I write this from a place of surviving natural disasters, a 7.4 magnitude earthquake in my youth, and also as a person living through one – I currently can’t get home due to the BC flood. I slept on the couch in my office and was lucky enough to find a place to stay as we wait out the devastation that has not only destroyed homes, livelihoods but also the main highway. So today, I write to those who are navigating their wellness in times of crisis and trauma.
There aren’t any magical answers on how to navigate this level of trauma and catastrophic event – the only answer I have for you as a survivor, therapist and human is that we have to get through it one small step at a time. We are resilient beings and like our ancestors, we will find the well of resilience to get through this event as well.
What I can tell you is that there are things you can do that support your wellness and help you process your experiences. Here are 4 things you can do for your wellness in times of crisis and trauma:
#1. Give yourself permission to feel the feelings
We often go into survival mode in times of crisis and good thing we do! Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to mobilize and respond to the crisis at hand – we would curl up in a ball and be frozen. I’ve been on the front lines of trauma and crisis for over 20 years and trust me when I say, it’s a magical thing to be able to function in the midst of an intense crisis. However, we are drawn to masking, hiding, or minimizing the feelings we have from being exposed and experiencing this trauma. The key is to allow yourself to show up in times of need and crisis AND allow yourself to feel the feelings when you’re in a safe place. The only way through this is to think of this as a marathon which is a balance between intense work and pacing yourself. Allow yourself to express your feelings with someone (a therapist), write about it, cry and rant about – whatever you do, allow yourself to release it so you don’t have to carry it with you.
#2. Find your power in times of crisis and trauma
The number one predictor of long-term PTSD in times of natural disasters is the feeling of powerlessness and helplessness – standing back, watching your life being washed away by mother nature is one of the most powerless positions to be in. There’s nothing you can do to stop it or prevent it – all you can do is watch it and try to remain safe.
So where is your power? It’s in the mobilizing to help in the midst of the crisis and after the intensity of the crisis. Get involved and find ways to help those who are impacted or find ways to feel that you’re contributing to the resolution of the crisis. Volunteer, fundraise, feed those who need food, collect clothes, connect and be a support to those who are suffering. When we’re able to be part of the community that is doing something, anything, it will help to alleviate your feelings of powerlessness, hopelessness, and long-term effects of trauma.
#3. Set boundaries for your wellness in times of crisis and trauma
I know, here I go talking about boundaries again but they are needed now more than ever. It’s okay to tell people you’re not at your best, it’s okay to ask people to be more sensitive to what’s happening, it’s okay to tell people you don’t want them to be a voyeur of the trauma, it’s okay to tell people to not treat this devastation as an Insta post and it’s okay to set any boundaries you feel you need to set.
The focus needs to be about capacity – ask yourself, “do I have the capacity for that right now?” Tuning into your capacity is vital during times of stress as you only have so much energy in your container – preserving that energy is key to keeping yourself well. Remember that you’re focusing on the right now; this isn’t a long-term question, but a short-term in-the-moment question. Our capacity is constantly changing which means it gets replenished as stress levels decrease and there’s less demand on you.
#4. Trauma triggers trauma
Find yourself thinking about something in the past that was traumatic? Having flashbacks? Nightmares? This is all normal! New trauma triggers old trauma – it’s just how our brains work. When you have a similar feeling and sensation in your body, your brain does an inventory and tries to find the last time you felt this way. If there’s some old trauma in your life, then it’s very typical for this new trauma to bring that to the forefront again. Know that you are normal and that this is happening to everyone. Grab a notebook or journal and start writing – brain dump all the thoughts, feelings, ideas, memories, dreams, and anything else that’s coming up. Give it a place to live that’s outside of your mind.
Most of all, I want you to remember that you are more resilient than you think you are and you will persevere through this. Reach out to people – no one gets through this alone. We need each other, we need to talk our way through the trauma, we need connection for safety and we gather to repair this damage together. Your wellness is important during times of crisis and trauma – there are people who know this!
Recovering from this isn’t a one-and-done thing – this is going to take time. The water damage will take time and your emotional and psychological healing will also take time. As much as we want to just bounce back quickly, we don’t and that’s a human thing.