The Dish that Calms…Everyone

There IS something we can do to tame our frayed nerves RIGHT NOW. It’s free and lowers inflammation and our flight or fight stress hormones.

If the world were a person, it would need to see a therapist…PRONTO! Between COVID-19 and its ever-growing variants, politics on everything from abortion rights to gun laws, climate change—you name it, the discussions are more heated than a tea kettle screaming with boiled water. Throw in the omnipresent specter of social media and economic uncertainty, humanity is at an exhausting, precipitous crossroads.

It’s not surprising that the global effect of so much uncertainty over a sustained amount of time causes tempers to flare and spiritual bank accounts to feel depleted. On an individual level, anxiety and depression emerges, and mistrust of “Others” grow (whether it’s the person in line at the post office or the governor of one’s state). 

While it was before my time, the polio vaccine protected millions of American children in 1955. According to historians, back then many Americans deeply respected science.

“After World War II, you had antibiotics rolling off the production line for the first time. People believed infectious disease was [being] conquered. And then this amazing vaccine is announced. People couldn’t get it fast enough.”- David M. Oshinksy, medical historian at NYU and author of Polio: An American Story

Compare the absolute faith of Americans in 1955 regarding the polio vaccine and science in general to Americans fractured, ambivalent feelings toward the COVID vaccines available and recommended by both WHO and the CDC.

Where’s that therapist for humanity when you need one?

There IS something we can do to tame our frayed nerves right now. It’s free and lowers inflammation and our flight or fight stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline).

What is this simple, free, and highly beneficial thing that helps each of us and those around us?

Kindness. Yes, giving someone (even a stranger) a genuine compliment or speaking compassionately to yourself reduces inflammation and boosts our emotional wellbeing.

“Many scientific journals suggest that there is a strong link between compassion and the vagus nerve, which regulates the heart and controls inflammation.” -Gabrielle Bernstein- Miracles Now

The vagus is the longest nerve in the human body and makes up our sensory and motor fibers. When we demonstrate an act of kindness to ourselves and others, we are literally helping to regulate our heart.  According to Dr. Fredrickson and Dr. Kok, “people with a higher vagal tone have better overall heart health, lower levels of inflammation, stronger social bonds, and tend to exhibit better emotion regulation.” Psychology Today

So if you want to start feeling good, turn off the news and start appreciating the good you see—in yourself and others. Serve up kindness to those around you, offer a generous dish of self-compassion and watch its miraculous effect grow.

Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/05/03/988756973/cant-help-falling-in-love-with-a-vaccine-how-polio-campaign-beat-vaccine-hesitan

Source: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201705/kindness-towards-oneself-and-others-tones-your-vagus-nerve

Thank You, Langston Hughes

The talented Langston Hughes reminds us of the choice we all have in his moving story, “Thank You, Ma’am”

Our world is fraught with anxiety, filled with the uncertainty of COVID-19 as our death toll continues to mount. The almost full calendar year of pandemic life has rendered many of us depressed. Factor in the economic stress and growing political tension, it is no surprise that many of us are also quick-tempered. After all, when we are experiencing pain it’s normal to react. 

How we react to pain makes all the difference.

As an English teacher to middle school students, I bear the gift and responsibility of educating minds through literature. Students “buy in” when they can connect a text to both the world around and in them. With the escalating violence at the US Capitol, I felt a need to choose a story that could palpably demonstrate an invaluable commodity: kindness.

 It’s easy to be kind when we are in a good place, when our needs are met and we want for little or nothing; kindness becomes, for many of us, a challenge when we are in pain.

The social activist and prolific Harlem Renaissance writer, Langston Hughes offered my students (and humanity) a short but profound and palpably moving example of kindness in the face of pain with his story, “Thank You, Ma’am.”

The story involves a young teen who attempts to steal a woman’s purse on the street at night. Instead of reporting the boy to the police, the woman brings him home and gives him a warm meal. Her kindness alters the boy’s behavior, his perception and—although we can only infer—the trajectory of his life.

I want my students to know that each of them has the power to make a choice every moment; I want each of us to remember that, despite how painful life can get at times, we always have a choice to be kind. This is not a call to be a doormat. Langston Hughes’ character, Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones is portrayed as a strong, no nonsense woman. She is that rare mixture of confident and compassionate, perceptive yet matter of fact.

So, as you go through your morning, your day, your week, your life, regardless of wherever life may take you, channel your inner Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones. A simple gesture of kindness can change someone’s life in ways you may never know—including your own.