Image courtesy of Sukey Lewis
By Julie Waters, MFT
Even as families recover from the fires, the emotional recovery is just beginning. Many people are left with shock, disbelief, grief, fear, a sense of hyper vigilance or “survivor’s guilt.” In Sonoma County, our routines are altered, and we are all in shock from this unexpected event. We are grieving on all different levels.
The community’s love and willingness to help promotes a sense of togetherness and mutual support that is healing. But what can you do when you are alone meeting feelings of fear, loss, uncertainty, stress, and sadness? And what about in the coming months as this disaster is farther away but the impact still real for many?
Here are some ways you can take care of yourself as we all move forward through this disaster and its aftermath.
- Acknowledge that your feelings are valid. There is no right way to respond to a situation like this. Be especially patient with yourself and others, and let your process unfold.
- Listen to your feelings. What are they telling you? Do you need to rest, talk to a trusted loved one, be alone, cry? If you feel unsafe, do you need reassurance? Listen to your body and your feelings.
- Take a risk to ask for help when you need it. Once you have a sense of what you need, think of who could help and ask them. If you don’t feel comfortable going to the people you know, seek out a counselor or call a hotline. Many therapists in this community are ready to support you.
- Give yourself a pep talk. In moments you feel overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to be your own best fiend. Try talking to yourself in the second person. Remind yourself that you and our community will get through this. It may be hard, it may be sad, but it will be done.
- Regression: In times of great shock, you may notice old feelings and reactions resurfacing, or a sense of nostalgia. This is called regression. It’s normal and it should pass.
- Balance: It’s important to find a balance between meeting the feelings that come up and staying engaged in your life, however altered that may be. What makes you happy in normal times? Try to do that, even if it feels odd.
- When you’re feeling overwhelmed, try the following:
- Breathe in for three seconds, then out for six. Repeat that three times. It should decrease your fight or flight system.
- Stretching or yoga releases tension and emotions held in the body.
- Do mindful meditation and visualizations. You can visualize a place where you feel safe and happy. Picture yourself there. Or focus on a safe happy future for yourself.
- Exercise at a gym or outside when the air is clear enough.
- Watch a feel-good movie or TV show.
- Ask for a hug. Physical contact can be reassuring for many.
- Find humor! What and who makes you laugh?
- Help others. Many find that volunteering time to help others keeps your mind off of stressors and provides a sense of togetherness and positive impact.
- Focus on something else. Do activities that take concentration like puzzles or mind games.
- Write about your feelings, your thoughts, your experience, your hopes and fears.
- Paint or draw or do other soothing art activities.
- Read a good book.
- Get outside when the weather and air permits it.
- Take your dog for a walk. Spend time with animals.
- Take breaks from looking at, reading or talking about the disaster.
- Remember to eat good meals and drink lots of water. Having a well functioning body helps manage stress. If food is hard to come by, look for the Bite Club food prep donations, or contact the Redwood Food Bank.
Remember that as horrible as this is, many communities have recovered from natural disasters and we will too. #SonomaStrong #SonomaProud
- Text BAY to 741741 to chat with a trained crisis counselor.
- If you think you are having a mental health crisis, call the Sonoma County 24-hour Mental Health Hotline (800) 746-8181, or 911.
- To find a therapist, call your insurance to find out about your mental health coverage.
- org is a great resource for finding a counselor.
- My non-profit mental health agency, SOS Community Counseling, is offering eight free sessions of therapy to those affected by the fires. Clinics are in Santa Rosa, Windsor, and Rohnert Park. Call use at 707-284-3444, or find us at soscounseling.org or on Facebook.
This this story was originally published in the Sonoma County Gazette.