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California Wildfire Survivor on Staying Calm in the Current Storm

Our world is in the midst of an unprecedented natural disaster. What road map do we have for finding the inner strength and peace of mind we need to make it through?

In 2008, I lost my home to natural disaster when a series of wildfires ripped through southern California.  Gone with it was a lifetime of memorabilia, and the space where countless wonderful memories had taken place.

Today our world is in the midst of an unprecedented natural disaster.  As we all shelter in place, filled with fear and apprehension, sadness and a deep sense of loss, what road map do we have for finding the inner strength and peace of mind we need to make it through?  How do we weather this devastating storm calmly, with our souls intact, so we can find sunlight on the other side?

Here is what I learned about how to stay calm and grounded from my own journey through the wildfires and beyond, which I write about in my memoir Six Funerals and a Wedding.  

Maintain a routine

The disruption of routines can make anybody irritable. But one of the common denominators I’ve found in talking to people about their quarantine experience is a lack of motivation to create one and stick with it.  Suddenly they have all the time in the world to do all the things they’ve always wanted to do.  Yet, progress on their goals is low to non-existent.  I can relate myself with many plans and little accomplished.

A listener and problem solver by nature, I explored a few things that helped.   Most importantly, I discovered, is to start with a schedule.  Loosely plan your week in a way that lets you keep as many of your usual activities as possible going.  Online yoga classes anyone? Virtual book club meetings?  Take advantage of the plethora of offerings blossoming thanks to the internet.

Each evening, carefully plan your next day.  Make a mental note of what you did accomplish without letting your focus drift off to what you did not.  You may soon find yourself being like the stuck wheel that one day slowing begins to turn and eventually is rolling at 55 mph. 

Limit screen time

We are all hungry for information, but there’s so much out there.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed and confused – then feel disempowered.  My husband watches and reads the news all day.  I read three different sites in the morning then stop. I recently compared how much screen time we each spend: he had about eight hours more than me in one week.  He is consumed, while I am much more resilient than he is about the fear factors.

Set clear limits on screen time and sticking with them makes a big difference.  Consider a goal of cutting the time in half for this week.  Then reward your efforts with a good book or something else that pats you on the back for keeping yourself technologically limited.

Exercise

Physical activity helps burn the extra energy that comes with transition and dealing with crisis and loss.  Gyms and yoga studios are closed but it’s easy to get creative in your home or outdoors.

The number and caliber of yoga, pilates and other workout programs that have come across my social media feeds is amazing.  It’s a brilliant idea, and many are free during the crisis.  If you’re watching more TV than usual, make a promise to do crunches or free weights during the commercials.  An hour walk can not only lift your spirits, give you Vitamin D on a sunny day but devoting one hour to being in nature and hearing the birds and feeling the breeze on your face creates endorphins that make the changes we’re experiencing bearable.

Build it into your routine.

Share

What talents of yours can bring people joy right now?  Can you can teach those online yoga classes? Lead a video writing workshop or book club? Now’s the time to open up, connect and share your gifts.

With Zoom rooms and skype it’s easy to play cards or meet for happy hour with your friends.  Many of my friends are single and live on their own.  It can be extra stressful to be isolated.  Recently, I’ve been drawn to painting rocks.  Pinterest has tons of suggestions and even the novice artist gets great results by following others work.  I’m having a zoom room rock painting party this weekend.  I’m counting on the conversation around our craft to be supportive, energizing and connecting.

Help others

Helping people in whatever ways you can, including remotely, will ease your mind and give you strength.  Since the mandatory distancing and self quarantining started, I’ve paradoxically been more supportive of my neighbors in the condo complex where I live than ever before.  I now ask my 82 year old neighbor how she is doing whenever I see her pass my kitchen window, pushing her walker slowly, on her way to the mailbox.  When I go to the store I call and see if I can get her something and when I bake or make soup I leave her some on her doorstep.  She has brightened up like I’ve never seen before, and knowing I’ve played a role makes me happy.

There are so many ways right now to help others remotely, too, from online fundraisers to volunteer opportunities reading to children and the elderly on Skype, and otherwise sharing your interests and skills.

 Accept grief and uncertainty

If you’re experiencing grief, anger and anxiety, don’t resist. Accept it for what it is and let it run its course.  This includes spending time taking an inventory of what we can and cannot control. 

An uplifting practice is noticing the power in gratitude.  Make a short list in the morning.  Writing it down is best but don’t let it stop you if you just want to do it in your head.  The rules aren’t strict here and the results can change your perspective from blue to sparkling during these uncertain times!  

Nobody knows when this crisis will pass, but do remember: eventually, it will.  Building strength and serenity today will help create more beauty in the moment, and the future.

About

Mary Odgers is a writer, registered nurse of twenty-two years, and life coach, whose default view of the world is through the lens of optimism. As the second of six children to a Marine Corps general and a former Navy nurse, Mary moved frequently, and by the age of twenty-one had had twenty different addresses. This nomad-like existence that required starting over numerous times, along with having to reinvent herself after experiencing multiple tragedies, has allowed her to specialize in navigating transitions with her coaching clients. She holds a Master Grief Coach certification and lives with her partner Pierre in Solana Beach, California where she works as a post-anesthesia nurse. She relishes walks along the beach, swimming in the ocean, cooking, traveling the world, and the company of her two grown sons, extended family, and loving friends.

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