By Gina Paradiso
My garden is remarkable this year; it has brought me hours upon hours of tranquility.
Sometimes, I sit on the bench, located at the front, surrounded by flowers, and simply peer at all my vegetables growing. From my peppers to my pumpkins, which have slowly begun the process of turning orange, it is simply a wonderment, to me.
There is one exception, of course, my tomatoes. While the veins are green and hardy, the blossoms are supple, my tomatoes are not. Someone recently told me, "My grandma would go out and beat her tomato plants with a broom; that’ll make them produce!" Gasp! Beat my tomato plants to make them produce?
The human body was built to encounter stressful situations. A stressful situation for me, and where I live, might be different for you, and where you live. Some stressful situations, overall, however, might include traffic, work or work deadlines, dealing with extended family, money or money issues. On a more extensive list, stress could be brought on by the birth of a child, death or by an illness. The list could go on, and on, of course.
Our reactionary system, also known as fight or flight, has evolved as a survival mechanism, allowing not only humans, but other mammals, to react when harm is imminent, when a situation or person is dangerous. Our bodies are so efficient with this process, it can happen so quickly, without us willing or knowing, causing us to flee from a seemingly dangerous stranger or avoid a potentially dangerous traffic accident.
The fight our flight process begins a release of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol into the body, increasing our heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and temperature; we begin to perspire and our thoughts become much clearer and more concise.
This reactionary system, as a whole, is a good thing; it can be life-saving. Repeated activation of this response system, or for those who are stuck in this mode, however, can be damaging physically and mentally, and it can cause a slew of health problems; as well, it can ruin personal relationships. Triggered by events and controlled by anger, for these individuals, every argument, traffic jam, work deadline, money issue, etc., becomes the straw that broke the camel’s back.
They are in constant fight or flight mode and are incapable of having constructive arguments, letting someone cut them off on the road and simply letting it go, having a money issue and handling it objectively.
These individuals often have a low self-esteem, are explosive and will resort to emotional and/or physical abuse or violence to manipulate and maintain power and control over others.
They are susceptible to anxiety, high blood-pressure, headaches, digestive problems, insomnia, skin problems, addiction, heart attack and stroke.
Early childhood exposure to trauma, any events that would have caused fear and proven to be stressful for a child’s developing brain, would have permanently altered the developing brain.
Children, especially those from birth to the age of three, have an underdeveloped brain and are incapable of managing stress. When high levels of the stress hormone are released in the developing brain, it can lead to lifelong problems.
When children have parents who are stressed, angry and have little to no self-control, their stress-reactive systems begin to habitually stay on. The child who is constantly exposed to an excessive amount of stress early in life, becomes the child who is always on guard. She will grow up to be the person who, for them, the slightest thing will break the camel’s back, or they learn to check out—it is what some experts call "Stuffing it," referring to emotionally checking out.
Their measuring gage has become askew.
Adverse Childhood Experience (ACES) is a list of ten childhood experiences known to impact short- and long-term health. They include: Abuse: physical, emotional, sexual; Neglect: physical, emotional; Household Dysfunction: mental illness, mother treated violently, divorce/separation from a parent, relative incarcerated, substance abuse in the home (this includes regular use of alcohol).
On the contrary, a child who has caregivers who are responsive to their needs, offering supportive and kind words and loving touch, including holding, rocking and other soothing techniques, will create a child with a strong attachment; he will grow up with confidence, using fight or flight for life-saving measures. As well, it is not only okay, it is appropriate to allow children to feel and express emotions (this includes anger, not aggression); they are people too.
For individuals who are triggered by life’s events, it’s never too late to relearn effective ways to handle anger; it’s not the individual’s fault; it is up to them to change it, however. Relaxation techniques, including journaling, yoga and or meditation is helpful. Add regular exercise to the mix. Counseling has proven to be highly effective, retraining the brain from wanting to stay in a reactionary mode.
I have a few tomatoes growing now; they’re still green but they’re growing. My toddler and I go out there a couple times a day. I’m trying to teach him to respect the plants in the garden. I tell him to touch them softly and not to walk on them. I even tell him to talk to the plants kindly. I model the behavior I want him to repeat.
Gina (Paradiso) Cathcart is the director of Carecorner, Ltd., Colorado Respite Care. She is a healthcare educator, passionate about service to others and quality patient care. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.