Harvey and the Rest of Us

In spite of mayhem already wreaked by Hurricane Harvey, we do not yet know what its total impact will be. Right now, those in the path of rising waters are still focused on seeking safety and self-protection – as they well should be. That’s fight or flight chemistry at work.

Eventually the waters will recede. Recovery efforts will begin. And as occurred after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we can expect many devastated survivors to take to the four winds as they seek temporary refuge or a new life elsewhere. We will likely meet them locally.

What can we do to make a difference? Yes, we can volunteer services that will help them get back on their feet. But what about the emotional consequences of their experiences, ones that social connections play a such a huge role in alleviating? Is there any way we can help?

The answer is right there, at our fingertips. We can share what we’ve learned in our fight with “cogjam,” those cognitive logjams we sometimes fall victim to with ongoing socio-political stress.

No, cogjam is nowhere near as devastating as what those in Texas are going through. But emotional coping is the same, regardless of the disaster: compassion, self-awareness, perspective taking, prayer, mindfulness, conscious effort to move forward, or whatever else helps you find inner peace.

What have you learned from your experiences with cogjam? How has it affected you? What are your solutions for coping, or defeating it overall?

We can share what we’ve learned. Likewise, they may be willing to share what they’ve learned. They will find personal strengths they never knew they had in their process of escaping catastrophe and moving forward.

It’s a win-win for everybody.

For information about providing psychological first aid for disaster survivors, see handouts listed at http://www.who.int/mental_health/world-mental-health-day/2016/en/.

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Cogjam Alert: Your Chance to Be Part of the Solution

It’s safe to say most everyone wouldn’t mind if all the political posturing and divisiveness took a sudden nosedive into the sunset. As mentioned in an earlier post, healing for this mental health disaster is a work in progress. Thanks to resilience, many of us have already found ways to step back, or do whatever else might tone down knee-jerk reactions from our overextended fight-or-flight chemistry.

One popular collection of strategies involves limiting input from sources that tend to pump up this type of stress:

  • Following only enough media reports to be informed
  • Being especially selective about which social media contacts’ newsfeeds to follow
  • While among others, simply not bringing up anything related to the socio-political situation

. . . and plenty more. My current draft of The Cogjam Effect includes suggestions similar to those above. Many people are discovering new ways to apply strengths, and doing it well. With this in mind, perhaps you have suggestions to add:

  • What have you noticed about your own coping?
  • What helps you calm the primitive brain’s surges of angst when toxic input crosses your path?
  • What new strengths have you discovered in yourself as you travel this journey?
  • Or, what do you see others do that seems to make things less tense?

This is your chance to share the wealth with those who are searching. Assessing your existing or newly emerging  strengths is also an important step for laying to rest your own symptoms of cogjam. Please leave suggestions or observations in the box below–a great way to be part of the cogjam solution.

 

Little Ones and the Unthinkable

Incidents like yesterday’s shooting at Umpqua Community College put our resilience to the test. We will grieve because of it. We will each process the tragic incident in our own way. We continue to move on. Life goes on.

For children, it’s more complicated. Their personal resilience is not yet fully developed. children playingThey rely on their support system’s resilience to get them through disaster. For most, this means turning to parents and other significant adults for comfort and direction.

What should we say to a child when he or she asks about the horrific? Especially when it involves a shooting at a school, an environmental setting that is so prominent in their own lives. We cannot completely hide such incidents from them, given how they promote so much discussion and media coverage. What can we do to help keep a child from becoming an emotional casualty, after the fact? Continue reading

Taking Care of the Helper

“Thanks for all you do.” Those who observe the effort, sacrifice and dedication of workers helping others during adversity often share this sincere appreciation. Their kind words do help.

The most critical need for the helper journey is ongoing restoration of the soul. The spirit of disengagedwhat leads us into public service occasionally needs replenishing. Without it we become depleted, “burnt-out” as labeled by the vernacular. It matters not whether we’re helping as a friend or neighbor, an agency volunteer, or a professional responder.

There isn’t one right answer for how to best avoid burnout. We each find our own answer to the question, “What restores me?” Continue reading

Trauma, or Broadcast Drama?

fire emergency“What a mess. Those poor people. How horrible. I’d like to help…but wouldn’t I end up just as messed up as the people on TV look? What about vicarious trauma? Compassion fatigue? Even PTSD?”

It’s true. Helping with disaster isn’t for everybody.

However, if you’re never been through disaster, and you base your perspective solely on what you see in the media, you may not have a balanced view. Dramatic scenes of damage, suffering victims, and emotionally overwhelmed emergency responders are the usual favored fare. They get the most press because they sell advertising space better than stories about those who rise to the challenge. Continue reading

The Many Faces of Helping Those in Need

“You’re an angel.” The woman nodded, her certainty smiling back at me. “I know you are. I can see it in your eyes.”

rescue dog and handlerIt wasn’t the first time I’d received such a whimsical compliment after an interlude with a disaster survivor. Not that I ever fell into believing I’d donned some form of celestial avatar. I’m your usual mortal, bludgeoning my way through common inadequacies and annoying life foibles, the same as everyone else.

My new friend’s star-struck observation did strike at a chord of truth, one that resonates throughout the realm of addressing disaster needs. Contributions to recovery go beyond the feeding, sheltering, and other concrete resources typically thought of following disaster. Just as important is the intangible. Continue reading