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Saving Our Sanity

Updated: Sep 27, 2022

"Get yourself grounded and you can navigate even the stormiest roads in peace."

Steve Goodier, author

Determined to do a little hike, my husband and I rousted ourselves out of bed this morning. We belly-ached to each other. “Yuk, smoke again.” The forest fires continue.

When we reached the trailhead, some friends got out of their car. They looked glum. “Are you all ok?” we asked.

The man replied sarcastically, “Sure, we’re fine. Inflation, gas prices, looming war – what’s not to like?”

The woman added her sardonic personal piece, “Every part of our body hurts, we can hardly move. All good here.”

Despite it all, we laughed and hugged.

On our way up the hill, we met another acquaintance we had not seen for a while. “I’m okay, “ she said before we even asked. She volunteered, “I’ve been fearful all my life. I treated myself for that with drugs and alcohol. Now I have my dog and I’m in a global Bible class.” She reached out for a hug.

After our hike, we went back through town. A hastily erected memorial of flowers lay in the parking lot between the Baptist church and the bank. It marked where a young man was killed several days ago.

We met a friend of ours who lived next door to the parking lot. He had witnessed what he called “the execution.” He said, “I’m fine.” We knew it was a cover-up.

We shook our heads at the tragedy, vowed to lay a rose, and told him that we cared about him. We realized he was working hard to stay grounded, to keep himself stable and sane.

Keeping ourselves grounded - emotionally and cognitively stable is important to our personal and collective well-being. We need it a lot sometimes. Like now. What helps us do that?

Research tells us, and we can all probably agree, to the power of connecting positively with others. Even micro moments of sharing a smile, a laugh, a hug, an expression of warm-heartedness helps. The more, the better.

Getting out in, connecting with, nature. Soothes the soul like a warm cup of tea.

We all probably have our go-to list which probably includes enough sound sleep and nourishing food. What we probably don’t know so much about is the importance of keeping our brains in good working order by.... using our hands.

In modern society, with many white-collar jobs, we seem to avoid doing anything much with our hands. Many studies now show that working with our hands is good for our brains.

Dr. Kelly Lambert, a renowned professor and researcher in behavioral neuroscience, says that our brains get wonky (neurally warped) by not using our hands enough. Not doing things like making our own food, washing our dishes, vacuuming our floors, sewing our clothes is not good for us as it turns out.

Apparently, the process goes something like this. When our hands work, endorphins and serotonin get released. Cortisol (often thought of as the “stress hormone”) decreases. Neuroplasticity and neural integration seems to increase.

Once when I visited a depressed woman who found it difficult to get out of bed, I asked her if it would be okay for me to clean out her car. (Just so you know, this is not something I have ever done for someone else, but I knew her well and it was a mess.)

The woman got out of bed and watched me through the window. When I finished and came inside, she said, “That must feel good.” In fact, it did feel good. Within minutes, she was vacuuming her living room. Then dressed herself for the day.

This method of getting ourselves up and getting going....using our hands.... is a type of behavioral activation. It works for a lot of people in terms of maintaining their sanity.

Now I could do a lot more of this myself. I am learning from my husband.

Years ago, while reading in bed, I looked over at my husband. I asked him if I might share a mind-bending philosophical passage written by the French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre.

After reading the passage, I turned to him. “What do you think, John?”

John paused, he seemed to be mustering a great deal of brain power. “I think…that the guy who wrote that had way too much time on his hands.”

I wanted to kick him, but it also made me smile. I knew what he meant.

It’s not that we aren’t busy. Lots of us are looking at our smartphones, checking the news and Facebook posts, emailing. That’s a symptom of too much time on our hands.

Those activities are not going to ground us. We might as well be reading or writing philosophy (a little joke for my husband).

If in difficult times, we want and need more grounding. We need and want resilience, sanity and stability, pleasure hormones, and neural purring.

We can experiment with hugs, smiles, connecting with others; walking the dog, reading or studying, nature walks; taking care of our bodies AND especially using our hands in “old-fashioned ways.”

How might we experiment with getting grounded by using our hands more and journey together to the good life?

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