The combination of the disruption from the latest hurricane and the fact that schools are closed for the remainder of the week for many of our children, could certainly make conditions ripe for triggering the all-too-familiar thought… “I’m about to lose it.”
At this point, we’ve been through our pre-hurricane experiences. For some, this meant buying enough non-perishables including cereal on daily trips to the grocery store leading up to the “hunkering down” phase, to make our kitchens look like the set of Seinfeld. For others, it may have felt like playing “beat the clock” with the laundry and dishwasher for fear of the power going out any minute before throwing in that last afghan on the sofa that hadn’t been washed in a while.
The Upside to Social Media—Social Support.
As the Hurricane was approaching, my witty husband posted that “’Irma’ must be a real person because someone I live with ‘that will remain nameless’ is cleaning as if she we were expecting house guests.” (In case you were wondering, that nameless someone was me). In my defense, the Facebook wall was full of supportive comments—from women agreeing; virtually high-fiving; relating, and, making sense out of the obsessive behavior of cleaning during a highly emotionally charged, anxiety-provoking time. In hindsight, it felt like women in the hurricane’s path were collectively nesting to give birth to a stressful event that we had a strong sense was going to impact our lives and/or the lives of others for days to come (sound familiar?). Such virtual high-fiving led to a sense of normalcy. In addition to reaffirming, that you are having normal reactions to an abnormal event, this article is geared to provide concrete ideas and tips to help you navigate through these post-hurricane times.
Therefore, I couldn’t think of a better mnemonic device than D.O.N.T. L.O.S.E. I.T. to share the goods.
Donating. Whether you were directly impacted or indirectly impacted with helplessness watching the images play out on TV, you may now be in a position to DO Something. Consider “donating” your time, energy, and/or, money (if you have extra and feel so inclined), to a reputable charity. Donating even a dollar, or your blood, or your time and energy, might help mitigate the feelings of helplessness. According to, Jean Chatzky Financial journalist, Author, and Motivational Speaker, the American Red Cross —is a good option as she stated on the The Hoda Show. Chatzky reminds us to take caution, as she says that during these vulnerable times, scams do exist and suggests Charity Navigator as a good site to verify charitable organizations.
Offer your help and/or encouragement. Whether it is the offer for air conditioning and a warm shower if you have friends that are still waiting for their power to turn back on, or the offer to help a neighbor, friend, school, religious center, or small business who can benefit from extra hands clearing up fallen limbs—when we find ourselves helpless and out of control, helping others is a quick reminder of the goodness that we bring to the table. I have heard others share their stories that prior to this event, they didn’t know their neighbors’ names, but through this, they have been given an opportunity to connect with others in their neighborhood. Even if it is offering encouraging words, you may not realize the positive impact you can have on someone else. Sometimes, even when we don’t realize someone is having an especially hard moment, reaching out spontaneously, can truly make someone’s day—through your communication, you tangibly demonstrate how much they “matter.” We can all benefit from those reminders from time to time.
Nonjudgmental response. “Your grief is your grief,” “your pain is your pain.” These are comforting phrases that I have heard from others, while, in turn, offering them to others during difficult times. Whether it is about lost electricity or lost roofs, lost homes, or loss of a pet, or a person—we are not in a competition of, “whose loss is worse” There may be a thin line or no line at all between judging and reminding. For instance, when someone reminds us that we can survive without our WIFI and that we “should” recognize the abysmal losses that others are facing. Complaining about “first-world” problems doesn’t necessarily indicate apathy towards others’ more dire straits. The reality is that we have grown accustomed to these things in our daily lives—when they are taken away from us abruptly, through no choice of our own, and we can’t control how and when they will return, it becomes a disorienting blow to our current reality.
Striving to not judge and to simply listen can further connection and demonstrate support. We all need as much support right now as possible. Let’s center ourselves with the recognition that although we may not be able to relate to the circumstance, we can relate to the feeling—b/c we’ve all had them for different reasons—and going on the premise that feelings aren’t wrong and we have a right to them—may give us inner strength and peace that can help propel us through tough times. We’re imperfect human beings and truth be told, it may be more typical to initially and inwardly judge, but we have choices about expressing our judgment, and there is a choice to RESPOND, whether through social media, telephone calls, e-mails, texts, and let’s not forget good ol’ fashioned in-person contact, in NON-JUDGMENTAL ways.
Take note of those recommendations and referrals. Now is the time to note who others are recommending to whom, by way of house-related services. During this time more than ever, we are collectively asking the social media universe who they recommend for fixing our roofs, floors, trees, fences, gutters, lawns, and housecleaning services. Now is the time to capture those in your notes/contacts for current and/or future reference.
Laugh as often as you can. Use the ability and capacity for laughter during these times; the benefits of which, have been well documented. (For more information, this Mayo Clinic Article on the Benefits of Laughter outlines the short term and long term benefits of laughter on your organs, stress response, immune system, pain, and overall mood that occurs, in part, due to the release of endorphins).
Enjoy your favorite comedy/comedian on your favorite app (if you have the technology available to do so). One of my favorite comedians is John Mulaney—brilliantly funny, in my humble opinion. Leading up to the hurricane, we introduced our kids to the famous show Law& Order (which seems to reliably air, anytime of day or night), of which they grew instantly hooked—(Side note: of course we make it a rule that a parent has to be watching with them, especially that first scene—and believe me, we monitor their viewing of Law & Order more than we were monitoring the track of the hurricane). As a logical next step, we introduced the kids to John Mulaney’s standup routine on Law&Order—again, brilliantly funny (from his description of the characters, from the judge that allows everything, to the guy that doesn’t stop emptying crates when questioned by homicide detectives, to the NYC bartender who never forgets a customer and the time down to the millisecond in which he served them. For John Mulaney’s actual standup, please enjoy: Law&Order by John Mulaney (Kids aren’t quite old enough to hear Mulaney’s take on Law & Order SVU) but if you are interested: Law&Order SVU by John Mulaney
For another belly laugh opportunity (of the non-technology kind), I also highly recommend the board game Beyond Balderdash—I don’t think I have ever laughed harder than the times I have played that game. It is a game of building your skill as a “BS” artist (AKA “Bluffer”)—not necessarily something we all aspire to. However, it encourages complete creativity and sparks laughter every time. Beyond Balderdash is another thing that we have introduced our children to and have already seen the ROI on both (our children learning more about the legal system through Law & Order and allowing them to flex their creativity muscle with Beyond Balderdash).
The point is we will incorporate laughter however we can, because it is that important for us physically, mentally, and might I add spiritually. I say that because when you are able to experience belly laughs with tears falling down your face especially with others, you feel instantly connected, and those joyful moments become some of the most meaningful.
Operationalize Gratitude. Gratitude has been well researched by the likes of Professors such as Dr. Robert A. Emmons and Dr. Martin Seligman. For more information, you might be interested in: this Article on Gratitude from Harvard Newsletter There are a few concrete ways we can operationalize gratitude. For example, the Center for Healthy Minds, out of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, studied and promotes the technique of 5-3-1 as a way of increasing happiness.
- 5—Incorporate 5 minutes of meditation each day.
- 3—Write 3 good things that happen to you every day.
- 1—Extend 1 act of kindness each day.
Additionally, during the online Power of Positive Summit 2017 presented by Jon Gordon, Author and Speaker , JJ Virgin, one of the presenters, promoted the following practice:
- G=Gratitude (list at least 3 things/people to whom you are grateful for having in your life)
- A=Appreciation (think about what you appreciate in this moment)
- M=Miracles—acknowledge the miracles that you have observed today, (or small wins).
Self-Care. Identify what you can benefit from in the “back-to-basics” category– whether it is more or better sleep; better nutrition; more frequent exercise; saving money; and, ask others to help you with those efforts. Examples may include:
-Suggesting to friends that instead of going out to lunch, to meet up with them for a walk– this can be two-fold—saving your money on said lunch, and getting more physical activity.
-Letting your kids know that you want to work on incorporating more healthy choices into the mix, and bring them to the grocery store to pick out a veggie or fruit that they have never had before or think that is particularly cool to try—and feature one of them as part of a meal.
After this ordeal, we understand that it is important to relax—but this is definitely easier said than done (especially for those who have a hard time “relaxing” on a good day). Deep breathing is one of the most effective ways of slowing down our central nervous system, returning our cortisol (the primary stress hormone) levels to baseline, so we can prepare for the next challenge that life has to offer. And, deep breathing is free, and could be done anytime and anywhere (if driving, just don’t close your eyes). For more information on ways to deep breathe, you can certainly check out this Article on Breathing as an example of resources that can provide some instruction. Now more than ever, there are plenty of mental health apps out there to help you get started, including Breath2Relax Breathe2Relax and it’s free!! You can check out others and their ratings on sites such as: https://adaa.org/finding-help/mobile-apps
Experiment with positive practices. When trying out new behaviors or ideas, it may be helpful to view it as an experiment, since we can’t fail experiments. For instance, the idea of practicing nonjudgmental response may be a worthwhile experiment. When we are fail-proof we learn to NOT judge ourselves—which is just as impactful on our feelings, thoughts, and actions. Additionally, try experimenting with the practice of gratitude techniques previously mentioned, for a week and see how it impacts your mindset.
Anxious times can lead to anxiety-related feelings, which can lead to acting in plain-old-mean ways, especially towards the ones that we love the most. Often times, it is the last thing that is intended, but when we don’t “name it to tame it” fears come out in some harsh ways, especially towards those with whom we are most comfortable. During these tough times, using “I statements” when expressing yourself is often the best chance you have on reducing the chance of others’ defensive reaction, because you are taking responsibility and ownership on how you are feeling without accusing anyone else of causing you to feel that way or telling someone how they should act, or asking them why they are acting this way. Because let’s face it—no one likes to be accused of “making you act or feel” a certain way, and no one likes being told how they “should be” or being asked “why” they are acting a certain way. Stressful times call for effective communication and one way to execute this is to take responsibility for the way you are feeling, acting, or thinking in a way that doesn’t blame or attribute behavior to someone else.
Example: Instead of saying, ”You never help me figure things out and it always falls on me to get things done.” Try: “I feel worried that we won’t have enough money to pay for the roof repair because of the high deductible, and it would help if I can brainstorm options out loud.” (It’s even better when we are met with someone who can nonjudgmentally listen and doesn’t try to talk us out of our feelings, but those tips may be fodder for a future article).
For further information on using “I statements,” you may be interested in this Article on the Use of “I” Messages
Talk. Keeping the lines of communication open is crucial. This may relate to the importance of communicating to lenders/creditors. Jean Chatzky suggests calling your mortgage lender/creditors, to give them a heads up as far as what is going on. She states that often times they are willing to work with you and can only do so, IF they know what is going on. I would also add to contact your cell phone provider if your data is being charged while you have no access to WIFI. There have been providers who have graciously offered data relief during times of outage due to hurricanes, but you won’t know unless you initiate those talks. And of course, in addition to talking to your positive support system, please don’t hesitate to talk to a professional. If you are not feeling relief, or you feel things are getting worse, do not hesitate to communicate with your health care providers. Contact your company’s EAP (Employee Assistance Program) if you have one, or if your spouse/partner has access to one, see if you would be eligible to access those services as well. You can also access the resource of: 1-800-273-TALK, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which according to their website, “is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24/7/365.”
So now that your kitchen looks like the Seinfeld set because of all of the cereal/nonperishables you stocked, you might as well watch an episode of Seinfeld (or whatever your “funny” of choice is) to trigger those endorphins. What tips do you recommend? Would love to hear about your examples of ways that you have used any of the tips in this article or your own, to get through disruptive times.
Remember: “Don’t Lose It”
- Offer Help
- Nonjudgmental response
- Take note of recommendations and referrals for services through word of mouth.
- Operationalize Gratitude
- I statements—so you don’t act out
About the Author: Michelle Pargman is an LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Counselor), wife, and mother who has worked in the EAP field since 1999. She provides counseling, work-site based support groups, and presentations for schools, community, and businesses on a variety of mental and emotional health and wellness related topics… (and most recently a Law&Order enthusiast, Beyond Balderdash player, with great appreciation for John Mulaney and Seinfeld episodes).