Friday, January 15, 2010

Haitian Earthquake...

My heart goes out to the people of Haiti and to all who wait in an agony of uncertainty for news of loved ones. As the horror of the Haitian earthquake reverberates around the world, two important thoughts come immediately to mind:

First, that the way we can best help to ease suffering in that impoverished, broken but courageous land is to donate as much as we are able to established organizations such as the Canadian Red Cross who are able to make on-the-ground assessments and to purchase, in bulk, what is needed most.

Secondly, that it is important not to create a population of the secondarily traumatized here at home through our over exposure to scenes of injury and devastation in the media. Here are some suggestions for mediating the effects of this exposure:

1. Reduce the trauma exposure wherever possible.

Especially for those who are already trauma survivors, TV coverage of major traumatic events can have a magnetic pull. This is a time to consciously limit your trauma exposure based on your body's responses. If you notice that your heart is pounding, your muscles are rigid and you are holding your breath as you watch TV, that you're becoming frightened about your own safety or irritable with family and friends, that you're sleeping poorly or having intrusive images or nightmares like the ones in the media, it might be time to turn off the tube for a while. (Pacing your exposure before any of these symptoms occur is a good "ounce of prevention" as well).

Keep a particular eye on what your kids are watching and reading. Research shows a positive correlation between children viewing traumatic scenes and the development of PTSD symptoms.

2. Practice exceptional self care.

During a time of shock and horror, there are few things more important than focusing on good self care. Get enough sleep. (I heard a friend say that he'd sat up to 1:00 in the morning yesterday, watching the news.) Eat balanced, low salt, low sugar, low fat meals. Get the stress out of your body with some large muscle exercise. Maintain your spiritual practices. Talk or write about your feelings.

3. Engage in some comforting activities.

Think of things that have helped you to switch from "fight or flight" to "the relaxation response" in the past and do them. Walk in nature. Meditate. Pray. Spend time with children. Gather together with people you love, in person, on the phone, via the internet. Create in this time of destruction. Garden. Knit. Do woodwork. Paint. Write poetry. Cook. Dance. Listen to music. Write music. Chop wood.

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