Use Psychological Contagion To Relieve Distress.

If you don’t do anything else with this post, click here to see a video of a laughing baby. See what reactions you have to it.

Many people use alcohol as their preferred way to relieve distress. I recently read somewhere that 61 % of those surveyed preferred alcohol after a hard day. When I googled it to find a reference, I found a survey done in Bermuda that got that result. The very first comment was in essence “Ho Hum, everybody knows that people in Bermuda drink a lot.” So maybe that 61% isn’t typical, but it’s pretty clear that alcohol is widely used to relieve stress.

Once Debbie was asked to speak to librarians about how to deal with their stress. Librarians have experienced increased stress because of the challenges created by new information technologies.

We searched the literature on the librarians’ ways of controlling their stress reactions, and found a survey with “drinking whiskey” around the top of the list. Maybe being on top didn’t mean being most common, but at least it was a presence.

A very close friend of mine was on a committee to find ways to control alcohol use in young people. The Director of his organization sat in on one of their meetings for a while. When the director left he wished the committee good luck but said “The trouble is, that stuff really works”. He had something there, but it was not the whole story.

Actually, alcohol is not a very good resilience device. It has its place, and is, so far as we know, even healthy if used in moderation. It tends to numb awareness of stress responses, but has secondary stimulant effects. So people who rely on it to relax often do not sleep well, or wake up the next morning feeling tense and irritable.

What is striking about alcohol is that it can quickly move people from a stressed state to a more relaxed, or even a euphoric state.

I am very wary of this “better living through chemistry” approach to life’s problems. So for years I have pondered how to match that speediness of the effects of alcohol with something that does not have the drawbacks of the drug.

Many of our training techniques do pretty well at that. For example, combat/tactical breathing has a calming effect in situations where swigging some whiskey or having a martini are not viable options. And the effects are prompt.

Combat breathing neutralizes stress responses, but may not induce positive feelings.

For that, “psychological contagion” can be useful. Psychological reactions tend to spread from one person to another, just as contagious diseases do. If you haven’t looked at the laughing baby video, do it now. It’s likely to be contagious. If you are stressed, it will probably change your mood quickly.


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