When tragedy strikes, some of us never recover, while others seem to cope quickly and easily without long-lasting impacts. Why is that?
The way we each cope and react to hardships varies greatly, and that’s OK. The differences lie in our individual temperaments, previous life experiences and our circles of support. It’s all a part of being human.
On Jan. 9, our community — our geography, our neighbors, our sense of safety and security — was changed forever. We have been in recovery mode ever since. While most of the physical remnants have been cleared, some of us still may feel a gaping hole in our hearts, especially those who are still displaced, rebuilding or grieving.
For many of us who were a bit more removed from the tragedies, we likely have been doing our best to move on and move forward. We have enjoyed the summer months and are now gearing back up for the routine and busy-ness of fall — a full nine months after the tragedies that rocked our community.
But even if we aren’t thinking about the traumas we experienced on a daily basis, the impacts are still there. Each of us have images or memories that linger. Each of us may find our energy levels are still a little low. And each of us may be carrying a bit more anxiety than usual.
We may find ourselves feeling more easily overwhelmed, with less confidence in our ability to juggle everything. Or a little more worried about the safety and security of our children. Or more anxious about the rainy season that is headed our way.
These feelings are real. They have impact, and they matter. And unfortunately, as much as we’d like them to, anxiety and stress don’t just resolve on their own. Instead, they can become persistent and lead to larger conditions, such as depression, anxiety disorder or substance abuse.
It’s important for us to take care of ourselves by talking about what we are feeling so we don’t feel alone with our thoughts. It’s important that we continue to prioritize self-care and connection so that each of us is healthy. And it’s important for us to stay alert to the well-being of our family members and friends.
This has been a tough year, and we may all need a bit more patience and support than usual. Here are a few suggestions on how we can accomplish this in our very busy daily lives:
» The transition back to school is in full swing, and with that brings its own set of anxieties for our kids. If your child is complaining about not wanting to go to school or having difficulty with their work, take time to listen to them. Don’t just try to jump in with the “perfect solution.” Sometimes it’s a simple fix. But often, something much deeper may be bothering them that has nothing to do with school. Creating time, space and connection may be the important things you can provide.
» Create a calendar so your child knows what events or activities are coming up. Depending on their age, children can create this calendar with their parents and make it a fun craft activity for a weekend.
» Make an effort to meet your children’s teachers and ask how you can help as a way to build relationships and feel more comfortable with the school year.
» Create time for unplugged downtime and family time. Buy a new board game, create a scavenger hunt at the park or build intricate sand castles at the beach. Just make it simple and focus on being together without screens.
» All too often, we focus our energy on what is out of our control. While often easier said than done, try not to worry about things that haven’t happened yet. We can run a scenario through our mind 100 times and then come to learn it unfolded completely differently — and better — than we expected.
» We may feel helpless or ill-equipped to support a friend or coworker who is sharing their fears and concerns. We don’t always know what to say or do. Just listening with an open mind can make all the difference. Or, asking the simple question “What can I do or say that will help you in this moment?” can help in profound ways.
» Remember that being mindful makes it easier to enjoy life as it occurs, helps you to become more fully engaged in activities, and creates a greater capacity to deal with adverse events. There is more than one way to practice mindfulness, but the goal is to achieve a state of alert, focused relaxation by paying attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment. This allows the mind to refocus on the present moment.
» If you are really struggling with stress and anxiety, it may benefit you to seek professional help, especially if you have experienced significant traumas or other losses in your life.
Just as we came together beautifully and vulnerably in the immediate aftermath of the twin tragedies, we need to keep showing up for each other now. We must continue to lend support and comfort to one another as we build a community of compassion — a community unified through a commitment to well-being and a generosity of spirit toward each other.
— Alana Walczak is CEO of the nonprofit CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation), a leader in developing programs and services that effectively treat child abuse and promote healing, as well as programs that help prevent abuse through family strengthening and support. Click here for more information, or call 805.965.2376. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.