Riding out the storm: Build your resolve and be ready for anything Mother Nature – or life – hands you

October 26, 2011

Embrace

Earthquakes, floods, storms, fires, terror: it seems like every day brings a new crisis to some corner of our world. It also seems like many disasters are hitting closer to home. Take time to learn how to protect your emotional health in a disaster.

The American Psychological Association says that while disasters cause hardships, it's the surprise they bring that's really the kicker. We're going along, minding our own business, and boom – something's in our way that throws us off balance.

The good news is we can plan for disasters and build our resilience so that we're better prepared when they strike. The American Psychological Association offers a variety of disaster resources-, including fact sheets for kids and articles on building your "resilience" – i.e., your ability to "bounce back" – so you can be ready for anything.

Resilience: the art of being able to bounce back

Losing a loved one. Losing a job. Serious illness. Fire, weather disasters, terrorist attacks, and other crisis events: these are all examples of events that can cause a flood of strong emotions and a sense of uncertainty.

The Mayo Clinic says that government agencies and disaster-relief groups have made a list of some typical signs of this reaction. They include:

  • A sense of confusion
  • Disordered thinking
  • Eating and sleeping patterns far out of our normal range
  • Physical problems like headache, stomachache and overwhelming fatigue
  • Feelings of anger and frustration

These things are normal. They don't mean you're going crazy. Better yet, these feelings almost always get better with time.

In fact, it's amazing how well so many people adapt to life-changing situations and stressful conditions. It's resilience that helps them do so.

Everyone can be more resilient

Anyone and everyone can strengthen their resilience. It's a long-term process that takes time and effort, but it's worth it. Resilience can make all the difference between feeling better faster or suffering a long time; between making the most of your life and living in fear, pain or sadness.

The American Psychological Association lists the following as traits that resilient people share:

  • Having caring relationships in and outside the family that create love and trust, provide role models, and offer support and encouragement
  • Being able to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out
  • Having a positive view of themselves and trust in their strengths and abilities
  • Having good communication and problem-solving skills
  • Being able to manage strong feelings and impulses

All of these are things you can strengthen in yourself.

How?

Ten ways to build resilience

Make connections

Good relationships with close family members, friends, or others are important. Letting people care about you, listen to you, accept you and support you can really help. Some people find that social support is useful. Try joining a community group, church, or other local group. Helping others in their times of need can also help you.

Try not to see a crisis as a problem that can't be solved

You can't change the fact that bad things happen. But you can change how you think about and respond to them. Try looking beyond "the now" and toward how things might be a little better in the future. And as you deal with tough times, note ways you might already be feeling a bit better as you go. Feeling like you're coping can go a long way toward actually making it happen.

Accept that change is a part of life

"Game-changing" situations may mean that some goals are no longer an option. Making peace with things that won't change can help you focus on the things you can change.

Move toward your goals

Develop some real goals. Do something positive every day – even if it seems like a small thing – that helps you move toward them. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem "un-doable," ask yourself "What's one thing I can do today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?"

Take action

When an adverse situation comes up, just sitting there wishing won't make it go away. But decisive action might.

Are there chances for self-discovery?

Often after a struggle with loss, people find they've grown in some way, and have learned something about themselves. Many people who go through hardship later say that they have better relationships, more love of life, and greater feelings of strength, self-worth, and spirituality.

Build a positive view of yourself

Confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts help you build resilience.

Keep things in perspective

Even when facing very painful events, try to take a broader view. Try not to blow an event out of proportion, and aim to keep a long-term perspective.

Don't forget to hope

Expecting that good things will once again happen in your life can make a huge difference. Try imagining what you want instead of worrying about what you're afraid of.

Take care of yourself

Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Do things you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise often. When your mind and body are in a good place, you're in better shape to deal with events that require resilience.

Explore some other options for boosting resilience

Some people write about their trauma or other stressful events in their life. Other people meditate, pray, or do other spiritual things. Still others get counseling or therapy.

And when disaster strikes ...

The most important thing to remember is that chances are, most disasters aren't your fault. You have no control over the path of a hurricane or tornado, or the direction of a flood. You have no control over random acts of violence or terrorism.

The one thing you can control? How you take care of yourself and your loved ones after a disaster. So talk with someone about your feelings – anger, sorrow, and other emotions – even if it's hard to. If you can, get help from counselors who are trained to deal with post-disaster stress. And be sure to look out for your physical and emotional needs. Get lots of rest, eat a healthy diet, and get some exercise. All in all, do the same things you do to build resilience. That way you'll have a well of resilience when you need it most.

And of course, you'll be in better shape to deal with nature's random acts if you have a plan. As far as natural disasters go, check the Federal Emergency Management Agency website for lists of supplies and instructions that apply to where you live. Be ready by having a disaster kit and non-perishable food, drinking water, and medicine on hand. Having a plan is another way to take action. And as we talked about earlier, action can help you survive a disaster emotionally as well physically.

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