By Joy Birnbach Dunstan, MA, LPC, MAC
Emotional Safety in Troubled Times
Recently, I gave a talk at a local Women’s Fair. Various speakers discussed many kinds of safety: in your home, when you’re out, financial and legal safety. My focus was on a different kind—emotional safety, that is, taking care of yourself when something disastrous hits close to home. This month and next, I thought I’d share with you some of what I covered.
Disaster or loss can come when you least expect it and in a variety of ways. Some of the big ones are obvious, like losing a spouse or someone very close to you. You could lose that someone totally through death or divorce, or partially, through Alzheimer’s, a stroke or other serious illness.
All too real in these economically unstable times, are financial losses through income or investment changes, as well as material losses such as burglary. Thefts like muggings or burglary can steal your sense of safety as well as your possessions.
Other losses, such as loss of health, youth, or career, are not so obvious, but can be just as painful and disruptive. In many ways, these not-so-obvious losses can be more difficult to cope with because they don’t evoke the sympathy and support of others the way an obvious loss does.
Whatever the trauma or loss, they may bring on a similar gamut of responses. Some common reactions include:
· Shock, numbness and disbelief of what happened
· Fear for the safety of ourselves or loved ones
· Anxiety about the future
· Anger and suspicion of others
· Guilt and helplessness from thoughts like “why am I okay when others are not” and “if only I had done something more”
· Profound grief and sadness
· Loss of faith—in yourself, humanity, even in God
· Flashbacks, recurring memories or sensations of the event
· Physical symptoms like headaches, insomnia, or nausea
Any one or combination of these symptoms may be considered a normal response to an abnormal situation. Some people respond immediately while others have a delayed reaction, sometimes hours, days, or even weeks later. Everyone is different.
It is normal to experience sadness in response to a major loss. And it is important to recognize when normal sadness and grief become serious depression. Depression is much more powerful and debilitating than simple sadness.
Some of the signs of clinical depression to watch out for include:
· Ongoing sadness, anxiety or feeling empty inside
· Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping too little or too much)
· Changes in eating patterns (reduced appetite and weight loss or increased appetite and weight gain)
· Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
· Restlessness or irritability
· Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
· Fatigue or lack of energy
· Feelings of guilt, hopelessness or worthlessness
· Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
If disaster hits close to home and throws you off balance, it doesn’t mean you’ve gone crazy. Take time to take care of yourself. There will be good days and bad days, and you need to know that sometimes you may feel worse before you feel better. But you will feel better.
Use this healing time to ask, “What doors do I see opening for me now?” and “What new choices can I make?”
Editor’s Note: Joy is a practicing psychotherapist in Riberas. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 765-4988.