my apartment at the temperature it’s at) and then warm. Fuzzy fleece blanket to the rescue! And again, this is why tea is handy.

Well-considered chemical alteration:
Chocolate’s one of these, but I also generally have:

Some kind of soothing tea blend, especially one that’s a little heavier on the sedative effect. I don’t generally drink this right away, but it’s good later in the evening.

(My current blend, which is new to me, is from a local soap and tea shop, and has lemonbalm, skullcap, hops, valerian, hibiscus, lavender, valerian, and passion flower. It *doesn’t* have chamomile (which lots of relaxing blends do), which is good, because I’m mildly allergic, and avoid it. Know your herbs, though – hops are a depressant as well as a mild sedative, for example.)

Food that’s reasonably filling and grounding, and that I don’t have to think about making:
Right now, that means I generally have on hand some kind of frozen pizza (with good ingredients), a couple of cans of dense filling soup, plus I usually have a couple of kinds of cheese in the fridge. Today, I had homemade from scratch chocolate pudding, which was even better. (I also had pizza with veggies, so it’s a reasonably complete meal.)

Some kind of wine or beer: I actually don’t drink much at the moment, though I do keep some around for ritual work. However, there are some kinds of shocks or recoveries where the mild relaxant of alcohol helps buffer everything. I use it medicinally in cases where I’m feeling raw and on edge. (And of course, I drink moderately, and I don’t drive while it’s still in my system.)

My usual is a glass of wine or mead, but I’m also fond of hard cider, and I have some elderberry infused vodka about to be decanted that should go wonderfully into juice or seltzer. (My new home makes this a little easier: I can buy locally-made mead a 2 block walk away…)

The cat:
Warm, soft, purring cats are very soothing if you have one available. (Mine ignored me until I settled down a bit, but that’s normal.)

What I don’t mention here:
You’ll notice I don’t mention a bunch of magical items here. I mean, I have those (including salt, which is a very useful grounding substance) on hand, but in practice, I tend to go for very pragmatic physical measures in a lot of ways.

I do know people who find Rescue Remedy extremely helpful in this kind of situation. (Rescue Remedy is a Bach Flower Essence blend that’s had pretty wide use for quite a while. If I could remember where I put the bottle I keep on hand for that cat – for whom it works really well for stress – I’d have used it. But I don’t remember where I put it.)

And the footnote:
[1] So, the story. In this case, I had a flash of something from the game, Alternity (an alternate universe Harry Potter game I’ve been playing in for about 3 years now) that made it easier to go “Ok, this could be worse.” When I mentioned this on the player list tonight, in the form I’d thought it, which was “Could be worse: could be the Carrows”, several people cracked up. My favorite quote on that was “Perspective. Brought to you by Alternity.” For those of you who know the books/etc, the game versions of those two are worse.)

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