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.

 

Why Are There Anniversary Reactions?

Another September 11th has come and gone. Remembrances were shared, stories told, honors given. We pick up, we move on.

Yet feelings may linger. Perhaps it is something you can’t exactly put a finger on–some timevague discomfort. Maybe it’s an unidentifiable sense of loss, anxiety, or anger. Whatever it is, it followed a crescendo as the date approached, and now slowly ebbs as time marches beyond.

Why do anniversary reactions happen? Not just on September 11th, but on any date marking an experience of trauma or loss? Continue reading

Calming the Storm

gazelle running“Why do I always feel so worked up? Why can’t I just relax?”

Our bodies are blessed with a “fight, flight, or freeze” response system. It’s a chemical chain of events that kicks in during times of urgency. Animals in the wild most clearly demonstrate its value. Engaging a foe, running from a predator, and freezing to become invisible are all practices that increase longevity. They are essential to survival. Such physical activity also uses up the chemicals that pump up the response.

With human beings, how it might be funneled into survival is not always clear-cut, especially following disaster. At first a course of action may be obvious, like gathering up loved ones and/or possessions, getting out of harm’s way, or helping with sandbags or rescue efforts. At other times, it means a lot of sitting around: hunkering down in a shelter, anticipating news of what happened or if you can go home, and waiting for relief resources to move in.

After the storm passes, additional considerations emerge:

  • How widespread is the damage?
  • What happened to the rest of my family and friends?
  • How are our lives going to be affected by this?
  • Are we going to make it?
  • Is it really over?
  • Will it happen again?

Such worries pump up our bodies for action. It’s the same as a gazelle out on the savannah, running from a lion. During disaster there generally isn’t any lion for us to run from, perhaps not even an idea of what could be done at the moment. The result is that dealing with disaster can turn into sitting and stewing in our own juices. Doing so brings about a host of physical, mental, and behavioral ailments. Those of us who go through severe trauma during a disaster are especially at risk. Continue reading