Turn It Off, and Find Calm

by Nancy G. Shapiro
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As our brains receive information, neural pathways are created, a vast storehouse of connections that with use, become stronger and more available to the efficiency-driven brain. When more negative than positive information and experiences consume our reality, the brain—in its automatic, efficient way—connects to more negative pathways, however old they may be. We can feel overwhelmed by debilitating, quick-to-appear feelings such as anger, exhaustion, and skepticism. Old traumas can be activated1, along with the brain’s automatic response of flight-or-fight, our sense of safety switched to high alert. An increasing reliance on smart phones, computers, and media of all kinds is exacerbating the bombardment of anxiety-provoking news and opinions. On overload from too much stimulus, it’s incredibly easy to feel powerless as so much feels out of our control.

Add in the personal challenges of daily life, and our innate human ability to cope, adapt, find solutions, and assist others during difficult times is easily compromised. Difficulty overshadows possibilities, negativity dilutes our creativity, we feel depressed instead of energized. We wake up one morning, and realize we’ve misplaced our best selves.

Laughter can switch a downward-spiraling perspective to a more positive one, and remind us that constant, active discernment is vital in bringing clarity, compassion, and wise choices into our consciousness, in order to access our own power and wisdom. Humor is one of the many ways to turn on the brain’s amazing neuroplasticity, the ability to change its neural patterns of connection—strengthening new pathways while diminishing ones we choose to no longer use.

I experienced such a moment in a small apartment in Spain during a retreat, when a shower head—the kind attached to a flexible metal hose that hangs above one’s head on a fitted hook—suddenly unattached itself from the wall like a coiled, water-spraying snake. Still in my nightgown, I grabbed for the flailing contraption, swearing all the while. By the time I caught hold of it, everything in the bathroom was soaked. This happened two days in a row (yes, two), until on the third day, when it happened again, I suddenly realized I could simply turn off the water before everything became drenched.

Laughter rolled through me, making me double over. It was that simple. And out of reach. Turn it off. A madly awkward, elusively simple experience filled with self-compassion, the vastness of choice and sudden clarity—calm reached through humor and a somewhat fumbling persistence.2

Turning off the overload and negativity is strengthened with daily practice, a poco a poco (little by little) approach, and a fierce resolve to be, and act, calmer. The following tips  (with at least two done each day) will create new neural pathways in your brain that, with time and constancy, will become stronger and more accessible when life starts to feel overwhelming:

  • Take a break from your phone whenever possible.

  • Move your body throughout the day so blood flows and the view changes.

  • Resist reading (and adding to) reactive tweets and posts.

  • Create a regular self-care regimen that enhances your well-being; make it personal and realistic.

  • Listen less to the noise of others’ opinions and more to your own wisdom.

  • Do your best to get outdoors each day.

  • Make eye contact with people.

  • Help an elderly, disabled, or young person, despite your perceived ‘busy’ day.

  • Pause, and then respond, instead of reacting.

  • Smile more (even at yourself in the mirror), and laugh often (even at yourself).

  • Be more mindful of situations and people that make you feel negative and overloaded.

  • Be creative and add your own actions (and non-actions) to this turn it off list.

Choose to support what is meaningful, beneficial, and humane for you and your loved ones, and give yourself to these causes with all you’ve got —your time, energy, talents, and resources—so that the world right in front of you becomes calmer. One person, one family, one community at a time.


1 Mark Wheeler, “How Memories Are Made, and Recalled,” UCLA Newsroom. Accessed July 17, 2016, http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/how-memories-are-made-and-recalled-62588, September 10, 2008.
2 Shapiro, N. G. The Book of Calm: Clarity, Compassion, and Choice in a Turbulent World. Berkeley: She Writes Press, 2017.
Nancy G. Shapiro
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