The elections have come and gone. Sandy slammed into the east coast, to be followed by a Nor’easter bringing snow, rain, and wind to already- devastated places.
These events have put me back up on my soapbox once again. It’s absolutely essential to acknowledge and express the emotions we natural feel when experiencing a disaster. Many Californians who lived through the Northridge earthquake in 1994 still startle at any little unexpected noise. The same is true with residents of Santa Barbara who endured three devastating fires in 11 months, and who now really panic when it’s hot, dry, and the winds start to blow.
If we don’t express our emotions, we carry them around as permanent scars that compromise our quality of life. It’s impossible to stay present, clear, alert, and able to reach out to others from a loving place, until that pent up energy has been released.
It doesn’t matter if a disaster is natural or man-made. It elicits emotions. We’ve been schooled on how to prepare for calamity in advance, and afterwards given resources to rebuild, but to truly process events constructively and make a full recovery, we need give our emotions their due.
We must exchange the suppress and deny philosophy, with a “just dust yourself off and move on” attitude, and honor our legitimate fear, sadness, and anger..
Disasters trigger the emotion of fear first, because our survival feels threatened. It’s natural. Instead of confronting our fear, we get into our head, project into the future with worry about putting our lives back together, and feel like life is on edge.
At some point anger and sadness kick in. For some, sadness comes first, as sadness is a natural reaction when coming to terms with the magnitude of hurt and loss.
For others, anger follows fear. What happened feels like an injustice and a violation and these events naturally evoke anger. It doesn’t seem fair. We’ve lost something, and there’s nothing we can do to change it. And when relief is not at the speed we’d like, we somehow we believe we’re entitled to service now! While the rest of the world is going on, we’re still suffering.
Where does all that anger energy go? Some people vent their frustration… taking it out at the gas lines, enraged by the lack of electricity, shoving for supplies, and looking to find someone to blame.
Here are four tips to help you process personal or societal disasters so you can stay present, calm, alert, and flexible and bring forth your best self.
1. Identify what emotions you are feeling in your body and express them physically and constructively. Emotions are just pure physical sensations so move that energy out in a safe place where nothing of value is harmed, including yourself.
Move the energy physically, like a child melting down, or a dog at the vet. Cry when you feel sadness; stomp, pound, shake your fists, scream into a pillow, or push when you feel angry; and shiver, quiver, shudder, and shake when you feel fear.
2. Rewire your faulty thinking. Emotions jam up your clear thinking and your almost instantaneously default to destructive thoughts. Interrupt those thoughts and remember the reality, over and over, like 100,000 times.
*** To reduce fear, phrases like these are the best way to increase feelings of peace.
Stay specific. One thing at a time. This situation is temporary.
*** To diminish sadness and feel empowered, remind yourself of worthiness.
I’ll do what I can and the rest is out of our hands.
*** To neutralize anger mentally and increase love, repeat endlessly:
People and things are the way they are, not the way I want them to be.
3. Stay specific. Don’t try to attend to everything that needs attention at the same time. Tackle one task at a time or you’ll fuel anxiety, overwhelm, and fear.
4. Reach out and help. Gestures of giving increase love because it takes you out of the me-me-me thinking and puts you in touch with your connection to others. Just listening without giving advice is one of the best ways to give. Give what you can, given your personal resources.
5. Continue to emote as you go! Emotions will continue to arise. It’s human. Honor them and eventually they will run their course.
The results? Expressing emotional energy and keeping thinking constructive, helps us truly recover from inevitable disasters and allow us to experience more present time joy, love, and peace.