Headline Stress Disorder & Women

We owe our evolutionary survival to women’s vigilant protection of human families against threats. Faced with a male-dominant political system, women also feel threatened, rejected and devalued. Especially now more than ever, people struggle to comprehend – through media outlets – an impulsive and commanding White House. Condescending sexist remarks and divisive policy making only comprise the tip of a much larger iceberg quickly reshaping the landscapes of egalitarian American values. But there is yet a much more serious source of stress: the media.  

Headline Stress Disorder

The emotional climate for powerless and angry male partners of women is in no better shape. As Capitol’s political uncertainties and absurdities get covered in every newsfeed, constant notifications frequently expose some consumers to ‘headline stress disorder’ a condition termed by Dr. Steven Stosny, a Maryland-based therapist, as a fear-based response of heightened emotional reactivity, to which women appear to be more susceptible.    

Intrinsically and clinically, women are more susceptible to anxiety as their innate protectiveness looks out to ensure the wellbeing of their offspring. The female hormone estrogen is also associated with increased physiological symptoms of anxiety in contrast with testosterone that reduces fear response. The danger is experienced as rising cortisol levels in the blood stream alarm the body to stay in a fight-or-flight mode, leading to more severe anxiety, anger, and ultimately physical and emotional exhaustion.

For those of us constantly reading one disastrous headline after the other and still unable to stop, then “Just don’t look at your phone so often” is likely easier said than done. Turning to women’s evolutionary skills for survival, here is what you can do to lower your stress caused by a new anxiety-provoking political era:

1.       Join your community: Women’s March in Washington was an excellent depiction of the power of community in proactive coping. Shared values, goals and experiences create synergy, offset feelings of loneliness and isolation and foster feelings of belongingness.

2.       Hug and cuddle: The stress hormone cortisol is cancelled out by the bonding hormone Oxytocin released during moments of intimate connections, prolonged physical contact and, of course, love making. But even hugging for more than 20 seconds has been shown to reduce the harmful effects of stress on blood pressure and heart rate.

3.       Embrace your values: a crack in the wall is surely ugly, but is also where the light comes in. In times of hardship we are also witnessing heroic – and creative – manifestations of resistance, hardiness, and resilience. We are most effective as we focus on the changes we want to experience rather than reacting to those we don’t wish to exist. Just in the past week, the statue of the “fearless girl” was installed next to the infamous statue of the bull on Wall Street. We need feminine and masculine gods and goddesses to build a nation. Don’t let the bullies intimidate you.

Have a peaceful week ahead!


How to see the world 'anew' like a child

I close my eyes after looking at them. Rubbing them from fatigue as I walk by a tree I don’t see in a park. Ever more gadgets, from cellphones to tablets, plot against our unprocessed thinking, feeling, and our experiencing. But the world that surrounds a child is continuously perceived with awe, wonder and curiosity as he understands but knows not too much about it.
See Like a Child ~ Self Love Therapy

Anyone who has ever locked eyes with a stranger child knows that young children are not afraid to look. They learn about the world as they see, observe, notice and inspect everything. Children who are blind use their other senses to do the same kind of thing. But, we slowly begin to lose our true self when we keep our sight but we “give our eyes away” as we get older.

Like the populace in the tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” we turn to see ourselves and the world through other people’s eyes. As grownups, we encourage the same in our children as we alarm them with “Don’t stare!” or “What will they think of us!” statements, we refer to what others see us doing. And we lose our true self on the road to maturity, becoming increasingly uncomfortable and unfamiliar with the self and distrusting one’s self. The ability is, thankfully, not lost to us and partly reclaiming one’s eyes involves being one with the object, to see the object in all its observable wonders – and not merely looking.

To expand our horizon and to see clearly like a child we must patiently and curiously make contact with outside the self. Let me share an embarrassing but mind-opening story of mine with you. I remember as a teen-ager in the middle of a summer went with my high school buddy and his father to a pizza shop. All excitement turned into terror as his dad – in a successful attempt to show us a lesson – began wearing his knee-high rain boots that were solely worn by the very kind garbage removers in my city! You can imagine the thought process of two 16 year-old boys with sheer embarrassment for imagining how we will be thought of. The city I grew up in is a par excellence of the idiom, “judging the book by its cover” and yet nothing catastrophic happened: only a few turning heads and giggles. Surely it became my most memorable pizza I ever had as we laughed about the difference between what we could actually see and what we were imagining.

Seeing and imagining sometimes get entangled. Seeing only what is observable and only imagining what a person is thinking and feeling, we cannot see the inside workings of anyone’s mind and heart, but many other things get in the way of seeing besides imagining what people think and feel. One directly tied to our emotional state is jumping into the future rather than staying in the present. We may look at a beautiful sunset, hanging onto every glimpse before sinking into the horizon. That very hanging, a sort of holding on, steals from the intensity of beauty inherent in every moment. Not fully seeing breeds worrying about what comes next.

Both Ancient Wisdom and Brain Examinations encourage daily practice of seeing things mindfully and help ourselves unlearn about them authentically.  In other words, not just “forgetting about something and letting it go by” as we get over them. Daily attention to seeing with Intent helps reverse suppression of emotional experiences, stopping vital nervous functioning of our body from unnecessary activity. This promotes brain’s health, function, and structure for meaningful change through reordering emotional processing centers. It also entails revisiting imagination with fuller attention to what is seen, thought, felt, and sensed in our own awareness.

A child embraces what is seen with wonder and drive for more to perceive. Seeing like a child stimulates the neocortical wiring of the brain, unveiling through visual awareness what was previously unavailable, overlooked, or ignored. It’s a daring task of an adult to carve out time from daily living as moments for seeing, and seeing only to look through ourselves and to slowly witness a growing interest in sensing who we truly are: a life-long intentional process of keeping on revitalizing your sense of seeing with clarity and sensing the world around you with your reclaimed eyes to see the world anew.

Have a childlike week,

Dr. Hessam