Learned Vigilance (Revised during Covid-19 Pandemic, April 2020)
- April 16, 2020
- Posted by: David
- Category: Wright Balance News
July, 2007 Wright Balance® Newsletter
Revised during the Covid-19 Pandemic April 15, 2020
I have a student, a former Division 1 college player, who was an undercover Narcotics Officer for a major Metropolitan Police Department well over 20 years ago. He is playing tournaments in preparation for the Senior PGA Tour School. He is a good player and he will do well if his nervous system holds up. He has a sleep disturbance and a host of other physical problems that stem from his former occupation. Sleepless nights and bouts of generalized anxiety plague his day to day life. Underneath his engaging smile resides a wealth of talent and chronic physical problems. He is no different than anybody who has had trauma in their life from abuse to being at the epicenter of an Earthquake to an occupation where your life is potentially in harms way or to the Pandemic that currently is spreading around the world.
All of these people have a learned state of “vigilance:. They are always on the lookout for pending danger. Their nervous system is “stuck” on vigilance. They tend toward irritability, they startle easily, they are short on tolerance for frustration and their performance suffers when “vigilance” kicks in. On the golf course, their nervous system activity creates quickened movement around the ball and a faster tempo. Their judgment is impaired and their ability to visualize diminishes.
We are all on the front line of this Pandemic, some of us more than others. You can imagine the anxiety associated with the jobs of first responders to hospital workers to grocery store or others potentially in the crosshairs of Covid-19. I know how I felt on my first trip to the Grocery Store. The apprehension and anxiety was palpable in the store by all except those on the front line there, the Grocery Store Employees.
I have spent over 25 years studying physical balance and body symmetry in a biomechanics lab. I am reminded daily by my students that physical balance and body symmetry is only ½ the picture of performance. If you can balance your body and your emotions simultaneously, you are well on your way to being a star, no matter what the arena might be, even in a Pandemic..
We think in pictures. One of my favorite visualization exercises follows: Picture a lemon cut in half on a plate. Got it? Now, pick one half of that lemon and take a big bite of it. Bite into the rind of the lemon and taste the sour juice as it flows into your mouth. Feel the juice drip over your lower lip and onto your chin as you taste that sour flavor. Vigilance is about the potential dangers of the future. It is one massive dose of FEAR. If visualizing yourself biting into a lemon can make you salivate, what are pictures of the potential “dangers” you are facing doing to your body? These “dangers” may vary and seem minor but the affect is the same. In times of “distress” your brain initiates a cascade of neurochemicals that increase your heart rate, your blood pressure and your breathing rate. Your digestive process slows toward cessation, your blood flow leaves the periphery and moves to the deep muscles preparing for fight or flight, a very adaptive survival mechanism. When danger passes your body returns to a “normal” internal state, that is unless you are chronically vigilant.
Our current Pandemic will pass in the months ahead. However, we may have residual fear. There is a very real possibility of contracting the disease and death results in a very small percentage and the adversary is invisible. Recent research suggest that Covid-19 may infiltrate not only the lungs but the heart and kidneys creating long term health consequences for an otherwise healthy population. The vigilance here is warranted. But it will pass in the months ahead as our lives return to normal.
If you are chronically vigilant as a result of an occupation that demanded vigilance or as a result of abuse or some similar life circumstance, the elevation of blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration is chronic. Re-setting your nervous system is a important daily hourly process. You can do it but it will take work. As a Wright Balance Member, you will have access to strategies on audio that Dr. Wright has used for years. Originally he used these techniques in his clinical practice and Pain and Headache Centers. He has added these techniques to this site for all to use. The Pandemic has created new avenues of anxiety from how am I going to pay my rent?, for food?, my employees?, etc.
Can you imagine what soldiers preparing for combat with the threat of loss of life face? Following the “Gulf War” of the early 90’s, many of our troops returned home with what became known as the “Gulf War Syndrome.” It was speculated that Saddam Hussein had used some form of biological warfare causing the syndrome, a mixture of neurological complaints. A little known French study published in the 90’s in SCIENCE NEWS shed light on the ”Gulf War Syndrome”
We have a barrier between our blood system and brain through which medication passes. It is called the “blood brain barrier.” Think of it as a mesh like cheesecloth. When you take a medication, it is absorbed into the blood stream and crosses the blood brain barrier through this cheesecloth like mesh. In addition to treating a specific site for which the medication is meant, it also impacts other parts of our central nervous system. That is why medication meant for a particular condition might read “causes drowsiness” or “do not operate heavy equipment” on the medication bottle.
The French research showed that under extreme stress, the cheesecloth like mesh of the blood brain barrier enlarges its “holes” and allows more medication through. It seems that we overdosed our troops with inoculations meant to protect them from potential biological warfare and in fact we may have created the “Gulf War Syndrome.”
Fear is a driving force in our daily lives, more so in our day to day lives now than normally. So what can you do? We can learn to be present, to set aside a focus on past and future events. Breathing, movement and focus training exercises will teach you skills to use from the first tee to the first date to the final exam to the board room to the grocery store or gas station during the days of this Pandemic. Great Athletes have used these skills for years. European Tour Player and Commentator, David Feherty once said that the mental game is like building a muscle. You have to exercise (practice) your mental skills regularly to keep them active. Otherwise, your mental skills will atrophy like an unused muscle.
Former UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, would teach his players to put on their socks during their first practice. Wooden would take 30 minutes for this exercise. He taught them that a wrinkle in a sock could cause a blister and blisters caused loss of playing time. He also taught them that prolonged focus on a simple task quiets both movement and nervous system activity. Johnny Miller would take 20 minutes to shave the day of a tournament round and Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson described driving 10 miles per hour more slowly to a tournament site.
The next time you shave, put on your socks or drive to the club, remember the wisdom of John Wooden, Johnny Miller, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson. We have a lot of “health” we can glean from these past champions. These strategies will impact your life no matter what the arena. All we need to do is remember to keep working that mental muscle. If we don’t use it, we lose it.