Helping Yourself & Others in Critical Times
The world feels like it's on tilt.
With everything that is happening - CA, Puerto Rico, TX, Las Vegas, Myanmar, FL, Charlottesville, and Mexico (just to name a few places) - I'm having trouble writing something coherent for you to read.
So let me turn it over to Pema Chodren, an American Buddhist nun and teacher:
"Things falling apart is kind of testing and also kind of a healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy."
– Pema Chodren, When Things Fall Apart
When in doubt, turn to Pema. But how do we make room for all of it? I know that many of you are busy responding to the suffering in this world right now. And maybe some of you are suffering the loss of your own homes, beloved pets, or something/someone you hold dear.
I don't have any wise words to offer, but in the spirit of doing what I can, with what I've got, from where I am, I wanted to share some resources that might be of use during these difficult times:
After a Critical Incident: This brief handout from The Headington Institute explains normal reactions after a critical incident and provides some simple, practical suggestions to help us care for ourselves and others. If you've been deployed or responded to an emergency, this is a good video to help you recover.
If you want to go deeper, you may like Headington's other resources, including a great workbook on traumatic and critical incidents.
There are a few suggestions from these resources that I want to highlight:
Write it out. Creating a coherent narrative after a traumatic or distressing event helps us to organize and integrate what happened to us (directly or indirectly). Writing allows us to make sense of things, process our emotions, step out of shaming or blaming ourselves, and gives us strength to cope and space to heal.
Here is a recording of a webinar I just gave on the topic of writing for resilience.
Constructive distraction is ok. Sometimes we need to give our minds a break from thinking and our hearts a pause from grieving.
Choose an activity that is repetitive and absorbing. For example: knitting, computer games, coloring, puzzles, Soduku, weeding the garden, organizing files, or rocking in a rocking-chair. Tetris has been shown to help with flashbacks and PTSD.
Or watch a really funny TV show. Let yourself get lost in laughter for a bit.
Reach out for help. After a traumatic event, take care of yourself and spend time with supportive people who can help you hold all of what you're experiencing. Over the course of weeks and months, things will likely get better. But sometimes this just isn't enough. If you are struggling, please don't wait to reach out for professional mental health help. If you're new to therapy, read this: A Beginner’s Guide to Therapy.
Understand what you and others are experiencing. This is a helpful guide to understanding trauma, including what it is, what we can do for ourselves, and how to help others. It includes info on when and how to get professional help.
What's Your Grief is a great resource for anything related to grieving. But if you lost a family member, including your pets, to the fires and floods (or anything else), understanding traumatic loss can help you make sense of what you may be feeling.
Try visualization exercises. Headington suggests this idea and if you want to give it a try, here's a free recording I made of a guided "safe place" visualization that we do in my online classes.
Finally, if you are suffering right now, if you are grieving, if your world is on tilt, please know that I am holding you in my heart and sending you strength and love. And if you're with others who are suffering and you're at a loss for what to do, follow minister Kate Braestrup's advice. She's the chaplain with the Maine Warden Service and she knows what she's doing:
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