Trapped in an Avalanche…

Who would have thought we would be trapped in a “snow storm” on Bald Head Island???  For those of you not from around these parts, BHI is a short ferry ride off the southern coast of NC.  And trapped we are, as the ferry is not running and there is no way to get off the island until potentially mid-day tomorrow.  There appears to be an inch or so of ice on the ground, though very little snow…

Meanwhile, all this trapped-ness got me thinking about avalanches (you never know…) and reminded me of something I learned watching Season 3 of Madam Secretary. (Yes, this was before swearing-off my binge watching…).  Did you know that if you get buried in an avalanche, one of the secrets to survival is to spit?  Apparently, when you are swept up in an avalanche you completely lose your bearings.  By spitting, you are able to determine which way is “up” and can start digging your way up and out.  Good to know!!!

It’s pretty safe to say the probability of an avalanche, much less having to dig out of one, particularly on BHI, is essentially zero according to my husband, the statistician.  Still, the thoughts of snow and avalanches and spitting did metaphorically bring something to mind that has come up before in my blog and is likely true for all of us. Triggering events can be like an avalanche of sorts and cause even the best of us to get angry, overwhelmed, emotional or upset; to lose our bearings, so to speak.  And then, instead of being able to choose our response, we react.  We say things we later regret, we cry, we storm around and potentially create yet another avalanche with our reaction.  Truth be told, our reaction, much like spitting, comes from deep down inside us and is borne of the instinct to survive. (Just so you know, why we do this can be traced back to worms, exoskeletons and the neuroscience of it all; the details of which I will spare you for now.)

Obviously, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in my life thinking about triggered behaviors, both mine and others’.  I used to think if I were to get good at recognizing my triggers I would someday be able to say “I never get triggered and I certainly never spit!” (Admittedly that was a stretch goal…)  Lately, I have become more reasonable in my expectations of myself; a bit kinder and gentler, if you will.  Now my goals are less about never being triggered and more about learning how to right myself when I am overwhelmed or out of sorts.

So how do I come back to center during times of stress or duress?  How do I respond from a grounded place, clear about my choices and aligned and congruent with who I want to be?  These questions come up nearly everyday in my life or the lives of people with whom I work.  Quite frankly, these kinds of questions are why I started this blog.

First a Quote:

“Life is too short to wake up with regrets. So love the people who treat you right. Forget about those who don’t. Believe everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it. Nobody said life would be easy, they just promised it would most likely be worth it.”
― Harvey MacKay

Being able to right myself, being grounded, centered and present, especially during times of stress, is no easy feat.  I promise the journey is so worth it.  See if any of the below could help you as much as it has helped me:

Lessons (in the form of Steps) and Habits (in the form of examples):

Step I:  Identify your triggers.

  • Nothing gets under my skin more than when my deeply held values are violated.
    • For example, when I witness, or am on the receiving end, of someone being treated with disrespect. Examples of this are in the news every day.
  • High stress deadlines, too much noise and chaos, lack of sleep or food can all be precursors to a triggered reaction.

Step II:  Identify your range of reactions.  i.e., What are the things you tend to think or do when  you are triggered?

  • I generate (in my mind and sometimes on paper!) a long list of all the things the offender does or has done, things that are just wrong or annoy the heck out of me.
  • I may respond in righteous indignation, pushing back vehemently on the offender.
  • Or I may withdraw, putting some distance between me and the other person for awhile. This habit can be a good thing, serving both me and the other person, if I am gathering my thoughts regarding how I can most appropriately respond.  What’s limiting about this habit is when I don’t invest the time or energy to find ways to resolve the conflict or the cause of my initial reaction.
  • If I am grounded,  centered and present, I can simply say what’s true for me.

Step III:  (Re)Commit  to who you want to be.

  • I want to be supportive, open and compassionate to those closest to me, especially when we don’t see eye to eye.
  • I want to honor and uphold my values, but not in a righteous or indignant way.
  • I want to refrain from blaming the offender for making me do work I’d rather not have to do.  Yes, life would be so much easier if they would stop the offensive behavior, but the truth is my reaction or what I need to “do” isn’t about them, it’s about me.

Step IV:  Move beyond the cognitive and engage your body.

  • Instead of sitting with the thoughts spinning in my head, I make a “PAC-MAN” like move with my hand that represents a nipping in the bud of the unhelpful spinning. (For those not familiar, imagine a tapping of 3 fingers on your thumb.)  It really helps, if for no other reason than it makes me laugh at the visual it creates!  Soon enough, what I notice is the negative thoughts and energy dissipate, which is the real intention of this move, and I can think more clearly as to how I want to respond – or not.
  • Identify practices that help bring you back to Center, as mentioned in every blog to date…

Step V:  Self-observe and repeat Steps I-IV the rest of your life.

Here’s to digging out in the morning – and to the ferry running again!




4 Replies to “Trapped in an Avalanche…”

  1. Thanks for the reminder that we’re not at the mercy of our triggers, but able to choose how we want to react and what kind of person we want to be. And especially thanks for the actionable, step-by-step guidance in this and all your other blogs!

  2. Thoughtful incites during adversity! In sclool when meeting with irate parents my co-workers accused me of “kill ’em with kindness” approach! Tough to do!


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