Wow! What the?????
Just when we thought life might be starting to return to some kind of ‘normal’, Mother Nature had other ideas.
We keep hearing it, but these really are "unprecendented times". With Drought, Bushfire and COVID wreaking havoc over the past few years, the roll out of COVID vaccinations, the easing of COVID restrictions, and the possibilities for local travel, it was looking like the worst was behind us. Yet here we are, facing the challenge of devastating floods.
Signs of Stress
It’s at times like this when we have been under stress for a prolonged period when we can start to question if things will ever feel ‘normal’ again.
We might notice things like:
Physical effects such as: poor sleep, fatigue, nausea, heartburn, headaches, racing heart rate,
Behavioural effects like: eating, too much or too little, consuming alcohol or substances, risky behaviours, sleeping too much or not at all, making mistakes, having accidents, avoiding others
Emotional effects for example: sadness, rage, anxiety, tears, panic, impatience, numbness
Cognitive effects: worrying, being forgetful, impaired decisions-making, distorted memories, intrusive thoughts
These effects can have a profound impact on our daily functioning at work, at home, on our mental and physical health. It can help to recognise what is happening and to understand the simple ways you can help to manage the feelings of overwhelm.
The Stress Response
You have probably heard about the ‘Fight/Flight’ response, a normal and natural reaction that is controlled by the autonomic nervous system. It kicks in automatically and is designed to help us to act quickly to protect ourselves from harm; either to run away or to stand and fight, when our safety is threatened.
This is an automatic, biological process that increases the heart rate and breathing to increase delivery of the oxygen to our muscles, our vision and hearing become sharper, and rational decision-making parts of the brain go ‘offline’ so that we can react quickly, without wasting valuable time overthinking.
This is normally a short-term, temporary state that settles quickly once the threat is no longer present. However during times of prolonged stress, as in the case of disasters and other long term crisis situations, the fight -flight reflex can become exaggerated and we may need to take steps to soothe our bodies back to a more normative state.
Focussing on what you can control, and paying attention to your body’s basic survival needs of rest, food, water, movement and social connection can help to restore the body and allow recovery. Treating yourself kindly and re-establishing some simple regular routines is a priority.
Rest: Functioning at high stress for prolonged periods is exhausting, resting your body and mind is so important. Regular sleep patterns, getting up at the same time each day and going to bed at the same time each night, while resisting temptation to nap during the day time will help the body to re-set.
Food and Water: If you have access to the supermarket, can you take some time to plan a simple menu of foods that you enjoy, and perhaps do some batch cooking? Focus on a variety of foods and try to ‘tune in’ what your body needs. Chew slowly and pay attention to the taste and texture of your food. You may wish to prepare extra to offer to a neighbour. Drink plenty of water and see if you can limit intake of coffee, soft drinks and alcohol.
Movement: The weather and the effects of the flood probably rule out getting outside for a walk in nature at the moment, however it can be beneficial to find ways to move your body. See if you can include gentle movement such as yoga, or dancing to your favourite music at home.
Other simple activities that can be soothing include coloring in, singing or humming, jigsaw puzzles, a warm shower. Take time to really engage in what you are doing, noticing the light, the colour, the sounds, the smells
Social Connection: It’s also really important to maintain connection with family and friends, and to limit exposure to news media. Helping others and engaging with people in the community, offering a smile or a kind word in your daily interactions not only helps them, but also triggers the release of ‘feel-good’ chemicals in the brain and stimulates a sense of safety and belonging.
It’s all about the breath
One of the quickest and easiest ways to soothe the nervous system is to focus on breathing. Breathing fully and deeply provides a focus for the mind, delivers oxygen to the body and sends messages of safety to the nervous system.
Begin by pushing your feet into the floor, and exhaling slowly through the mouth; emptying all the air out of your lungs. Notice the feel of your belly and chest falling and the feel of the warm air as it moves up and out through your throat and mouth as you do this.
Then allow your lungs to fill back up naturally, breathing in through the nostrils, and paying attention to the feel of the cool air flowing into your nose and down into your lungs and noticing how your chest and belly expand. You might want to place a hand onto your belly where it rises and falls, or on your chest over your heart.
While continuing to breath slowly and deeply in this way for a few minutes, you might also want to think about dropping your shoulders, and straightening your spine as you gradually draw your attention back into your body.
When ready, you may want to gently turn your head to take a look around you. Where are you? What’s around you? Are you inside or out? Is it daylight or dark? Then, try to really listen. Can you hear something far away? Something very quiet?
If you are looking for inspiration to get moving, check out these:
Yoga involves gentle stretches and breathing that can strengthen the body and has many health benefits.
Active Seniors has been providing regular gentle exercise programs since the pandemic began.
There are many mindfulness and mediation apps available that can be really helpful for giving you a little bit of 'time out' and help to calm a racing mind. They are most helpful when practiced regularly and can give you some precious time out from the busy-ness of recovery.
You will find some of my favourites here
Talk to Someone
If you are feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of recent events, it can be helpful to speak to someone who is empathic, non-judgmental and not directly involved in your life.
There are many options for immediate support via phone, video app and web-based services that are available 24/7 here
If you or someone you know is in a life-threatening situation please call 000.
Face to face counselling can also be helpful in identifying troublesome thoughts that may be getting in the way, and in teaching useful strategies and tools that can help.
In my counselling, among other things, I help people find ways to:
Pay more attention to the things that matter
Quieten the negative inner voice
Calm the nervous system
Soothe the tension in the body
Linda from Smooth Sailing Counselling offers In-Person Individual Adult Counselling in Port Macquarie and Tele-Counselling via Zoom.