We woke up to the news that fifty people died in a horrible plane crash last night. Grief grips my community here in Western New York. Nothing can come close to describing what anyone who lost a loved one so suddenly feels. My deepest sympathies go to the families and friends of those who perished.
Most of us are not directly hurt by this tragedy but feel the effects of it nonetheless. For those of us who live in or close to Clarence, have friends and family who live here, anxiety can prey on us. Add to that the recent events on the Hudson, fear of flying issues, PTSD or sensitivity to panic attacks. Before you know it we’ve got the formula for full-blown anxiety.
Let’s take care of ourselves so that we can function not only for ourselves but also for our loved ones, especially the kids. How do we do that? Here are some tips:
Turn off the radio or television. Get off the news blogs. I am convinced that our brains and bodies are not made to assimilate repeated traumatic news. All we achieve is overloaded circuits and increased anxiety. Allow yourself to walk away from the news and come back to it later if you must and then only for 10-minute updates.
Breathe. If you begin to feel the yellow flag signals of anxiety coming on (increased heart rate, shallow breathing, tense muscles, sweaty palms…) use your coping tools to keep the fear under control. Don’t run away from the feeling. Stop and breathe through it. Keep breathing; make yourself as comfortable as possible. Go to healthy distractions, like exercise, call a friend, go to church, mosque or temple. If you’re at work, don’t expect yourself to focus as usual, be easy on yourself and keep your schedule light if you can.
The best antidote to anxiety is action. What can you do? You can help. Erica on the Buffalo News blog (look in the comment section) suggests a way to help the family that lost their house and loved one. You can also pray; pray for those who perished, their families and for the emergency response teams. They will need God with them. If you do not pray, find out where you can give blood and go do it. It may not help in this situation but it will help someone somewhere in another emergency.
Be calm for your kids. If you have small children, they need you to be grounded and practical. Answer their questions as directly as you can without elaborating. If they ask: “Will a plane fall on our house?” Answer: “No, of course not. This is a very strange thing that happened. It’s never happened before and it will never happen again.” This is a perfectly appropriate thing to say to small children. It may be a slight exaggeration but not much and they need to be reassured they are safe.
Don’t give in to the anxious thoughts. Fight back. If left alone they will feed on themselves and make you feel more and more out of control. Remember to give yourself the oxygen of balanced thinking. You are fine. A tragedy of this magnitude challenges all of us but most of us are OK. If the undertow of anxiety is too much, reach out to a good friend, pastor, rabbi or mental health professional. We’re here to help.
Sadness is not the same as anxiety. Neither is grief. Grief is necessary. Respect it. Anxiety is an intruder. Firmly tell it to leave.
Originally published on the Explore What’s Next blog.