From Dr. Nefertiti Bruce Poyner, Ed.D., Early Childhood Specialist and National Trainer
Losses from natural disasters are increasing in many parts of the world. I recently moved from Philadelphia, PA to the Eastern Shore of North Carolina. Since arriving here, I have experienced one tornado that nearly forced my family into the crawl space of our home. We have also experienced flooding and hours of dangerously high winds during numerous storms. After the storms pass, I pay particular attention to the stories of survivors and the plans that communities will put into place to rebuild. As I listen, I often want to say aloud “Don’t forget your resilience.”
Human beings often feel powerless when a natural disaster hits. Warning systems, safe buildings, and well-coordinated aid and relief services can help ensure that more people are protected. One thing is for sure. When the damage occurs, it will affect not only physical environments, but it will also impact the physical, social and emotional well-being of individuals. Because accidents and crises can occur at any time and any place, the concept of resilience can serve as a guide, helping to rebuild the spirit of communities and individuals after a natural disaster. It may also be important to remember this familiar quote, “We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.” As we reflect upon the natural disasters that have taken place recently and those that may be occurring right now as you read this article, let’s think a little more about how we might adjust our sails and build our resilience during times of natural disaster.
When responding to life-changing events in your life, remember these three important suggestions:
- Consider Self-Compassion: According to researcher Kristen Neff, self-compassion involves offering compassion to ourselves – confronting our suffering with an attitude of warmth and kindness, without judgment. When a natural disaster hits, we may begin to focus our thoughts on why and how we are ever going to resume normalcy again. Self-compassion invites us to pause, look at ourselves in the mirror, hold ourselves in a warm embrace and say, “Whatever I am feeling is OK. I am not the only one to experience this event and this feeling, and I will be OK.” A practice of self-compassion can help you to be more mindful of the here and now and can help lower anxiety and feelings of stress and anxiety (Neff, 2011).
- Remain Mindful: Mindful not only of the experience, but what you are feeling about the experience. Welcome all of your emotions and try not to judge yourself for what you are feeling. Consider using the following sentence starters to help you become more mindful of the event you are facing.
I am feeling…
This is a moment where…
Remember that YOU are not alone. Someone, somewhere, and at some time has experienced a very similar pain. As you practice resilience and self-compassion, may you draw strength knowing that you are not alone. Work to surround yourself with people who are utilizing healthy ways to grow from their traumatic experience. When you speak during times of trial and trauma, try using the word “we” to remind yourself that you are not alone.
- Be Kind to Yourself: During times of natural disaster, there are seemingly hundreds of things that will need attention. In this sea of competing tasks, it will be important to focus on self-care. We will only be able to give what we have. If we start to run on empty, we may compromise our abilities to effectively bounce back and move forward. Self-care is never selfish; it’s benevolent.
The Devereux Center for Resilient Children extends warm wishes to every community that has and is currently facing a natural disaster. May you use your protective factors to help offset the terrible risks you are facing. Please know…you are not alone.