After the Fire

How to begin the healing after a natural disaster.

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photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Our community is finally settling down after being slammed by record-breaking fires, toxic smoke, devastating mudslides, and incalculable human loss. The freeway is open and people are returning to the evacuated areas. The sky is crispy blue and days are sparkly beautiful as Santa Barbara always is in the wintertime. Although there’s still a lot of clean up and healing to be done, there’s a sense that normalcy may be on the horizon. Then, why are so many people still feeling stuck, uninspired and slightly panicked?

Feeling unmoored, uncertain, dazed, fazed, and numb is to be expected after nearly two months of hyper vigilance and elevated cortisol levels. Whether directly impacted or not, we’ve all been touched by these traumatic times. Closing your eyes, it’s easy to conjure images of crowded escape routes, eyes peering over the top of N05 face masks, and charred landscapes with cars & houses rammed into trees. Tuning in to your body, there’s an imprint of anxiety in the viscera and tension in the muscles. Listening to stories of loss and heroism, evokes a sudden flood of tears. And, attempting to focus and take care of business, feels impossible with a layer of impenetrable fuzz is sitting on your creativity.

During the crisis, your sympathetic nervous system went on high alert to help you make quick decisions, get the hell out, and save lives. But, now, this geared up physiology is neither helpful nor healthy. Getting stuck in survival mode only results in hypertension, headaches, inflammation, shallow breathing, elevated blood pressure, fatigue and digestive problems. If you have any of these symptoms or feel slightly stunned, irritable, confused or depressed, now’s the time to be pro-active and do something about it.

Here are four steps to help your body-mind recalibrate and return to an everyday sense of safety and confidence.

First step…just sit quietly.

In order to shift from the habit of watching every bit of news and rehashing every trauma, you need to unhook and be present in this moment and this moment only. Turn it off the chatter and be in your body, in your breath, in the intimate space of right now. No past, no future, no agenda except sitting quietly. Remember, your body is listening. Tell it that, in this moment, all is okay. Feel your feet on the floor, touching base. Feel your breath move your bones, bringing healing.

Somatic message= Your body connects you to earth and spirit in present time.

Second step…find tension and relax.

Put on some soft music & soak in a candle-lit bath. Do some yoga, take a walk, get an acupuncture or chiropractic treatment, call your massage therapist. Many people have told me they feel foggy, stuck, uptight, and/ or out of their bodies altogether. Getting some good body work will help you relax, reconnect and rebalance. After a recent session, Judy wrote: “Thank you so much for regrouping me. Not only can I breathe again but I’m now out of pj’s & feel more inspired and focused.”

Somatic message= Your body is a safe and steady reference point.

Step three…rebuild your confidence.

Be patient, take it slowly, cut yourself some slack. The impact of a disaster is all-encompassing. Recovering your sense of self is physical, psychological, and deeply personal. Give yourself time to reconnect and put your life back in order again. Your body is listening to the words you use and thoughts you think so reframe the negatives into positives- even if you’re not quite there yet.

Somatic message= Take all the time you need to heal and recover.

Step four…seek a larger context.

The disruption of your world may be an opportunity to re-evaluate and re-prioritize. Feel the connection to all life, loved ones, and community. As you reflect on where you’ve been and what you’ve been through, invite insight from your deepest knowing. Let your perspective get really big and look for a place of calm acceptance. Open to the support of caring words, thoughts, and gestures from the people who love you. See your path extending to the horizon where life is back in order again and go there. Find the awe. In the words of psychologist, Don McManus, “Awe is mind-bending, somehow altering our understanding or experience of the world.” Celebrating the Power of Awe.

Somatic message= You are not alone on this journey of life.

I hope this is helpful. 

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