The news about the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti is heartbreaking and the vivid pictures tragic. As in grieving any loss, the people of Haiti have been experiencing a wide range of emotions. Initially, many were grateful for surviving the catastrophe. But now they are dealing with the realities of all they have lost – family, friends, shelter, food, clean water and a sense of security. And feelings of shock are giving way to disappointment and anger that relief efforts are so slow.
When you see the degree of devastation, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Catastrophes such as earthquakes, floods, tsunamis and hurricanes are magnified by the 24/7 coverage by cable and Internet news services, leaving many feeling anxious, stressed and emotionally exhausted. Though out of harm’s way themselves, viewers experience stress and anxiety when faced with these kinds of uncontrollable situations. In fact, a recent national health survey found that 75% of the general population experiences at least some stress every two weeks, with half of these rated at moderate or high levels.
When others confront the violent forces of nature, you can bring some control to the event – and to your own feelings – by your actions and reactions. You may be feeling anxious because of natural disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti, the economic meltdown or security fears brought on by acts of terrorism. Whatever the reason for your high level of stress, here are 8 strategies for easing your stress levels and reducing your anxiety:
1. Talk about your thoughts and feelings with family and friends and reach out to others in your support system. Be open to asking for help and validation of your emotions. You may want to consult a professional counselor for a non-judgmental ear and help in sorting out your concerns. Start a journal to aid in the process of coping with your anxiety.
2. Maintain balance in your life between personal needs, work and your family obligations. Don’t over commit yourself even as you retain a normal routine. If you are a Sandwiched Boomer, plan to carve out some special time for yourself even in the midst of caring for your growing children and aging parents. Remember to be open to the healing effects of laughter.
3. Exercise moderately several times a week. Find an activity that you enjoy and will stick with – walking with friends, keeping fit through dance or yoga classes, training at the gym. Get enough rest and sleep to allow your body to recover from the stresses of the day.
4. Eat sensibly, following a balanced diet of healthy foods rich in nutrition that serve as a natural defense against stress. Avoid the use of drugs and alcohol to self-medicate and limit your use of sugar, caffeine and cigarettes as they can contribute to your agitation.
5. Use relaxation techniques. Set aside time for a regular routine of deep breathing, guided imagery, meditation, or other stress reduction methods to alleviate your feelings of anxiety. Decide to put off worrying – much of what you may fear never actually happens anyway.
6. Focus on what you can control in your life and what you can accomplish, not what you can’t. Let go of negative thoughts and unrealistic expectations. While you often can’t influence circumstances, you can control how you handle them. Clearly define your goals or aspirations and keep focused on them. Make something positive come out of a negative situation just as people across the world did in providing aid to Haiti after the devastating earthquake there.
7. Draw on your strengths. Use those you have relied on in the past as well as those you have developed more recently. Brainstorm new ways to apply the abilities you have in a novel way as you create new opportunities for yourself.
8. Be patient with yourself. Know that you will recover balance and serenity at your own pace. As long as you keep moving forward, you will eventually reach your destination.
Americans, and others across the world, have been offering aid to the people of Haiti at an unprecedented rate. But the recovery, both physical and emotional, will take a long time. Support is valuable to begin the process of rebuilding body and spirit in the Haitian community and restoring hope as you cope with your own feelings of stress and anxiety.
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