No use erupting over volcanos

I wonder when we’ll get the message that we’re really not the masters of the universe? Lots of disasters occur in developing countries and are often daily occurrences but only briefly make the news. But when a volcano decides that the pressure is too much and completely closes down European air space it’s another matter: the roosting pigeons come home at last. Suddenly there are billions of dollars at stake and hundreds of thousands of people (like my wife and I who were going to Italy on Friday) are made to recognise that there are forces out there bigger than themselves. I’m left to wonder when we’ll fully recognise the more slowly developing catastrophes such as climate change.

It’s a quite unrelated event but I am currently fog bound on an oil-rig in the Bass Strait (hope things don’t happen in threes). Choppers can land in the wildest of weather but they are completely impotent in the face of an overdose of fog. And there’s a fair bit of it around at the moment and it doesn’t look like clearing just yet.

So, here we all are – stranded by jolly old nature (I love the way we anthropomorphise things and I refuse to call nature ‘her’ because of the negative implications). Mind you insurance companies invoke some good old medieval witchery (and a good degree of self-interest) and call these things acts of god. Bless them!

I have noticed that some people react very strongly to unexpected events such as this over which they have no control whatsoever. They get angry, anxious or miserable and, sometimes, a mixture of all three. None of this is good for the body or the mind of course. The heart races, the blood pressure goes up, everything goes into overdrive and the immune system becomes compromised. Preoccupation with the event impedes thinking and decision-making, as well as our reactions to others: we often push our best friends out of the way.

It seems to me that all this energy could be put into more useful enterprises over which we do have some control and where we can make a difference. Worrying about things that we can do nothing about seems rational but, in fact, is anything but that. Redirecting the energy makes much more sense (like writing this column while I’m waiting) and at least developing contingency plans (which I’m going to do when I know what’s happening).

Worrying about things we can’t control of course doesn’t require a major disaster. It’s possible to do this over all sorts of things that when we think hard about it really aren’t worth the damage we do to our bodies and minds. I’ve found that making a list of things that I can and can’t control is useful. And then, using my relaxation techniques, breathe slowly, stop the thoughts and redirect my thinking and action to something that I can control. All it takes is a little mindfulness. Now the fog is lifting and the volcano is still spewing out its ash so I can now make decisions. Until the next great disaster!

Dr Stewart Hase is an Adjunct Fellow with Southern Cross University and a consultant psychologist.


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