Self-Care in Response to Crisis and Trauma.
I don’t have the words to describe the devastation the recent Austraian fires have inflicted. Those directly affected by the fires includes family and loved ones of those fighting the fires or under threat of fires.
The fight/flight hormones surging through those affected will be their sustaining life force right now, in some cases, numbing them to the harsh realities. As soon as the immediate threat has passed, people will begin to feel the full extent of their experience; the fear, the panic, the loss, the battle to rebuild their lives and the overall life altering traumatic experience. Research suggests that how we manage this initial phase of trauma response predicts the overall recovery and (if managed well) may decrease the long term effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Five ways you can manage your own trauma response.
- Acknowledge your body’s response to trauma. Increased heart rate, tightness of chest, clenched muscles (jaw, arms, stomach, legs), shaking, sweating, urge to run, heaviness, tingling etc. Spend time with these physical sensations without judgment. They are normal responses. If your need to run or move your body, then do that, if you need to rest and slow down, then do that. Most importantly, sink into the body’s sensations, respond accordingly and follow the link to see the value of giving yourself a hug. http://www.new-synapse.com/aps/wordpress/?p=207
- Stay open and connected to others. Physical contact and emotional closeness is a very important element of recovery. People often withdraw when emotionally wounded, this tends to increase the stress hormones and prolongs the experience of trauma.
- Reach out to professionals. Seek trauma counselling as soon as possible. Let go of the stoic, “I’m fine” attitude. Whilst trauma responses and levels of resiliency are greatly varied, everyone can benefit from professional support. Some may require more long-term care, whilst others may only require short term interventions.
- Eat well and rest well. As soon as you can, try to restore your sleep and dietary habits. Your body needs to the right fuel to get you through these tough times. I appreciate that for many, camp beds on the floors of giant halls are not the best place to get a good night’s sleep. Some things that may help in these situations are covering your eyes and ears, listening to relaxing music or guided meditations, reducing social media or news coverage that isn’t vital, write down the things you are worried about or need to do the following day so as you can attempt to let them go from your head when trying to sleep.
- Accept what you can and can’t control. This acceptance helps manage our expectations of what we can and can’t do. We often have the tendency to feel as though we should be doing more when, we have little control or influence over our immediate situation. See if you can let go of thinking too far in the future. This may increase your feelings of overwhelm. Try to focus on the small immediate things you can do to support yourself and those around you.
If, like me, you are not directly affected by the fires, then you maybe be feeling helpless, flat, guilty, overwhelmed, sad, horrified, frustrated and angry. I was out on my paddle board last Friday morning, the water was calm and flat, aside from the smoke haze it was perfect paddling conditions. Generally, paddling has such a calming effect, though on this day I felt tremendous guilt. How could I be having fun whilst my country burns? Slowly, the smoke haze became thicker, I lost sight of the nearby piers and I felt smothered. I quickly paddled to shore feeling short of breath. I carried my 10foot board so quickly up the beach and onto my car that I strained several muscles in the process. Having suffered from asthma since childhood, the blanket of smoke had me in a mild state of panic.
Over the past few days I’ve spent far too much time on social media and following news coverage. Whilst it’s been heartening to see the tremendous efforts of people far and wide, it has also been very disturbing. We have a tendency to minimise our own experience of sadness and suffering because “at least it’s not happening to us”. If this resonates then I ask you to spend a few moments attending to your own emotions. Yesterday I went for a walk, acknowledged all that I was feeling and allowed myself to cry.
5 ways to care for your emotional wellbeing during turmoil and crisis
- Acknowledge all of your emotions without judgment. Anger, fear, sadness and joy. When others are suffering, the experience of joy can bring about feelings of guilt. Give yourself permission to do things that bring you joy and accept that the feelings of guilt mean you are a kind and empathic person.
- Make a conscious effort to take a break from social media and the news. Turn off the tv, put your phone away and give yourself emotional respite. Play a board game, do a guided meditation, play with your kids or animals, read a book or listen to music.
- Share your experience with others “I’m feeling so overwhelmed right now….” During hard times we need to feel understood and connected more than ever.
- Remember to breathe and stay connected to our body’s response to stress.
- Take action: donate time, skills, money etc to support those in need. Lack of action increases our feelings of helplessness. Do what you can manage, if that’s $10 or a few knitted pouches that is ok. We all have different capacities, so be kind to yourself, try not to judge and measure your efforts with those around you or on social media.