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How to Use Neuroplasticity to Heal Emotions Post-Fire

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How to Use Neuroplasticity to Heal Emotions Post-Fire

In this post I discuss how to use your normal neuroplasticity to heal your emotions during these abnormal times post-fire. Or how to stop the continuing sense of unrest or anxiety from continuing.  In a hurry, see 1-4 below.

Post-fire experiences we all share

I hear an airplane or helicopter flying overhead as I write this new post on the emotional after-effects of the fires. Before December 5, 2017, I wouldn’t have given it a thought at all. Today, I immediately stop, listen to determine the direction and proximity and wonder, for too long, if it’s circling a fire and carrying water.

The lower sky is filled with a brown haze and falling ash.  The trees are as still as a saluting soldier. The residential streets are empty of people, pets, and activity of any kind.  The sense is, we are all waiting…we are all somewhat at a standstill, preserving our inner resources so they are at the ready should an emergency arise necessitating immediate action and decision making.  This is how one main mission of our brain ‘s function shines.

And now I notice the plane is circling around again or maybe it’s another one? I hope the latter thought is true because the thought that one plane is circling the area is more unsettling than two passing through.

And so it goes these days. I hear firetruck or ambulance sirens and I jump a bit inside before saying a silent prayer for the one or ones its intended for, as I usually do.  Now though, further back in my mind, I wonder if it might be intended for our neck of the woods. That’s what’s changed, it’s no longer I, but our. I see this happening in accounts from survivors.  There’s nothing like a crisis to pull the community together, right? Well, not for everyone.

More troubling and difficult responses

Some people shut down, isolate and even decompensate when they are shocked by a frightening experience that is new and far out from the reality of the life they lead.  This is rare and yet not as much as it once was because once we are traumatized, we can be more easily traumatized when faced with a new one even if it’s a different kind of traumatic experience.

This level of reaction is manifest when someone is overly scared when the situation is no longer active, overly fearful of the near future, panicky and/or hypervigilant, has an increased startle response, is depressed, worried, has difficulty sleeping and/or nightmares, and is confused at times.  In some cases, PTSD would be diagnosed, but don’t jump to this conclusion. Feeling any of these at first and for a little awhile makes perfect sense. We are hardwired to rise to occasions like this, to function to stay alive, but that’s about it. We can’t let these over-reactive feelings  persist for very long or they too will get hardwired and be more difficult to change.  Therefore, getting professional help of some kind is the best thing to do when these circumstances arise.

Chaining, how anxiety grows

Fear begets fear, anxiety begets anxiety, panic begets and so on. One intense emotional occurrence builds up the likelihood of it repeating.  With each fear, anxious or panic response you give time to, the habit formation of this reaction to the stimulus increases.  It also broadens, so that similar and not so similar stimuli might trigger the original reaction of fear, panic, and anxiety. This is a domino effect, chaining is the psychological term.

Chaining happens in our thinking, emotional, and physical responses and establishes itself in our brain’s firing and habit formation (hardwiring). This is your neuroplasticity at work.  This can be a negative or a positive for you. How can we make what’s occurring in your brain now, post-fire, a positive use of neuroplastic functions?

What you can do to inhibit anxious chaining

1.  When you get stimulated by something, like a plane or siren or red flashing lights or unexpected texts that vibrate and suddenly show up on your screen, you fill in your blanks, immediately neutralize your heightened and assumptive response by telling yourself the truth or fact that you know in that moment. Bring your thinking full circle to a factual place.

2.  Calm your emotions by thinking, get into your head, your executive center of logic, reasoning and organizing. See number one again.

3.  Relax your body by noticing how contracted its become and release it like you release a pinch, quickly letting go. Then lower your shoulders, feel your breathing cycle and your feet touching the ground. Let your sense of your whole self move down from your head through your body and into the ground, your foundational energy source.

4.  If your heart is still beating too fast, here is a breathing pattern that stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, the relax and repose response. Breath in through your nose with mouth shut, to a count of say 4 or 5 and out to the count of 6 or 7. Do this until you feel calm and can return to normal breathing through your nose, not your mouth. It doesn’t take long.

Gloomy thoughts

If you are finding your thoughts are getting too gloomy too often or doomsday images have moved into your mind and set up shop, you need to stop this before it takes a strong hold. One thing you can do right now is carry paper and pen with  you or use your cell, and make a point to write down anything you are grateful for as you realize it.  Research on keeping an ongoing gratitude list shows how it helps your mood and sense of well-being.  It’s no joke.

I suggest you don’t wait until bedtime to do this though, because most survivor’s concentration is hampered right now and remembering such things can’t be counted on yet.  But you can read the list before you go to bed, then good thoughts will be on your mind as you drift off.

Again, be kind and gentle with yourself.  We are in a process as we process all the effects of this fire on our personal and collective life.  It’s a moving target with no exact end in sight, one that will be different for each depending on how much you lost, for example, your complete home vs your car, your garden vs your pet.  But for all, it’s the altered sense of safety at home or work, in your town and life.  It’s an unwelcomed change in your daily routine, normal outdoor activities, view from windows, and holiday fun.

I hope these two recent posts have been helpful to you in some way. Please feel free to ask questions you have about anything concerning you post-fire, in the comment section.  I will answer in comments and possibly write a post to address the topic in more depth.  I intend to continue posting on the emotional and mental consequences of this crisis for survivors.

If you feel a personal conversation is the best for you, please connect with me through my contact page, phone or email.


My concentration being effected too, I noticed some revising was necessary a few hours after I posted Surviving the Fires- Emotional Changes ,this is the revised version.

Surviving the Fires – Emotional Changes


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