Calming Ourselves and Others in Nonviolent Direct Action/Street Situations

When there’s a threat or danger, our alert system –  the fight-flight-freeze that we share with our other species – will activate a stress response. This fight-flight-freeze response includes high energy, rapid heartbeat, and the shut-down of the higher brain functions. It comes when we sense a threat or opportunity, and is hard-wired into our genetic make-up. It happens easily in a large group, when there’s fear of the unknown, and/or an actual possibility of arrest or conflict.

In a large crowd or any particularly threatening situation, these reactions are heightened. Not only that, as we are “social animals” we communicate and “catch” those feelings from others. Therefore, keeping calm in a protest, rally, march, or gathering is particularly important – even more so if there may be civil resistance or civil disobedience.

So many of us also already have a “broken alert system” because that system, meant for only occasional use,  is often on all the time due to daily demands or difficulties, chronic stressors, and/or longstanding traumas (including shame, which is the subtle trauma) and strains.

First we need to calm ourselves. DEEP SLOW BREATHING is one powerful way! Even just reminding ourselves of our breathing can be helpful. Increased oxygen is a known calming factor, and breathing is used in most meditation and pain management.

If we practice before the stressor comes, that will also help us use the technique, as the more we practice, the more it helps. Some breathing techniques are:

  • Conscious breathing – just notice your breathing
  • Square breathing – four parts: breathing in is one part; holding your breath, two; breathing out is two more parts. In other words, you breathe out twice as slowly
  • Square breathing with Repetition – pick a fairly short saying, phrase, sentence, or name that is meaningful to you and helps you feel the way you want to feel. Use the mental repetition of those words to help you time your breathing: saying it to yourself once while breathing in, once while holding your breath, and twice while breathing out. That will supplement the calming effect of the increased oxygen on the body with the calming effect of the words chosen on the mind, heart, and spirit.

Tapping yourself lightly with your fingertips (eg top of head, side of eye, chin, collarbone) is also self-soothing. Even stretching and/or slow sustained movement can serve the purpose at times.

As for calming others, again, our calm helps others to be more calm (as social animals, we “catch” feelings from each other). Then CLARA is very helpful. CLARA (Center & calm; Listen; Affirm; Respond; Add information) will help a lot. Communication techniques to use with CLARA are active listening (affirming while listening), the use of I-statements (rather than blaming/talking about the other person) in the response portion, will also help. Humor can too. And sometimes, if we are in touch with ourselves and what’s going on around us, with inspiring Spirit – that Truth and Love – that is in us all, we may find the Transforming Power to change up the energy in the situation. Sometimes we can disarm the aggressor, defuse the conflict, and/or stop or at least minimize any violence. We work to stop the cycle in its tracks.