The federal government continually assesses the level of alert status and encourages us to prepare for this possibility of another terrorist attack. Local and federal governments have issued guidelines: have food and water on hand, arrange a meeting place and way to communicate with your loved ones, create a first aid kit, and so forth. These are important considerations for unexpected events.
Preparing in these practical ways is very important, but what about preparing inside? Whenever a disaster occurs, people feel shaken up. Usual patterns and routines are disrupted, significant loss may occur, and assumptions about the world and one’s safety are challenged. How could you get ready emotionally and spiritually? Following are some things you can do on a regular basis to help yourself be equipped to respond more effectively.
Basic self care is an important way to strengthen yourself and make sure that you are at your best no matter what you face each day. Whether facing ordinary stress or unexpected traumas, being strong and healthy will help you respond effectively. Some ways to take care of yourself are generally known. For example, it’s important to eat a balanced diet. Your body needs the nutrients found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein sources. Salty snacks, sweets, and fast food deplete your body by depriving it of the nutrients you need.
It’s also important to drink lots of water. Your body needs water to renew and cleanse itself as well as to perform its many functions. Your body can use water instantly, no processing is needed as with other liquids.
Another often heard self-care practice is to exercise regularly. This happens most easily when you put it into your daily routine. Exercise rejuvenates your body, improves your immune system, promotes your cardiovascular health, develops muscular flexibility and strength, and enhances your energy and alertness. If necessary, check with your doctor to get advice on the appropriate amount and type of exercise.
Finally, in terms of your physical well being, it’s important to get enough sleep. Your body and mind renew themselves during sleep. Adequate sleep is necessary for your immune system to function properly. Memory and attention are facilitated by enough rest and good quality sleep.
To be at your best, you need to take care of your inner self as well. Feeling secure in your connections with others and having adequate support provides strength and stability, especially in a time of crisis. Therefore, nurture your relationships. This can be accomplished by spending time with those you love, enjoying each other’s company, and doing what you love doing. It’s even worthwhile to waste time together and to play. Having serious talks, saying what needs to be said, and resolving hurts and disagreements are critical in order to be on good terms with each other. You and your loved ones need to be clear about what’s important to you and what’s important about your relationship.
In a crisis, emotions surge. As your body experiences the age-old response to danger and prepares to fight or flee, your emotions are responding to what the situation means for you personally. To be as steady as possible in such a situation, it’s important to care for yourself emotionally on a regular basis. You can do this by making conscious efforts to be aware of your needs and address them and by taking responsibility for yourself. This involves knowing and respecting your limits, being clear with others about what you can do, and being able to say "no" when necessary.
Identifying your feelings and expressing them in appropriate ways clears the emotional air and leaves you free to be present to the next thing that comes up. If you keep a journal you can release your feelings by writing (or drawing) and can process your thoughts and reactions as well. By identifying your motivations you’ll achieve a fuller understanding of yourself. If there are longstanding sources of distress in your life, do your best to resolve them. And get support from others; know that you are not alone.
Strengthen yourself and improve your self-esteem by catching yourself doing what you like and being the way you want to be. Appreciate your goodness and the likable things about yourself. Practice letting go of things over which you have no control and focus on what you can do instead. Above all, be gentle with yourself. Treat yourself kindly, especially when you are disappointed with yourself or make a mistake. You, like everyone, make changes most easily with understanding and gentle encouragement, not ridicule and criticism.
An emergency takes you by surprise and requires immediate action. As your body is experiencing the fight-flight reaction, you are trying to sort out what needs to be done. This is often hard because of the nervousness and fear you are experiencing. When you practice calming yourself regularly, then you will be able to draw on that skill to calm yourself down. This will allow you to think more clearly and make better decisions.
One way to do this is as follows (you’ll need to concentrate, so silence or quiet music will be the most useful): Focus on your breath or a word or phrase. Notice your breathing slow down and deepen. Your body may feel either lighter or heavier as you relax more deeply. When your thoughts go to other things, just bring your focus back to your breath or the word or phrase you chose. Sometimes focusing on an image of a peaceful relaxing place is helpful.
There’s no one right way to do this. Choose what you think will work for you and give it a try. Experiment with different methods to find what works best for you. Spend at least 5-10 minutes each day relaxing and calming yourself in this way. Ideally spend 20-30 minutes each day doing this, either all at once or spread out over 2-3 sittings.
Sudden and startling events present you with choices and decisions to make. If you are clear about what is really important to you, it will be easier to do this. Take some time to identify your values. What is important to you about life? What are the qualities you value most in a person? Spend some time with these questions and focus on the answers. Keep them in mind as you go about your day. Think about how you can nurture and strengthen your commitment to them.
For example, you may value being a loving person, being fair, and treating others with respect. To strengthen these values you may decide to remember that there’s always a context for any words or behavior, especially those that rub you the wrong way or appear negative. If you value being dependable, you might decide to address your problems with being late or you might decide to find a way to be sure to follow through on what you say you’ll do.
Disastrous situations call into question your most basic assumptions and beliefs about the world and life. When you cultivate your spirituality in whatever way is best for you, you strengthen your ability to deal with mystery and you marshal your resources which support you in a difficult situation. So, connect with something larger than yourself: God, your Higher Power, Light, Oneness, Love, the Universe, nature, beauty, or the web of life.
In addition, take time to pray, to meditate, to be quiet, to just be. Reading uplifting material (whether found in poetry, scripture, or inspirational literature) will connect you with what’s important and meaningful to you. Help yourself know about something larger than yourself and about goodness by noticing and appreciating all the things in your life that bring you joy, hope, beauty, contentment, courage, and love. Making a gratitude list every night is another avenue for increasing your awareness of the goodness in life. Do this by writing down 5 things for which you are grateful. Joining with others to pray or focus on any of these practices can be encouraging and helpful.
Finally, in the aftermath of a traumatic event, you may feel shaken about the meaning of life and the inherent goodness of the world. Prepare ahead of time with practices that take action to affirm life. For example, give something of yourself (donate food, make a financial contribution to your favorite charity, volunteer, or provide some service to others).
Or make it a point to practice random acts of kindness. Perhaps offering comfort and support to someone else is the way for you. Or you can use your own talents and gifts by being creative (cook, write, garden, build, draw, sew, paint, etc.). And definitely remember to notice what you enjoy and to do something pleasurable.
By actively doing something to support what you do believe is real and true about life, you’ll strengthen your connection with what is important to you. In the event of a disaster, it will be good to have these practices available to help you get through the grief and distress, and so come to terms with the event.
You may be doing some of these things already and will want to add to your repertoire of self-care activities. Or you may not be doing any of them. If that’s the case, there’s no need to panic or be overwhelmed. All that’s needed is to choose one or two and give them a try. It’s best to choose those that would be the easiest to do unless you already know that some are especially suited to your current needs.
To make changing behavior more fun, work on it with a friend. Supporting one another and sharing ideas already accomplishes some of the recommendations! Developing these practices takes time and using them goes on forever. They can become a way of life and while ensuring that you will be at your best in the event of an emergency, they will also improve the quality of your life generally.