Hurricane Harvey has left the room, and the State of Texas! And none too soon! Even now rescues and recovery continue as both survivors and responders continue to work in the aftermath of the fury and destruction of the storm.
Harvey has traumatized the region with its destruction and disruption of the normal flow of life along the Gulf Coast of Texas. Many people are shocked and numbed by what has happened to their lives, their homes, their possessions, their neighbors, and their community
Even the vast army of professionals and volunteers who convened and converged on the scene are not immune to the traumatic effects of seeing the destruction and disruption hours at a time, days on end, with little or no rest. That is thanks to mirror neurons, the brain cells that internalize what the eyes see, along with what is heard and felt during rescues.
The actual hurricane is gone and it will take more than months for the entire area to recuperate physically, economically, socially, and personally.
The actual problem with trauma is not the event itself. The toxic shock to the body is stored in the body and impacts feelings, emotions, beliefs, attitudes and actions.
It is not too soon to begin to deal with the toxic effects of the trauma of Hurricane Harvey before they take deeper roots into our (I personally experienced the storm staying with my daughter and her family) lives.
Here are four quick, effective strategies to minimize toxic stress that can be done even as we rescue, recover, and give helping hands to each other:
As you secure your physical safety with shelter, food, and rest, find a safe place to share the story of your experience with the storm. Safety diminishes the power of toxic stress to take hold and create depression and long term physical health issues
Keep in touch with your family and friends. Safety is fostered in the security of caring relationships and even the making of new relationships where a disaster lowers the number of strangers and increases brother and sisterhoods among us. Sometimes tragedy brings out the best in people and sometimes less than best. Stay tuned to the feelings and emotions you are experiencing. Don’t let negative feelings and emotions damage valued relationships or lead to hasty decisions that can aggravate an already traumatic event.
"Shake it off"
We say those words to our children when they strike out in the last inning and their baseball team loses. We tell our teenagers to do the same with the breakup of a significant relationship. The reality is that our bodies are built to literally shake things off so that they do not become anchored in our bodies. Just as a deer chased by a mountain lion will shake its body once it is free from the danger of the chase, our physical shaking movements after the storm enables our body's natural defense against toxic stress to save the day and the future for us. So, allow survivors and responders to move, to shake off the effects of what they have seen and experienced. Exercise, yoga, walking, physical play for a few minutes a day will keep this traumatic event from taking root in your heart.
Whether you are a survivor or a responder, give others the opportunity to tell you their stories, just as they listened to you. And when the tears flow, quietly affirm the moist flow. For too long we have considered tears a bad sign and quickly acted to offer someone else a tissue or rapidly wipe our own away. Current research has affirmed that tears are a good sign of health. Tears let us know healing is taking place. Instead of asking, "Why are you crying?" ask instead, "What thoughts accompanied your tears?"--a world of difference!
So, here are four effective, first responder actions you can take to prevent the catastrophic event named Harvey from creating a chronic, harmful, long-term impact on your well-being, hijacking your future. Remember: People are more important than things.
These are my thoughts as I reach out to the people living where I was born and raised. What are your thoughts? I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org