This article was written during the 2019/20 Black Summer Bushfires, when my services were offered under the Braidwood Holistic Therapies brand. Braidwood was held on the edge of fires for more than two months, and everyone in our small town were impacted, affected and changed by the experience. I’ve decided to leave this article on the site, even after my two brands merged, as it is relevant to anyone, anywhere who is impacted by disaster.
Photo by Jarrah Knowles : taken 29th November, 2019, used with permission
Trauma is the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope (too frightening or painful), causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes their sense of self and their ability to feel the full range of emotions and experiences.
Trauma happens to anyone
It does not discriminate and is common when a community experiences a Natural Disaster. Some people may perceive overwhelming threat or danger, even if they are not directly impacted by the disaster, and this is especially true for children and young people. There is no way of predicting exactly how any individual will react to a traumatic event.
Safety and Security
Our homes are the place of safety, comfort and security. After a fire, our sense of security can be lost, even in people who have not lost material possessions.
After a Natural Disaster, big emotions are normal. Reactions to traumatic events may include behaviours that seem unusual in the context of the event. Affected people may cry or laugh or continuously move around. Some people may shut down to try and cope with what has happened. They may appear frozen or in a trance and may not respond if you speak to them. Grief and fear are normal emotional experiences and may present as anxiety, sadness, loss of appetite, sleep problems, physical complaints, and irritability.
In the aftermath of a disaster, we can support each other by being mindful of people’s needs, and being responsive to individual reactions. There is no “right” reaction. Everyone’s experience is unique, although there will be similarities.
Children and traumatic experiences
Children can sometimes be overlooked in these situations and the role of adults is to confirm safety and security. Although children will exhibit many of the same behaviours as adults, they may move through responses faster than adults and their responses will be dependant on both age, and their environment.
In the event of a natural disaster, you are a protective factor for the children in your care. Children rely on the adults around them to manage and make sense of the world. They are constantly looking to the adults in their lives for guidance. Children are sensitive to other people’s feelings, and may be hearing information even if they don’t seem as though they’re paying attention. If you’re affected by the fires, your children may require support too.
What can we do to support each other?
- Be gentle and accept all responses. Don’t tell anyone to “stop stressing” or “be brave”.
- Allow the release of feelings including disbelief, shock, anger, depression and hopelessness. Tears are normal. There is no “right” way to feel. Everyone’s experience is unique.
- Remember that people may need some time to adjust. Affirm that the reactions they are having are normal reactions to an abnormal event.
- Some people will require physical touch (hugs) for reassurance, while others will need their space. Don’t assume anything. Ask first.
- Give yourself permission to feel good. There may be periods of joy even in times of loss. Guilt does not serve anyone.
- Allow people who have been affected by the fires to make their own decisions. Making choices, no matter how small can affirm a regaining of control of life again.
- Check-in with people but don’t overwhelm them. Instead of asking people “What can I do?” offer specific ways you can help. e.g. “I can bring a meal, take the kids to the park or bring over some clean clothes, would any of these be helpful for you?”
- Talk honestly. Be okay with telling people if you’re not doing okay. And if necessary, seek professional help.
- Eat well, rest well and moderate your use of alcohol.
We’ve got this Braidwood
Braidwood is truly a community of caring and compassionate people. We have already seen many acts of kindness and together we are sure to see so many more inspiring moments.
If in doubt, choose Love.
Hollie Bakerboljkovac is a PACFA registered Counsellor, and wellness educator She works with people experiencing anxiety, chronic illness, trauma, depression, grief & loss and behavioural change.
The article Supporting each other in times of Disaster was published by Hollie Bakerboljkovac, for the Institute for Self Crafting.
Feel free to share this article with your friends, by using the url : https://instituteforselfcrafting.com/supporting-each-other/.
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