“Dr. Linda, now that the hurricane is over I feel like freaking out but I’m worried about my daughter and how it will affect her.”
How you cope during and after a disaster influences how well your kids will cope.The better your self-care , the better you will handle challenges.
The better you handle challenges the better your children learn to cope.
Modelling healthy ways to manage difficult situations and feelings is one of the most important gifts you can give your children.
During and after an emergency you are busy so taking care of your children and loved ones, readying your home and possibly evacuating it, as well as preparing what you need to be safe that it is easy to forget about taking care of yourself.
Self-care is not selfish. The calmer and more focused you are, the better you’ll be able to support your kids.
The more effectively you guide your kids through their worries and fears the fewer the long-term effects the disaster will have on them.
Self-care during stressful times:
After the immediate disaster has passed here are a few tips:
- Eat regular meals (healthy food if possible) when you can.
- Exercise: Even if you are stuck in a small space or are traveling you can still do some exercise: jumping jacks, yoga, even stretching are all forms of exercise and will help you( and your kids) relieve stress.
- Get as much sleep as possible. Being overtired makes everything seem more difficult to deal with.
- Get back to your normal routines as quickly as you can.
- Use any of the following techniques to help you handle challenging emotions. You can teach them to your children so they can use them too.
- Deep breathing.
- The body scan.
- Practicing positivity.
Facing a situation that threatens your safety can cause strong negative feelings like fear and panic. These feelings can activate the fight or flight response.This can cause your heart to pound, your palms to sweat, your breathing to get shallow, and your long-term thinking to get a little slower. An important part of self-care is to handle this stress response in a healthy way. Deep breathing is a quick, easy way to turn off your fight or flight or flight response.
- Breathe in through your nose to a slow count of 4 then breathe out through your mouth to a slow count of 8. Do this at least three times.
- Take a few moments to notice how you feel.
- If you feel calmer and more focused, great. If not, you may want to take a few moments to try a different technique such as the body scan.
The Body Scan:
This technique works well when you notice you have a lot of tension in your body, are not relaxing with deep breathing or are having physical symptoms of stress like headaches or backaches.
Close your eyes and scan your body. Pay attention to each different area. Is your neck tight, are you clenching your teeth? Are your shoulders up around your ears? Is your stomach in a knot? Are your legs tight?
- Once you have located the tense areas start deep breathing again. This time imagine sending your breath into and out of the tight areas allowing them to relax. When that happens, make sure to take a few moments to acknowledge yourself for a job well done!
- If you are really tense, and the above technique has not gotten you where you want to be, please don’t waste any time judging yourself or feeling like you failed. The fact is, stress can be difficult to deal with. Instead, stay with it and try the following technique which is a tense and release exercise for your muscles:
- Start at your feet and really tense them up. Scrunch them up and make them as hard and rigid as you can. Hold this tension for a count of 20, or better still, till you feel you can’t hold it anymore. Now release the tension. Notice how relaxed your feet feel.
- Now move up to your calves and do the same thing. Slowly go up your body until you have done this with each area. Don’t forget your face or your scalp!
- Remember to breathe while you are holding the tension so that you get the most benefit from this exercise.
- Once you’re done scan your body again. Notice how soft and relaxed your muscles have become and acknowledge that you did it!
As humans, our nervous systems have been hard-wired to look for danger and for things that could hurt us. This tendency to find the negative can make some of us feel helpless, overwhelmed and less effective at making decisions during times of disaster.
Changing your mindset is an important aspect of self-care especially during times of high stress. Positivity practice is a scientifically proven way to activate the relaxation area of your brain. The activation of this area (the parasympathetic nervous system) calms you and puts you in a much better place to make the important the decisions you may need to make during or after a disaster. It also puts you in a great place to effectively support your kids and minimize the long-term impact the disaster will have on them.
Keep a gratitude journal :
Making a list of 3-5 things you are grateful for every day is an easy way to become more positive and less stressed. Doing this just before bed (and with your child) is a great way to end your day and release stress so you get a good nights sleep and wake up in a good frame of mind. If you don’t have a journal available any piece of paper will do, even a napkin.
The Positivity practice:
Sit down in a quiet place and take three deep breaths. If you can’t find a quiet place or can’t sit down just do it wherever you are.
With your eyes open or closed search for two or three things that are going right: I know it may seem very difficult but you can do this. Just in case you need some help, maybe you can try one of these: You’re still breathing, there are many people working to help make things better for you and your family, you have a roof over your head (even if it isn’t yours).
Now turn your full attention onto each one of these things and really feel gratitude for it. Imagine the gratitude you feel is a bright white light gently spreading through your whole body from the bottom of your feet up to the crown of your head, send this light to each cell of your body. Spend as long as you like doing this.
When you’re done, you can carry these good feelings into the rest of your day if you want to.
- Practice this as many times a day as you want. Twice a day is a good place to start, once when you get up in the morning and again before you go to bed.
The above practices will help most people to some degree. Sometimes though, you may need extra help.
Get outside help if you need it:
If you are really having a difficult time coping, please reach out to outside sources. It is natural to feel strong and sometimes overwhelming emotions at times of high stress. Your self-care is extremely important to you and your children’s well-being.
There is no shame in asking for help.
Two very good resources that are available are The Red Cross and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration(SAMHSA).
For the Red Cross dial 1-(800) RED-CROSS.
For the SAMSHA disaster distress hotline dial 1-800-985-5990, text‘TalkWithUs’ to 66746, or visit their website at http://www.disasterdistress.samhsa.gov
As always, I would love to hear from you. What are your most successful self-care strategies? What are your most difficult challenges? Your greatest successes?Please post them in the comments below.
To your holistic health,