When Disaster Strikes

As a country, we've seen a lot of disaster in the last several weeks. Wildfires in California and Washington, Hurricane Harvey flooding in Texas, Hurricane Irma wreaking havoc on the Caribbean and Florida. And today is the 16th anniversary of 9/11.

People have many different reactions to disaster, trauma, and loss. Some become angry, some shut down, others dissociate, people turn to food, drugs, alcohol, and sex, while some run from discomfort, and others swoop in to try to fix it. Whatever your coping style, just notice it. How do you typically react? Many times coping skills are aimed at not feeling whatever uncomfortable emotion is coursing through our brains and bodies. But these emotions tell us something important. In the face of discomfort, we deny our own experiences, we shut off a part of ourselves. This part can do no more good to ourselves or our community if we deny that it's there. And often times, in the wake of disaster, this part that gets turned off is a very raw, beautiful, human part. These are the parts that make us whole, that connect us to others.

So how can you use these powers for the good of yourself and those around you? Sitting with uncomfortable emotions, allowing them to be there -- I get it, they're uncomfortable for a reason, right? See if you can find a way to help that honors your experience of being uncomfortable. If you tend to react to disaster by shutting down, call up one friend and have a brief conversation about how hard it is to see other humans suffer. Chances are, your friend may identify with that and your burden will be lightened. (Theirs too!) If you react with trying to fix it, volunteer with your local Red Cross or other disaster relief agency and see if there's anything they need. Even if the disaster is in your community, they can point you in the right direction. Donate money, clean socks, or canned food. If your coping skill is avoidance (e.g., using substances or food, staying off social media for a while to protect yourself, etc.), sit with that. How can you meet this need to protect yourself in a way that doesn't deny that disaster is currently happening? Connect with a friend, lean on those around you who are your support.

Whatever your coping style, spend a minute and think about how you learned to cope with discomfort and difficulty in that way. Approach this with curiosity - what purpose does it serve? Where did it come from? What is it protecting you from? What is it trying to teach you? Is there another way to feel safe and secure?

Self-care is ok. It's ok to lean on friends and family during hard times - this is how we social creatures known as humans survive. Be kind to yourself, be kind to others, band together, help out, send love to others and to yourself. We're all in this together.