Obviously experiencing a tropical storm is a major life event. I learned much from the storm including how to manage anxiety after disaster.
During the tropical storm, we battled water leaking into the home for hours. We worried about not having safe drinking water or if the electricity would come back on. The loss of life and devastation of property was unnerving. I was feeling unbalanced and anxious for days afterwards. Until I happened to offer a woman a ride. She had lost everything in the storm. Her home. All her possessions. Yet she had good calm energy and a smile on her face. She focused on the blessing that her family was healthy and unharmed. What she experienced was so much worse than what I did, yet she acted as if it was just another normal day.
After meeting her I began to notice how those around me handled the aftermath. Those who focused on loss and devastation, reinforced and built up their anxiety. Those who focused on what they still had and on rebuilding and recovering, appeared happy and calm. Here are a few tips on how to move forward positively after shocking or disturbing events.
Don’t Focus on What If: After the storm, we were very lucky. The power turned on quickly. Potable city water was not flowing, but we could order a water truck. We had our basic necessities, yet much of my mental space was occupied by worries that what we had would go away. I was concerned about how long it would take things to get back to normal. This focus on the “what if’s” increased my anxiety. When you find yourself obsessed with things which are not currently a reality, stop. Look at what is true in the very moment. It is helpful to plan for contingencies, but it is not helpful to focus and worry about things which may never materialize.
Don’t Focus on Loss: When we lose people and things that we love, it is important and necessary to mourn. What is not necessary is obsessing about our loss. After the storm, it became common practice for conversations to start with a laundry list of what was lost or damaged. These conversations often became a competition for who had it worse. But all this focus on loss subtracts from our lives. Instead take an inventory of all you do have. This stops the loss and refills you with hope and positivity.
Accept the New Normal: After the storm, streets, power and water were out. This was the new normal. Fighting this reality only caused pain. Things were not what they used to be. This is similar to releasing the what if’s. Whether it is worrying about may happen or wishing that things are different than they are, either way we are focused on an imagined version of reality. Step into the current moment, see things as they are and accept them as the new normal. Stop saying, “this shouldn’t have happened” or “this is unusual.” The truth is it did happen and perhaps it is rare but now that it happened it is the new normal. Acceptance of reality releases anxiety.
Take Action: Sitting around replaying the event only serves to keep you stuck. Take action. Large or small doesn’t matter. It is simply the act of physically moving that helps disrupt the feelings of anxiety. Taking action to help others has added benefits. Making even small efforts for others breaks us out of our pity party, helps us be grateful, and fills us with a sense of accomplishment.
Whether due to unusual weather or the senseless acts of others, we are faced frequently these days with major anxiety producing events. When these hit, remember to focus on reality not what if; to count your blessings not your losses; to accept a new reality; and to take some action, no matter how small, to get you moving forward again.
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