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Calming the Anxious Brain

Some days go wonky, no matter the plans or intentions, and wonkier still when our brain becomes anxious. On a recent trip to Oaxaca with friends, in search of a village that was on our “must see” list, there were no signs to point the way. After a few u-turns and grumblings from the back seat, some friendly pointing sent us in the right direction to the Centro de las Artes de San Agustín. We spent two awe-filled hours exploring the renovated factory-turned-ecological art center.

On the road again, headed to Mexico City, the keys locked themselves in the car at a gas station (yes, the lockout was a mystery so the keys did it). An elderly couple offered a ride to the nearest “locksmith,” who showed up about twenty minutes later with two screwdrivers and a long metal rod bent at both ends. It wasn’t AAA, and we cringed every time the metal chipped paint or scratched the interior, yet oh, was it a good feeling to get in the car again.

Then, the clouds rolled in darkly. Followed by tons of water falling, so fast and hard driving was near impossible. Gas was running low and bladders were full. A quick restroom stop and some coffee for the driver and navigator got us back on the road.

Day was quickly turning the corner toward dusk. Anxiety about driving in the dark through the maze of Mexico City was palpable in the car. Slowly the rain lessened, and light seeped through the clouds. Staring out the window I saw a volcano, its barely visible top wreathed in wisps of clouds. Some egrets flew across the wet gray green of a field. Words starting whispering in my head. I opened the Notes app on my phone, and instead of whining, nagging or adding to the stress, I wrote a haiku:

White egrets fly through / rain—gray clouds drape over a / hidden volcano

The anxious, flight-or-fight-activated brain is calmed by short, rhythmic, resonant phrases. In other words, writing or reciting poetry and poetic phrases can keep a person calm during times of stress.

Try it, and let me know how your day became calmer.

Photograph ©Dan L. Perlman/


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