The last few weeks, many of us have been dealing with stress. The impacts of Hurricane’s Harvey and Irma were not only physical but emotional on the psyche of our nation. Seeing the pain of our countrymen and women can be very challenging and hard to bear. And if you were impacted by these events, the stress you feel over your own loss and the losses incurred by your neighbors can be immensely stressful.
As the Chainsaw Gang went out to help Hurricane Irma victims, I came up with five ways to help me deal with my own physical and mental stress:
1) What is most important? When I was in the military and learned basic first aid, the mantra was, “Stop the Bleeding, Start the Breathing, Protect the Wound and Treat for Shock.“ Basically, the drill instructors were trying to instill in us the ability to identify what to do first when we were in a stressful situation. When stressed it can be hard to know what is most important. But developing a mantra like this can help you go directly to the heart of the matter without having to think about it. For me in these past weeks, my priority for the Chainsaw Gang was to first help those who had blocked access to public roads and see how we could help out those who had roof damage. Everything else could wait.
2) Do what you can do! In times of stress, sometimes we feel the need to do things that we may not be capable of doing. There were times that our group would be asked to help remove trees and that were way beyond our expertise. Even though we really wanted to help, I had to keep in mind that we are volunteers with limited resources and skills. It’s hard for us to say no, but doing something beyond our capabilities wouldn’t have done anyone any good and, in fact, could have caused more harm than good. It was better for us to do what we could accomplish and leave the rest to the professionals.
3) Safety first. When stressed, we want things to get back to normal as quickly as possible. And sometimes quick action is not necessarily the best action. For example, during the hurricane, a tree that had fallen on the roof of my barn. Even though it didn’t go through the roof, its presence had shaken my personal sense of normalcy. My initial thought was that I had to get this tree off of the roof. As I was about to undertake this effort, I called my son to tell him about the tree and that I was headed to the barn to take care of it. In his most patient and measured tone he said, “Dad, I don’t want you to get on that roof. It can wait.” Since the barn was 75 miles away from him, he could judge the problem without emotion. And, of course, he was right. In times of stress, it’s easy to let “getting back to normal” rule your thoughts. The thing to always remember is: Safety First!
4) Take care of yourself. When you are stressed, it’s hard to forget about the routines you have for taking care of yourself. But, not taking care of yourself only compounds your stress. It’s important to eat right, get proper rest, and treat your muscles with respect! If you are exhausted, you are more prone to make what could be a “grave” error.
5) Be grateful for the goodness around you. First and foremost, being grateful that you survived to the extent you did! No matter what extent the damage was, it could have been much worse! Being grateful for others who are diligently putting forth the energy to help get everything back to normal is healthy both physically and emotionally.
Most importantly, consciously cultivating an attitude of gratitude builds up a sort of psychological immune system that can cushion us when things get rough and tough. There is scientific evidence that grateful people are more resilient to stress, whether minor everyday hassles or major personal upheavals.
In times of stress, I like to meditate on the things I’m grateful for. “Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.” ― Maya Angelou