Damp It!

When I see the word damp, my first thought is of weather.  Its been damp here for days, grey, with drizzles of rain and snow. The weather folk suggest that this morning’s fog will soon yield to a few sunny and warmer days. I’m ready. As much as I don’t like extended heat and we pretty much always need the moisture, I appreciate the brighter light of a sunny day. Cool and sunny, that’s my favorite.

Going further with damp, I reach the idea of damping, which isn’t to moisten, but according to the Oxford and other dictionaries is

1. A reduction in the amplitude of an oscillation as a result of energy being drained from the system to overcome frictional or other resistive forces.

1.1 A mechanism for bringing about damping.

1.2 A method for bringing about a reduction in oscillatory peaks in an electric current or voltage using an energy absorbing or resistance circuit.

There’s a lot more detail available, but my point here is that to damp something is to reduce the amplitude of the swings, to smooth it out, whether current or otherwise.

I’ve been pondering a bit about damping and wave action/interaction, how the energy involved can cancel or multiply in light of the recent earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Indonesia. I’m recurrently amazed both by the amount of destruction that can happen in response to an earth movement, and how the same or greater amount of movement or energy released in a different area can result in much less damage. Its fascinating to me. I’m not a physicist or geologist and don’t have a detailed understanding of all the factors involved, and I do know enough to understand a bit.

What materials are involved, and do the characteristics of the materials and their relationship dampen the energy released or allow it to move unchecked, gaining momentum and amplitude? It happens with earth movement. It also happened this week with Hurricane Michael which struck the Florida panhandle. At one point, it was a relatively modest tropical storm, not doing much as such storms go. Then, the damping effect of wind shear on one side of the storm stopped and within hours, Michael was was a category 4 hurricane, the third strongest ever recorded on the US mainland.

Fascinating and humbling stuff, for those of us who might be inclined towards control issues. We also use damping all the time in sound deadening. A small amount of a substance applied to a vibrating surface will stop the sound spread and transmission. You’ve probably done this yourself, touching a metal pan or plate thats buzzing and stopping the buzz or ring.

Similarly, I use the idea of damping in my work with clients dealing with traumatic personal histories. When we’ve had a lot of trauma, our nervous systems adjust and prepare for the possibility of more by oftentimes becoming more reactive, with more intense protective (fight/flight/freeze) responses to anything that it (largely unconsciously) perceives as a threat. In an acute emergency situation, this can be a beneficial response and survival advantage. However in a chronic situation, or after the acute crisis has passed, having a nervous system in this mode is not particularly helpful and can contribute to PTSD and all manner of non-healthful coping mechanisms and behaviors. One of the things I work on with clients is how to damp things down, how to slow the reactivity of a system that is on hyper alert. Smoothing out the waves that run through and exhaust ones being, both physiologically and psychologically.

There’s an additional essay or ten in this concept, but one of the most immediately useful and accessible skills is a deep breath. Taking it in, holding it for a few seconds and slowly blowing it back out again. A few of those, and your nervous system is a bit damped down, The waves are smaller, and one is less buffeted by life. As the waves smooth, the felt sense of urgency drops, and ones sense of possibility increases. Breathe!

For today’s Ragtag Daily Prompt of DAMP

2 thoughts on “Damp It!

  1. It’s funny. I had forgotten that meaning of the word. I used to work in radio, so damping was critical in getting the sounds to sound “right” on tape. Also the term “let’s damp it down” is common parlance around here — so many sound engineers in our friend group. Yet all I could think of was that funny wet rotting thing that used to happen to stones in Jerusalem in the winter rainy period. Funny how one’s mind works, isn’t it?


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