“Terrorism is called terrorism because we then continue to experience fear and terror,” says Heather Mason, the founder of The Minded Institute who lives in Boston.
“The event takes us by surprise. It’s unexpected.” She points out that there are certain big events where we almost expect something to happen and so a bomb then would, to a degree, be expected, “But by managing to constantly strike at completely unexpected moments, it almost creates a generalised anxiety like disorder. It’s one of the great tragedies of something like this.
“There are many ways in which The Minded Institute can help. So much of the aftermath of a terrorist act is the constant fear that it’s going to happen again. I was in a café today and a part of me wondered if there might be a bomb there but I went to the bombsite yesterday and was OK.
“Part of healing is being in the present moment, not the past. Mindfulness plays a part but because people are so terrified at the moment, we need to help them to relax first. The Minded Institute can be involved in many ways, from the teaching of breath practices to reminding people to take ‘Effective Action’.”
Effective Action can be anything from very active things like running or a dynamic yoga asana practice (lots of Sun Salutations) to simply tensing and releasing the muscles in your thighs.
Neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux’s research from the 1980s showed that Effective Action, taken when fear networks are activated by deliberately moving our bodies, can reroute the signal that would normally pulse through the central nucleus of the amygdala (the alarm bell of the brain). This can cause tonic immobility (where our fear goes beyond fight/flight and we freeze) but Effective Action sends this signal through the Nucleus Accumbens of the Basal Ganglia to engage our motor networks.
“In his book, David Emerson, who runs the yoga program at the Boston Trauma Centre reminds people that Effective Action is important,” says Heather. “Running can help allay some of the symptoms so runners should continue to run.”
Those who were out supporting the runners might not run themselves but they could still benefit from taking Effective Action. Experiment with different types of movement and find what works best for you.
“No one will know if they have PTSD yet,” adds Heather. “It can’t be diagnosed until a month has gone by. It’s important to remember that just because someone’s involved in a traumatic event doesn’t mean they’ll get PTSD.
“I spoke to a Dutch woman who had completed the Marathon 2 minutes before the bomb so she heard the screaming behind her. She was blogging as a way to process her feelings and share ideas with others. With a collective event like this, people know they’re not alone in the same way so talking about one’s feelings can really help.”
So, to summarise:
1) Be active – Run, walk, do yoga or simply tense and un-tense your thighs (something like this can be done during those times you feel your anxiety levels rising but it’s inappropriate to run, maybe in a queue to get coffee or on a train).
2) Talk about your feelings or write – This might be in a journal or a blog, you might talk to loved ones, strangers or a professional, just know that expressing your feelings around the trauma can help you move beyond it.
3) Prioritize your self-care – Whether you were there or you feel traumatized by seeing reruns of the explosion on the news (or even if something completely different has traumatized you – unfortunately, while this has had a lot of coverage, traumatic events happen all over the world every day. Some are public, some very private) be kind and gentle with yourself.
You may not have physical wounds but taking things slow and doing all you can to wrap yourself in cotton wool as you process things, heal and recover, will help you enormously.