Have you ever said, “that won’t ever happen to me”? Research shows that 95% of the people in the US believe just that. Nothing will happen to them. It is also reported that at least 60% of US population has indeed been affected by tragedy. With all the fires, explosions, natural disasters along with the fear of terrorism are we starting to get “shock proof”? Are we saturated with grief? Did 9/11 numb us to the grief of other tragedies? Is it possible for us to ever become indifferent to the heartbreak of others? Too much stress can shut us down putting us in a novocain numbness causing us to show unconcern towards people. Grief piling up on grief, the mountain becomes harder and harder to climb. Poet John Donne once said, “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” It is only natural to grieve and to allow ourselves to cave into emotional sorrow while not being fearful that our reactions will be perceived as inappropriate.
We are constantly bombarded with violently disturbing images and the painfully drawn faces of the survivors as well as the witnesses to tragedy. The news media is up close and personal with survivors and medical workers showing the details of swollen encrusted grief filled eyes. With each pivotal tragedy it is important to brace the impact by staying an efficient effective gatekeeper to our own emotional harmony.
Constantly trying to make sense out of the senseless is one way we try to gain control back into our lives. It provides a way to feel safe and comfortable in our own skins again. If we can connect the dots finding reason to what has happened we feel better. If we can connect together in rising up in anger or huddling together in fear against terrorism we feel united. We strive for control of our emotional balance to enable ourselves to go on to a life filled with everyday purpose. It seems that one disaster is out shocking the last one. Oozing heart wounds are opened up once again and shadow grief creeps in. Shadow grief is defined as being the part of the grieving process that is triggered by various times, smells, places and/or events that remind us of a past grief. Signs of shadow grief include a loss of energy, focus and interest. That feeling of “powerless to make a difference” pounces on us invading our self-esteem. One way we have learned to deal with community shadow grief is by remembering anniversary dates of disastrous events by coming together ceremoniously sharing sorrow and opening up healing.
These crises lead us to some painful aftereffects. For friends and family of the victims, they yearn for time to stand still. For witnesses and those of us connected to tragedy through the media, time may seem both full speed and snail slow. These disasters force us to dig deep seeking our internal compass. A compass that leads us in the direction for gaining back control in our life. A compass that directs us to the actions we will take in finding harmony. Whatever action we take it generates a result. Every result makes a difference meaning every single day each one of us makes a difference in this world through our actions.
Conquering life’s hurtles requires concerted effort in gaining back control and finding emotional harmony. Constantly being forced to rethink our values and to stir up our spirits puts us in the mode of exploration – of ourselves. This exploration will reveal to us how to crystallize our thinking. We discover the importance of taking responsibility for our emotions. We recognize what we can change and control about ourselves. We find and muster up courage to face our fears. Finally we clear our minds of junk speak which is the negative thinking rooted in our fear of being out of control. Negative junk speak includes seeing things as extremes. It is the “all or nothing” kind of thinking. Self-defacing comments in which we label ourselves or in which we blame ourselves prove to be an example of our unyielding perfectionist expectation of situations. This continues on as the junk speak makes us feel helpless and completely out of control. By using positive speak we will find harmony. Concentrate on what we did “good” today and give a “pat on the back” credit. Balance the scales on situations. By finding the pros and the cons we can filter out what we can not change and focus in on what we can change. Look to the future. By opening up our minds to see the big picture we can rise above and not get stuck in the details. Work on being flexible. Not everything can go or will go our way, staying flexible ignites our ability to find alternate resources.
Coping competence includes physical, people, management, and action skills.
How we respond to loss whether it is personal, community, national and /or international is the key factor to our emotional harmony. Each disaster becomes a formidable opponent to our coping skills and to our ability for leading a normal life. The following are helpful ways to develop good coping skills:
- Stay connected with people
- Keep up with the news but watch for “news” over load
- Maintain your regular routine
- Make sure you take time to laugh and relax
- Volunteer, send donations, give blood, take a first aid class
- Take vitamin C. It supports the immune system
- Take B-complex. It supports the body’s ability to handle stress
- Get your body moving. Even light exercise helps with the stress level.
- Get plenty of rest and eat well
- Spend time with those you love
- Recall how you have handled intense emotions in the past
- Channel energy into something creative. Write in a journal. Try art or music therapy.
- Reconnect with nature
- Don’t cover up your feelings with overeating, over drinking, or over medicating
- Focus on your spiritual beliefs
- Redirect anger into a passion for a positive cause
- Drink lots of water with lemon for balancing the body’s pH level
- Plan your time well
- Take time out to get perspective
- Get active in a hobby
- Learn to ask for help
- Communicate how you feel
- Say “no” when you need to
- Talk and then talk some more
Talking is an incredible healing instrument. When we communicate our feelings we can better understand our thought processes. As we listen to ourselves, we need to check our words for junk speak or positive speak. Talk with a friend, family member, clergy, or with a professional. Some people find it comfortable to talk to groups or in a group setting. Some have a much harder time. For those of us who find it difficult to share inner most feelings, try a video camera and play it back to witness your words. Talking and sharing our stories fosters others as well as ourselves. Lending an ear to others for sharing their stories of emotional peaks and valleys helps us restore our own emotional harmony.
Stinging tragedies do leave us feeling injured and defenseless, however when we keep our internal compass always heading towards emotional harmony we do come back to center. Each disaster springs forth-positive growth. We stop taking our loved ones for granted. We no longer have to be woodenly professional in expressing ourselves. We can cry and we can reach out for help and it is not conceived as weakness. We understand more and more that the most important time is “now”. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow hasn’t arrived so live in the moment while preparing for the future. By understanding that we are not singled out in tragedies we can except the idea that “things happen”. We can’t control when they happen or to whom they happen, but they will happen.
Reaching out and supporting victims of tragedy acts as a healing wand for the soul. Tragedies unite us in sadness and weariness. We may get weary of our weariness but we can never turn a blind heart to others. The shock and pain must be dealt with as each tragedy blast us out of our comfort zone. Tragedy can bring out the seamy underbelly of human nature or it can weave us together in support of the immediately affected people. Let’s choose not to “waste” suffering. Let’s choose to use heartache as a stepping stone to finding greater strength, courage, and respect for all life. Living life to the fullest with dignity and grace is achievable though emotional harmony.
Do you have an internal compass always heading in the direction of emotional harmony? If you do, share with us how you bring yourself back to center after a trembling encounter with tragedy. Troublesome times flanked by stress overload and heavy hearts are not going to go away. There is no golden goose going to lay a golden egg filled with solutions for our challenges. Developing coping skills and emotional harmony while finding compassion in our hearts for others is our only armor of protection.
Copyright Sherry Russell 2003
Updated: August 20, 2013