Coping with the stress after each disaster incident piles high! Our Goal today is for you to learn to RESPOND rather than REACT to grief/stress/loss due to disaster incidents. Let us think about the importance of self-care!
Stress is anything that impinges on YOUR bodily senses and focuses the attention of YOUR mind, requiring YOU to do something! Stress after crises or times of the danger, can threaten you consciously or unconsciously; it can be associated with a particular situation or event. Stress can be from anything from being stuck in traffic, witnessing death and destruction or breaking a nail in the middle of the crisis!
Let us start with a little primer; Stressors can be:
● Inside of you or outside in the environment in which you find yourself
● Few small events or many crisis situations one right after another
● Unpleasant in smell, taste, touch, visual….or pleasant stressors
● Macro events or micro experiences
● Chronic situations - on the Crisis team day after day or Acute situation that calls maximum attention
● Familiar experiences or totally unfamiliar situations
● Changeable events or as with most disasters, unchangeable
One response may be anxiety, which can:
● Increase fear and apprehension
● Shatter security and your confidence
● Increase pressure -- created by unfulfilled expectations - where from yourself or from others around you
● Can create “unrealistic” goals - that no one could attain
● Increase frustration - feeling like there are no alternatives
● Increase a sense of apathy - nothing you can do will help
● Increase behaviors of withdrawal - preference to be alone
Distress can then enter our minds and body with feelings of overload, continual social isolation, experiencing role conflict or ambiguity, sense of unfinished business, geographically mobile (being away from home working on the disasters). One can also have a sense of being under-stimulated - dulled due to the extreme experiences in the disaster recovery; which can bring about an absence of being able to find “meaning” in anything anymore, etc.
Let us choose to become a student of your suffering, rather than a VICTIM to your pain – emotional, physical or psychological! We choose our thoughts -- Our thoughts then control our attitudes -- and together, those thoughts and attitudes affect our body, mind and spirit!
Feelings of failure to succeed affect our thoughts on our self-worth, which dramatically affects our body and our spirit’s sense of hopefulness. Usually experienced as either ego or task oriented. Ego oriented thinking creates a measurement of self and that automatically increases the stakes which soar and then we experience increases in anxiousness. Sounds like: “If I don’t get it/or do it right, there’s something terribly wrong with me.”
A better thought pattern is when we are task oriented in our thinking which calls attention to how you performed. This creates a risk and a challenge -- and if I meet the challenge I will increase my self-respect and if not I will change the plan or implementation! Sounds like: “Let’s see how well I do….Will I Getter done?” Major difference then in just HOW I think about what it is I do in these recovery situations.
If we act in Self Care -- we are considering how our thoughts are helping or hurting us...and then can consider how I want to feel and comparing that to how I do feel and lastly - we can plan, look or review our behavioral actions --- What do I need to do? When do I need to do it? Where do I need to do this? Where is important in helping me to better care for myself.
Seeing a situation as a Problem – creates negative thoughts, negative energies which deflate our spirit. When we CHOOSE to see the situation as a Creative Opportunity for Growth – we create renewed energies, we smile, we begin to think OUTSIDE the box, and finally with renewed spirit, we dig in and Getter done.
You Ask, Why is Self-Care so important?
These stressors, anxieties and distress experiences take a toll on your mind, body and spirit. Areas affected include:
• Social: withdrawal, masked depression – hostility towards authority, aloneness, etc.
• Physical: ulcers, asthma attacks, panic/anxiety attacks, headaches, heart palpitations, muscle and joint soreness, colitis or impacted intestines, stomach aches, poor sleeping or eating, etc.
• Intellectual: inability to concentrate or communicate or inability to read and comprehend, inability to decisions, mind whirling, etc.
• Emotional: moodiness, panic/anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, anger, masked happiness, masked depression, crying-agitated depression, hopelessness, angry, sadness, etc.
• Spiritual: questioning believing, doubting, etc.
Variables to these stress reactions include, but are not limited: relationship issues (divorce, separation, sick or dying family member, etc.), developmental level, grief styles, cultural differences, communication dynamics, length of time since personal loss/tragedy, previous emotional and physical health.
So let us take a closer look at some simplistic stress management “principles” developed from workshops with other caregivers in this crisis business --- any one or two of these can get you on the road to self-care:
• Take stock of your own power – make a list so you can remember and expand your ideas.
• Remember you cannot change anyone but yourself
• CHOOSE to know we are CREATORS of circumstances – NOT creatures of it!
• Remember CHOICE is the lifeblood our soul --- be focused on making choices that are best for you.
• Make up your own guidelines – every two hours – walk the perimeter – sit and bask in the sun, meditate in silence, create a “hermit” spot --- endless ideas.
• Pace yourself – set break alarms on your phone --- as reminders
• See the miraculous in details of everyday life can help us fight the bitterness and despair that sometimes accompanies your crisis work
• Use the buddy system regularly as a source of support, assurance and re-direction.
• Avoid “work talk” during breaks and when socializing with fellow disaster workers.
• You cannot change the direction of the winds of the situations you will find yourself in --- BUT YOU CAN learn to ADJUST your sails!
• Become a WILLOW (tree) in the STORMS of Life around you (Terry Brock)
• Be Gentle to yourself
• Learn to accept others support encouragement and praise!
• Quiet yourself – take a long hot bath, use headphones – play soothing music – usually without words works best – sounds of the ocean, or a forest, or classical piano sonatas, etc.
• Design an environment that brings joy, peace --- could simply be a picture you keep with you that brings great joy, peace, and love to you in a moment’s notice.
• Set your sights for the end of day --- Inner Peace – knowing you did the best you could today under the circumstances of a disaster crisis!
• Say “I choose” rather than “I should or I ought to or I have to”
• Accepts your Limits--Admit inability to do more--what you did is ENOUGH – MORE than enough!
• Think----if you never say “NO” – what is your “YES” worth?
• Get loss for a moment or two in a calming activity – looking at pictures of your family, your pets, etc.
• Reminder: In light of all the pain you will see, you are bound to feel helpless at times – admit this without shame.
• Give yourself TLC – let your thoughts and words be tender, loving and caring in nature
• At night – watch a good comedy movie!
• Read a delight-filled book of joy and humor.
• Physical Work out – cleaning, scrubbing, walking, biking, running, weight lifting, boxing, use any type of exercise
• Try “Retail Therapy” – shop, shop, buy, shop shop…got you smiling!
• Have Fun – see the humor wherever you can – Laugh and Play! Wear funny hats or red noses – lifts your own spirit, as well as those around you…find the JOY in all you do – then it will no longer be work!
• FOCUS on one GOOD thing that occurred during the day
• Being PRESENT to yourself and those around you is a key and more important than what you do.
• Write out what you are thinking – getting your emotions down on paper can help you come to terms with feelings and resolve them within yourself – it is an opportunity to spell out ideas, beliefs, attitudes, feelings, in whatever style suits you. It is descriptive and explicit; it is spontaneous and honest. It encourages a sense of competence in being able to discipline and reveal oneself, which is ego enhancing. It traces growth and changes in thoughts, attitudes and behaviors.
• Be a resource to yourself! Get creative – try new approaches – be an artist as well as a technician.
• Remember, the 10 most important two letter words of self-care: IF IT IS TO BE - IT IS UP TO ME
• Whatever you choose to do for your self-care – ENJOY IT!
The key is to NAME your feelings and thoughts, ACKNOWLEDGE them, HOLD them, HUG them – reality is until you become aware of what you are doing or feeling and then takes responsibility for those actions, non-actions or feelings --- one cannot change in any way.
May you be blessed through the ups and downs of crisis/disaster work going from the pits of pain to the plateaus of acceptance as you continue your life’s journey.
Written by Jeanne Harper of Marinette, WI
Life Coach, Trauma Certified Educator, and Counselor
You can reach Jeanne at: email@example.com
Jeanne M. Harper. Harper compassionately and effectively addresses issues of life in a participative, creative, and practical style for the public and professionals as a life coach, spiritual director, speaker, and consultant. Before retirement as a psychotherapist in 2008, she specialized in trauma counseling for twenty-eight years.
Harper’s sole owned Lakeshore Professional Counseling centers was a “beacon of hope in the time of darkness” for many families, adolescents, children, women, couples, veterans (WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War, Iraqi War and other combat situations) and other individuals. Harper’s specialties included: Post Traumatic counseling, crisis debriefings for area businesses, family, individual, child and adolescent counseling. Jeanne is Board Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress. She is nationally certified through Association for Death Education and Counseling as Fellow in Thanatology: Study of Death and Dying. She is certified in Post Traumatic Stress therapy, Eye Movement De-sensitization and Reprocessing. Graduate of UW-Milwaukee Trauma Counseling, Level I and II, CISD – Critical Incident Stress Debriefing Clinical Director for area EMS and 7 years and Business ‘n Industry Critical Incident Response Team Clinical Director since1994 to 2008.
Harper also taught locally at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College from 2008 to 2015 Sociology and Psychology courses for seven years including, Intro to Ethics, Intro to Sociology, Contemporary American Social Problems and Intro to Diversity.
Jeanne has authored numerous published articles on a variety of topics including Traumatized Veterans: The Inner Journey and Coping with Disaster Stress, Loss and Grief from the individuals/families and others.
Through forty years of speaking, counseling, visiting, teaching, and coaching, she considers herself privileged to journey with others as they turn their “problems” into “creative opportunities for growth.” Her mission is to journey with and help those she meets find the inspiration within themselves to move forward in life. Jeanne encourages the celebration and appreciation of life—every moment!