Sup­port Dur­ing the Bushfires

As we come to terms with the effects of the bush­fires and the larg­er impact of cli­mate change, it is clear that there is a greater need than ever for the rur­al and remote health work­force to build and main­tain its’ capac­i­ty to cope in order to pro­vide essen­tial sup­port to oth­ers. CRANAplus Bush Sup­port Ser­vices offer reminders below, about ways of build­ing resilience and car­ing for your own and oth­ers’ men­tal health.

Growth and resilience

The theme that is most obvi­ous in peo­ple who have been direct­ly affect­ed by the bush­fires is grief that has result­ed from the loss of loved ones, home, belong­ings and income, trea­sured pets and wildlife and a sense of secu­ri­ty and pre­dictabil­i­ty. The way for­ward is growth and resilience but this takes time and every­one deals with grief in their own way and in their own time.

Per­haps one of the help­ful psy­cho­log­i­cal ways to think about recov­er­ing from a trau­mat­ic event, such as bush­fires, is to see it in the light of a devel­op­men­tal process. The trau­ma chal­lenges peo­ple to con­front new sit­u­a­tions, learn new cop­ing strate­gies and prob­lem-solv­ing skills. All devel­op­men­tal change is painful and the pain of this sort of trau­ma for the indi­vid­ual and nation is pro­found. In sur­viv­ing such an event, mean­ing that is made around recog­nis­ing the skills that were required to cope can lead to real and sig­nif­i­cant per­son­al growth.

How we breathe reflects our emo­tion­al state

Breath is the most pre­cious thing because it rep­re­sents life. How we breathe reflects our emo­tion­al state. When we are feel­ing peace­ful our breath­ing is slow and steady. Dur­ing times of stress, how­ev­er, our breath­ing tends to become fast and shal­low. For some, this type of over-breath­ing can result in feel­ings of pan­ic because exces­sive exha­la­tion depletes car­bon diox­ide to the point that blood becomes alka­line. If over breath­ing per­sists, it may result in full-blown pan­ic attacks accom­pa­nied by feel­ings of faint­ing, dizzi­ness and even chest pains, headache and collapse.

There are a num­ber of tech­niques that can be used to take advan­tage of the link between breath and our emo­tion­al state. Mind­ful­ness allows us to be aware of our breath. It gives us an oppor­tu­ni­ty to reflect on our breath­ing rate and to slow it down to the point that we are breath­ing slow­ly and steadi­ly, increas­ing our sense of safe­ty and peace. If you feel pan­ic ris­ing, it is pos­si­ble to coun­ter­act the phys­i­cal effect of shal­low breath­ing by cup­ping your hand over your mouth and nose, or breath­ing in and out of a paper bag. Good diet and exer­cise and sleep hygiene are also impor­tant stress man­age­ment considerations.

If you are notic­ing that you are feel­ing pan­icky it is impor­tant to talk with some­one about how you are feel­ing. Man­ag­ing your wor­ries in the long term and work­ing out strate­gies to coun­ter­act stress and pan­ic will improve your men­tal health.

Mind­ful­ness as a cop­ing strategy

One of the many rea­sons that nat­ur­al dis­as­ters are so stress­ful, even for those who are not direct­ly affect­ed by them, is that they pro­found­ly chal­lenge our belief that the world is safe and pre­dictable. Inter­na­tion­al events, nation­al pol­i­tics, cli­mate change are increas­ing­ly imping­ing on our sense of safe­ty and well-being. It is more impor­tant than ever to find ways of find­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal and emo­tion­al balance.

It is for this rea­son, that CRANAplus Bush Sup­port Ser­vices active­ly pro­motes Mind­ful­ness as a cop­ing strat­e­gy. Mind­ful­ness grounds you in the present and encour­ages a much-need­ed kind­ness and com­pas­sion to both your­self and oth­ers in a harsh world. 

Mind­ful­ness also encour­ages curios­i­ty and ask­ing ques­tions. Pur­su­ing a path of seek­ing knowl­edge may lead to answers and ulti­mate­ly action. Mind­ful­ness also reminds us that every­thing is tran­sient and that this is true of any­thing negative.

Most impor­tant­ly, a reg­u­lar Mind­ful prac­tice is just that..regular! The dis­ci­pline and rou­tine of sim­ple ground­ing tech­niques pro­vides struc­ture and makes life just that lit­tle bit more predictable. 

Life chal­lenges and stress

Even when our world is not on fire, life can be chal­leng­ing and caus­es stress. All of us play mul­ti­ple roles, as par­ents, part­ners, chil­dren, friends and work col­leagues. Every­day we have to make deci­sions and deal with peo­ple. From time to time we must deal with life changes and with loss and grief. Each devel­op­men­tal stage car­ries its own bur­dens and bless­ings. For those work­ing in high demand occu­pa­tions and work­places, such as rur­al and remote health, the demands on phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal self can be even greater.

An impor­tant part of keep­ing life and limb togeth­er under this pres­sure is mak­ing sense of it all. The mak­ing sense goes on in the back­ground of our minds all the time whether we are aware of it or not, and although we do not have con­trol over many events that impact on us, we do have con­trol over the nar­ra­tive that we tell our­selves. The fact is that when we are under stress, what we say to our­selves tends to be neg­a­tive, for exam­ple: I am hope­less” and Peo­ple are bad” are just two ways that we may nar­rate events in our lives. 

Tak­ing time out to exam­ine these nar­ra­tives gives you a sense of con­trol and empow­er­ment. It is so impor­tant to reg­u­lar­ly check in” to your­self and iden­ti­fy what it is that you are actu­al­ly think­ing and reflect on how that may be influ­enc­ing how you are feel­ing and what you are doing. Make some choic­es around chal­leng­ing unhelp­ful neg­a­tive thoughts.

Sleep is cen­tral to phys­i­cal and men­tal health

As you know, in times of cri­sis one of the most com­mon symp­tom that peo­ple expe­ri­ence is sleep dif­fi­cul­ty. Dur­ing these times, peo­ple often go to bed exhaust­ed and go to sleep but then wake ear­ly or have dif­fi­cul­ty stay­ing asleep. Being awake is often accom­pa­nied by rac­ing, anx­ious and intru­sive thoughts. The com­pli­cat­ing fac­tor dur­ing dis­as­ters such as the bush­fires, is that these intru­sive thoughts often have their basis in real­is­tic fears about safety.

Being strate­gic dur­ing these times is crit­i­cal, and if you are in a fire zone your Bush Fire Sur­vival Plan is obvi­ous­ly fore­most in your think­ing. How­ev­er, lying in bed and think­ing about it when you should be sleep­ing is not help­ful. Review it dai­ly dur­ing the day dur­ing cri­sis times but then have faith in it and inten­tion­al­ly put think­ing about it to rest when you want to sleep. This is a delib­er­ate cog­ni­tive strat­e­gy that will help you wind down. Hav­ing a peri­od of qui­et time at least an hour before going to bed, lis­ten­ing to sooth­ing music or read­ing a good book will help you relax and get ready for sleep. A mind­ful prac­tice or pro­gres­sive mus­cle relax­ation when you get into bed is also help­ful. Of course, it is impor­tant fora good night’s sleep not to drink caf­feine in the evenings. Equal­ly impor­tant is not to rely on alco­hol or oth­er drugs.

Sleep is cen­tral to phys­i­cal and men­tal health. It is worth­while spend­ing some time think­ing about your sleep hygiene dur­ing this peri­od of dis­as­ter. Remem­ber if you would like to dis­cuss some fur­ther strate­gies, the psy­chol­o­gists on CRANAplus Bush Sup­port Ser­vices are avail­able 247 on 1800 805 391.

Who will you reach out to today?

The key to human sur­vival is com­mu­ni­ty and rela­tion­ship. In times of dis­as­ter, it is more impor­tant than ever to not only reach out to oth­er peo­ple but allow the time and space for peo­ple to reach out to you. Be pre­pared to both talk about and lis­ten to feel­ings, espe­cial­ly neg­a­tive ones of fear and hope­less­ness. Let the per­son you are talk­ing to know that they are being heard and under­stood. Reach­ing out to some­one in this way is an act of kind­ness that impacts on both the giv­er and the receiv­er. In these extra­or­di­nary times such acts, espe­cial­ly to peo­ple you might not nor­mal­ly reach out to, might save lives.

Who will you reach out to today?