heads yelling

I dared to jump on Facebook for a bit on Saturday. Minutes into my perusal, I found myself scanning down the comments on an update of the only person I’ve ever considered un-friending. This person’s language and people bashing have turned my stomach on a few occasions. Today was no different. The thread on their post was full of political judgments, negativity and belittling. The reason I keep this person as a ‘friend’ is because I know their redeemable qualities. I’ve seen their good light. It’s getting harder and harder to remember them though.

The sad thing is, this person’s feed was not the only one to push my buttons on Saturday. The divisiveness and battles the upcoming election have spurred are so ugly, pervasive and unpleasant I am intentionally limiting my social media viewing. After my Facebook experience, I felt keyed up, like I was in fight or flight mode. It’s hard to see your friends turned into vengeful, bitter fighters. It’s hard to watch and feel the darkness spread.

The next day a friend and space2live reader sent me an email stating the same thing. She is considering not watching the news and blocking people on Facebook.

Where’d all the good people go?

The less than respectful presidential candidate debate on Sunday night, only added fuel to the fire. Giving air time to two individuals who do not espouse integrity or diplomacy, yet have the opportunity to lead our country, only spreads animosity and fear.

The current state of our divided and conflict-ridden country is especially hard when your nervous system is already highly attuned and sensitive. The negativity, walking on egg-shells and imminent explosiveness around political candidates has us all on edge. We harmony-makers/seekers are working overtime. We HSPs are looking for ways to buffer our sensitive souls from the clashing. Ultimately, we are headed for burnout and possible withdrawal if we don’t figure out ways to remedy the detrimental emotional impact.

This feeling of overriding negativity and conflict, reminds me of the atmosphere in a few of my long-term relationships, minus the political aspect.cats fighting

Introverted or conflict avoidant? 

As I reflect on my more introverted tendencies (seeking solitude, feeling numbed out after too much stimulation), I notice a pattern of conflict and negativity preceding them.

Surrounded by gentle collaborative souls, my energy does not dip. I can go to concerts and parties without too much of an effect on my spirit. Granted, if it is exceedingly loud or crowded, I will get tired but not like I do after spending time in conflict.

As a young person, I avoided the main living spaces in our house because my sister and I fought so much. I had to retreat to a safe space, mostly my bedroom. The constant sparring exhausted and hurt me. I know it affected her too.

During the last few years of my marriage, there was a lot of inner and outer conflict between my husband and me and between us and our children. We all walked on egg-shells. I had anxiety attacks at night. I withdrew during the day.

What conflict does to us biologically

 “The near-constant activation of the stress response is like exercise for your fight, flight, or freeze pathways. They become stronger and faster. At the same time, your smart vagus doesn’t get the opportunity for a good workout. Eventually it will lose its good tone and become weak — leaving you with a loud and hyper-sensitive set of stress responses that perceives other people as basically dangerous and unkind, no matter what the reality. That’s a tragedy because we are built to use safe relationships as a way of reducing stress.”  — Amy Banks, M.D., Wired to Connect,

Your smart vagus is a nerve that stretches from the base of your skull over your head to connect with some of the muscles responsible for facial expression, speech, swallowing and hearing. It helps determine the safety of other people based on their facial expressions and voices. If it determines all is safe, it also helps activate the muscles that show you are engaged with the people around you. Your eyelids and eyebrows lift, to appear more open. The muscles of your inner ear tense in preparation to hear conversation. You look more animated.

I was in a state of high-alert when around relationships that caused intermittent conflict. My nervous system went berserk and misinterpreted communication signals from others as stressful even when they were not especially threatening. I had to limit my time in the presence of people who brought on strong negative reactions.

How to re-wire your stress responses

To remedy my over-aroused nervous system I first tried working more solitude into my schedule. This is definitely helpful but not always feasible.

According to Dr. Banks, safe relationships change the neural structure in our brains and reduce our stress responses. I found more positive, safe relationships. They built up my smart vagus and gave me a sense of security and confidence. The addition of secure, healthy relationships rewired my brain’s reception and allowed me to read other’s signals better. I can tolerate more time with others. I am more open to the important people in my life. I don’t go into fight or flight response as easily. safe angel statues

I am currently exploring the idea that  healthy relationships are even more beneficial to my sense of calm and growth than solitude.

The constant presence of the polarizing presidential candidates and their combative campaigns reinforce the neural pathways of stress responses. They make us want to fight, make us feel unsafe and wear us down.

Given it is virtually impossible to avoid their presence in the media, I encourage you to seek out or create positive, non-threatening relationships that foster your sense of belonging and emotional safety. Put more love and humor in the world to negate the hate. Skip social media and go outside. Take in natural beauty and peace. Get your heart rate up from exercise and not a heated thread on Twitter. Let your nervous system recover.

How are you coping with the negativity of the presidential election? How has conflict shut you down? 

If the world is feeling unusually harsh to you and you would like help learning how to find solitude and foster positive relationships please contact me for personal coaching.