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Supporting yourself through the stress of natural disaster

It’s been an incredibly difficult start to the year in Australia. The devastation that has already been caused by the bushfires raging across the country is hard to fathom and we are yet to see an end in sight. 

Collectively our hearts are breaking for those who have been affected in one way or another—as well as the trees and the millions of precious creatures who have lost their lives. And it’s not just Australians who are feeling this deeply. The outpouring of grief is coming from around the globe. 

During times like this the likelihood of us spending more time in “fight or flight” increases. Our body’s natural stress response was designed for this very kind of thing—to alert us of potential danger in order to keep us safe. For some, this stress is due to a very real threat to their lives, livelihood or loved ones. For others, it’s more emotional stress as they feel compassionate distress for those who are affected. The stress response—while it may differ in intensity depending on whether we are directly or indirectly affected by something—is the same whether it’s physical or emotional stress. 

If you are feeling the effects of this catastrophic disaster—or if you’re just experiencing stress for any other reason—here are some ways you can support your nervous system and process what’s unfolding around you. 

Let yourself feel whatever you’re feeling 

Acknowledge and accept whatever emotions might be present for you. We tend to avoid feeling the more uncomfortable emotions or look for ways to dull them down—such as by seeking comfort in food or numbing out with alcohol. The more we do this, the more pressure we put on our body and our health. You will also build your emotional resilience by letting whatever is present be okay. The more you let yourself feel whatever it is you’re feeling, the more you’ll begin to see that uncomfortable emotions aren’t as scary as our mind makes them out to be. They can also help us take action that supports others and the planet. You will realise that you can have your heart shattered into a million pieces and still be okay. And if you’re not okay, acknowledging this can allow you to reach out and get the support you need. If you are dealing with trauma, please seek support. 

Look for other ways to reduce stress response activation

One of the best ways you can support your nervous system is by looking for ways to reduce other sources of stress in your life. Your nervous system responds to ALL potentially stressful stimulus so if you know that something in your life is adding more stress, look for ways you can reduce other sources. One way to do this is to reduce your intake of caffeine during periods of more stress as caffeine triggers the production of stress hormones. Another way is to introduce other strategies known to calm the nervous system such as via diaphragmatic breathing. 

Look for the beauty within the situation 

When disaster strikes, it’s easy to feel helpless and hopeless—and it’s okay to feel this way too. But there’s always something beautiful for us to see if only we look for it. What’s struck me about the fires is the outpouring of grief and support that is coming in from around the world. These kinds of experiences have a way of bringing us together and shining a light on the beauty of humanity. Let yourself see and feel that as well as the devastation and you’ll find that it diminishes that sense of hopelessness. There is immense strength in unity.

Whether you’re directly affected by what’s happening in Australia or just a loving human who cares deeply about what’s going on, I hope that you find in here some small antidote to the stress you’re currently experiencing. Take such good care of your precious selves—and each other and our Home. 

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