On the evening news, a terrorist attack, crime or natural disaster has claimed a loved one, a home, business or entire way of life. The survivors are in shock, affected by events and emotions too powerful to grasp. Life has its ups and downs, but some tragic events overload the human psyche and coping seems impossible. When the emotional shock exceeds our ability to deal with the situation, we are “in a state of crisis.” In this state, we experience disorientation, emotional numbing, wandering and obsessive thinking, and helplessness.
Crisis tosses us around like a small child caught in a hard crashing ocean wave. We’re thrown off our feet, spun over, and rubbed mercilessly in the sand. As we lay panting, gasping for breath, humiliated by the power of the ocean of events, we want to cry out in rage and despair. Death of a loved one, a broken relationship, violent crime, accident or natural disaster, these huge life events shake us to the very foundation of our mental well-being. Our shock extends through body and mind. Our heart pounds, we can’t concentrate or sleep, our thinking is unclear, muddled or obsessive, our feelings are numb, all signs that we are emotionally flooded and can barely keep our head above water.
When crisis strikes, to whom do we turn? Perhaps there is someone in our life who would be glad to help, but we feel too ashamed or overwhelmed to reach out to them. Even if we do reach out, our friends and family may become confused and alarmed by our reactions and they are unable to become partners in our need to cope.
This situation is all too familiar to mental health care workers who frequently face people in this traumatized state of mind. A counselor can help us re-link the coping tools that have helped us in other difficult situations, help us get back on our feet and regain our composure. Through simple acts of concern and presence, a counselor helps us understand and accept our state of mind, helps us reach out to our existing social network, and walks us through the first steps of reestablishing our grip on life.
Mental health professionals are the trained members of our community who can lend a supportive hand when friends and family are unable to help. A mental health worker can’t work miracles, but almost always they can help us get back on track. Just as we keep a doctor’s number by our phone in case of medical emergency, establishing a relationship with a mental health care professional or agency can help us in a mental emergency.
The tools we have available to us at the onset of the trauma are critical. By being prepared beforehand, we can reduce the severity of our reaction, and speed the time of our recovery. Like a hiker who fully intends to stay on the path, and yet is well prepared in the event of getting lost, we can prepare ourselves for the full thrust of life’s challenges. By developing self understanding when our life is going well, we are better able to sustain our poise when things are not. Keeping a strong, healthy social network, a belief system that can sustain us through troubles, and a relationship with mentors and helping organizations, fully equips us for life’s inevitable twists and turns.
See also: Grief, Post Trauma Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Full Catastrophe Living : Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk