You’re in the airport, when the loudspeaker booms that the so-and-so authority has declared “an orange alert.” Do you cringe? Or recognize the attempt to program you into fear? Whether it was yellow, orange, turquoise, or fuchsia, what exactly should you do? Squint suspiciously at your neighbor? Give up your civil liberties until a better hue is announced?Whether you realize it or not, that announcement is “guided imagery,” programming your neurology to respond with fear.

Entertainment films and TV expose us to images of fiery crashes and violent struggles as villains gruesomely kill, maim, and perish. Say, hey–What do you think happens when we regularly welcome murderous images into our homes and biochemistry on a mass level? Brain scientists have proven that whatever you experience functions as a kind of ongoing neurological/physiological programming. Multiply that programming by millions of viewers. Is it any wonder that school violence erupts or that it’s so challenging to end the cycle of international conflict?

Connect the dots to recognize that lifestyle choices are about more than recipes, face creams, and thigh-masters. Forget about scary microbes, what’s the equivalent of the flu shot for natural disasters and invasive images?

If the last seven years have proffered any lessons, first is that we can’t naively open ourselves to any and all incoming messages/images, trusting they’re for our highest good. Whoever controls the images you imbibe controls you. Make damn sure that it’s you.

With all the New Year’s resolutions and health tips, I’d like to suggest this one: Take responsibility for your neurology. First, pay close attention to the messages and images you take in. Second, for all the heavy duty stuff that’s really out there, get the equivalent of a “mind-body flu shot” by accessing new and effective techniques that help you manage anxiety and fear. These strategies will help you face reality and take action when needed.

At Ground Zero, psychologists found that the pre-9/11 prescription, “let’s talk about it” didn’t help the traumatized brain. The new science of “neuroplasticity” studies the functional relationships between brain regions and the nervous system. Research reveals that repetitively recounting a traumatic incident (or viewing disturbing images on television) actually engraves them into your neurology. A better approach to trauma, stress, and anxiety is to gently lay down new healing images that build resilience and coping. Though some imagery can harm, the right imagery can heal.

Psychotherapist Belleruth Naparstek (author of Invisible Heroes: Trauma Survivors and How They Heal, Bantam Dell) is the Queen of Guided Imagery. Her CDs, studied in over thirty clinical trials and available on her website, healthjourneys.com have been demonstrated to relieve panic and posttraumatic stress symptoms–and also address the garden-variety stress and duress we all have.

Used successfully by early responders at Ground Zero, U.S. combat veterans, and survivors of Oklahoma City, Columbine, and Hurricane Katrina, Naparstek’s Healing Trauma (and other audio programs) promote the mind/body’s ability to self-regulate, ie. to self-soothe, restore balance, and develop resilience. Prior to combat, the military and other first responders use her Stress Hardiness Optimization CD (or Mp3 download) to build in neurological strengths to cope in war zones and other high-stress environments.

That’s why one of my New Year’s Resolutions is listening to her CDs during the 2008 election year.

Amazingly, imagery used in advance “inoculates” by moderating the response to later traumatic situations. In preparation for all the upcoming fun and games (and just in case there happens to be a crisis, war, or disaster), I’m proposing that everyone who wants to be functional and proactive (rather than taking anti-depressants while clutching the remote) inoculate themselves from shock doctrine alarm bells–in advance. All you have to do is relax and listen. The effects are cumulative.

Here (and at my website HealthJournalist.com) is where self-help intersects with activism. Guided imagery programs like Naparstek’s Relieve Stress and Panic Attacks (as well as Dr. Andrew Weil’s Breathing CD) help you heal and deal with whatever 2008 brings. Unlike a flu shot, it doesn’t hurt a bit. You rest comfortably and listen for twenty minutes (or so.) Before you know it, you’ll be up and about and calling your Congressperson in the morning.

Copyright, 2007, Alison Rose Levy. All rights reserved.

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