New Internationalist

Staying sane in a mad world

Trauma can find you in many ways. It can be an image of people massacred to death, their bloodied bodies strewn grotesquely on a hill in a province they called home. It could be a story of innocence stolen during childhood or a loved one’s fist hammered into your face. It could be grief left by a killer typhoon that struck in the middle of the night and took away everything you ever had.

It could be one incident. It could be a thousand. It could be just one small voice, crying for help in the darkness or the deafening sound of raging waters. The stories are as countless as they are varied but the effect on the human spirit is common.

People from all walks of life suffer mental distress in the face of adversity. Such trauma manifests in many ways. We get angry. We suffer in extreme pain. We hurt our loved ones. We get sick. Some take away their lives to free themselves from suffering.

Others, however, just go on with the daily rush of life, living each and every single day in the same old routine. They refuse to look inside, afraid to come to terms with whatever it may be.

But experts say that the mind needs as much healing as the body.
Switzerland-based psychotherapists Matthias Witzel and Sarah Monz told this blogger during a recent visit to the Philippines the importance of psychotherapy and overall stress management in helping traumatized and stressed-out individuals.

In a three-day stress and trauma workshop for conflict journalists who covered the tropical storm Sendong, the two experts helped participants come to terms with their experiences.

The workshop was organized by the Peace and Conflict Journalism Network (Pecojon) and the International Institute for Journalism (GIZ).

It’s not your typical on-couch one-on-one counselling session, and the workshop instead provides techniques on managing stress and dealing with trauma. Participants are given techniques by which they can cope with difficult situations, instead of getting them to talk about their issues.

Trauma acupuncture

One such method is trauma acupuncture. Developed in the 1980s in the United States, trauma acupuncture is also known as the ‘NADA protocol’.

With just five needles, it focuses on points that make a person calm and relaxed – two important areas in managing stress.

‘It has a calming effect,’ said Monz, a doctor who practises both traditional and alternative medicine.

According to Monz, the NADA protocol focuses on the following areas of the ear: the kidney, liver, heart and lung zones, as well as the shen men point and the vegetative point.

Breathe in, breathe out

Another effective technique is deep breathing. Breathing is so basic one would think there’s nothing more to learn about it, but Matthias says most stressed people just breathe to survive.

The proper way, apparently, is to breathe really deeply by inhaling through the nose and not through the mouth.

‘You can’t stay calm unless you control your breathing,’ says Witzel.

One technique, he said, is to breathe in very slowly through the nose for a count of three and then breathe out for a count of seven. Pause for one or two counts to feel the stillness of the moment, and repeat the process.

Think positively

Another technique, Witzel says, is to cancel out stress-provoking thoughts.

‘Since many of us have been programmed to focus on the negative rather than the positive, you might want to try meditation or specific stress management techniques to control your focus,’ he said.

One way to do this is to take five minutes every day to observe your thinking habits. This enables people to use their thinking facilities more consciously.


Caring for oneself is another very important way by which a person can deal with stress.

‘Lack of sleep, poor diet and no exercise wreaks havoc on our bodies and minds. If you only get five hours of sleep a night, you double your chance of dying of a heart attack,’ says Witzel.

There are other techniques, but the first step is to recognize that one’s soul needs nourishment and help.

With the world as cruel as it is now, it’s hard not be get depressed or angry. Sometimes it feels like there’s no end in sight.

As writer Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of Prozac Nation said: ‘That’s the thing about depression, a human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key.’

But Witzel and Monz say that recovering from depression or trauma, caused by the world’s many stressors, is possible.

One needs to muster the courage to recognize the pain rather than to numb oneself, to come to terms with the problem, to make a giant leap of faith and try to live through the chaos.


Look out for the May 2012 issue of New Internationalist, which will argue the case for restoring social health as an essential part of the mental health discussion.

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  1. #1 Andy Kadir-Buxton 14 Mar 12

    The Low Tech Treatment of Stress

    As a teenage school boy I found the ups and downs in mood to be too fast too graph as hormones raged. I had read in a newspaper that hospitals in the UK were painted green because it had been found that this colour relaxed the patients. I thought it would be a great idea to stare at a piece of green paper in order to relax myself, but green cardboard from the stationery shop had no effect. Undeterred, I tried other colours and came upon one which did relax me. I then set about testing the colours of the rainbow in the stationery shop on other people that were stressed and found that everyone has a colour of cardboard that has a soporific affect. The Tension Sheet was born. I soon carried out a test on those with high blood pressure, and found that The Tension Sheet reduced the blood pressure to lower than normal figures in just minutes and recommend that a tension sheet is carried at all times, and that a chill-out room should be painted in the right colour in every tension sufferers home. It is certainly easier to stare at a correctly coloured piece of cardboard or wall for a few minutes than the interference with breathing patterns that most mediation involves. And it has better results. The Tension Sheet was also the first treatment I invented for mental illness and cured several homeless people with it in my school town. Both their own Doctors and local Clergy verified that they were cured. The mechanism for the cure is probably that the brain is relaxed by the Tension Sheet, and thus finds it easier to sleep. Sleep experts say that most mental illness is caused by lack of sleep.

    People that have been cured by the Tension Sheet say that the calming influence of it is better than cocaine. It must be noted that when use of the Tension Sheet ends, the illness can come back so I regard the Tension Sheet as a treatment rather than a cure. I recall two people who had used a Chill Out Room for so many years that they forgot that they were using the Tension Sheet Method, and had their Chill Out Room painted a different colour. If this should happen to you just print out an A4 sheet of paper in your Tension Sheet colour and frame it on your wall. Jesus Christ used to recommend praying three times a day, so I use this as the average number of times a day that the framed Tension Sheet should be used.

    With most of my medical inventions the medical profession do not like them because they cannot make any money out of them by writing out prescriptions, but with the Tension Sheet bringing blood pressure to below average, they can still make money by prescribing medicine for low blood pressure. And the patient is a also a winner, I have met several that had been given ten years to live. It has been found that it is possible to go on holiday without a Tension Sheet for three weeks without any deterioration in blood pressure in one instance, but why take risks? I have not had much publicity over the years with the Tension Sheet, but actor Craig Charles got it mentioned in the ‘Red Dwarf’ science fiction series. How cool is that?

    The Tension Sheet has been found to aid those who suffer from heart conditions and sleep conditions. And you can make this invention with just a visit to your local stationers. A donation to your local Third World charity by way of thanks would be nice.

  2. #2 Jo Lateu 22 Mar 12

    A reader comment:

    I was very pleased to see some suggestions for managing stress and relaxation in your article, but the suggestions were a bit thin. Yes, of course there is acupuncture, but people could be learning points they could be pressing or massaging themselves. Points on their bodies they can see, for the ear points are tricky to push on yourself. There are simple combinations that are VERY effective.

    Also, the breathing technique was a little thin. There are many breathing focussed techniques, and many daoist ones that focus on breath, and inhaling through one nostril for a certain period, holding breath, and then exhaling.

    Omitted were:
    -exercise, crucial to get and keep energy flowing
    -meditation, in any form. Even a following a meditation tape
    -diet - to keep your physiology stable and be less likely to encite stress with more endocrine responses, low blood sugar issues, fatigue etc
    -guided excercies: tai chi, yoga, qi gong etc
    -simple ingestables: Bach's rescue remedy (safe for any age) and VERY useful for trauma of any kind
    -self-massage on the back at the waist to get more energy flowing through the points associated with the kidneys, and the emotional aspect of the kidneys = fear, trauma and shock.

    Sorry it is the end of my day, and I love this magazine. I've been reading it since university. I just wish some of these simple techniques were widely known and used! They could allay a lot of suffering.

    Yours in peace, and for the healing of all creatures,


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About the author

Iris Gonzales a New Internationalist contributor

Iris Cecilia Gonzales is a Filipino journalist and blogger. At present, she covers economic news for a Manila broadsheet, but she also writes other stories here and there. She has been blogging since 2004 on various issues including women and children and human rights. She is among the winners in the TH!NK 3 global blogging competition organized by the Netherlands-based European Journalism Centre.

You may email her at [email protected]

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