Strategies for caring for yourself during times of trauma and stress
During this time of trauma and loss, our thoughts are with the communities who have lost their homes, their livelihoods and their lives during the bushfires. We join the community in thanking the brave firefighters who have put their own lives on the line to protect our communities. We hope all communities are safe once again and for this time of fires to end.
Caring for yourself as a practitioner
It is important to take time to care for yourself when you are caring for others. Be aware of your own stress levels and feelings and make time to speak to someone about your feelings. This may be the Doctors Health SA helpline which you can access on (08) 8366 0250. This number is available 24 hours per day and seven days per week for all medical practitioners and medical students.
In addition, there are other helplines available:
Take time with family and friends and regularly debrief with colleagues. You may like to undertake a gratitude practice or even a mindfulness practice. Both of these practices have been found to assist in management of stress and may be useful to assist with coping of traumas.
Practising gratitude is about taking the time to notice and reflect upon the things that we are thankful for in our life. Interestingly, studies have found that people who regularly practice gratitude report that they have more positive emotions, sleep better, and express more compassion and kindness. When we notice positive emotions such as joy, love and contentment we start building more positive emotions, which then assist us to find meaning in daily problems and adversity.
By finding just a few minutes, especially on what has been a terrible day, to practice gratitude, you will notice there is always beautiful, wonderful things happening. Maybe the coffee you bought first thing in the morning was just the way you like it and kept you going until lunchtime. Maybe your partner found time to pack lunches for everyone the previous night and you ate a delicious lunch. Maybe you found that perfect gift for someone you love. Every day there are myriads of wonderful moments that often go unnoticed. Taking the time to notice allows us to enjoy the moment again and to notice and remember what happened.
To practice gratitude:
- Find three things that went well during the day. They may be an event that happened, something that you achieved, a person who cared for you or the compassion of a loved one or even a total stranger.
- Notice why it occurred, what you or someone else do for this to occur.
- Notice how you felt and what you were thinking.
- If you can, close the loop and show your gratitude for what happened. It might be thanking someone while explaining why it is important to you, you may choose to write a note thanking the person or maybe you will just say a silent prayer of thanks.
Practice a loving kindness mindfulness
The following is a simple and effective loving kindness meditation technique to try. Find some quiet time for yourself (even a few minutes will work) and sit comfortably. Close your eyes, relax your muscles, and take a few deep breaths.
- Imagine yourself experiencing complete physical and emotional wellness and inner peace. Imagine feeling perfect love for yourself, thanking yourself for all that you are, knowing that you are just right—just as you are. Focus on this feeling of inner peace, and imagine that you are breathing out tension and breathing in feelings of love.
- Repeat three or four positive, reassuring phrases to yourself. These messages are examples, but you can also create your own:
- May I be happy
- May I be safe
- May I be healthy, peaceful, and strong
- May I give and receive appreciation today
- Bask in feelings of warmth and self-compassion for a few moments. If your attention drifts, gently redirect it back to these feelings of loving kindness. Let these feelings envelop you.
You can choose to either stay with this focus for the duration of your meditation or begin to shift your focus to loved ones in your life. Begin with someone who you are very close to, such as a spouse, a child, a parent, or a best friend. Feel your gratitude and love for them. Stay with that feeling. You may want to repeat the following phrases or similar ones that bring about feelings of loving kindness within you:
- May you be happy
- May you be safe
- May you be healthy, peaceful, and strong
- May you give and receive appreciation today
Once you’ve held these feelings toward that person, bring other important people from your life into your awareness, one by one, and envision them with perfect wellness and inner peace. Then branch out to other friends, family members, neighbours, and acquaintances. You may even want to include groups of people around the world. Extend feelings of loving kindness to people around the globe and focus on a feeling of connection and compassion. When you feel your meditation is complete, open your eyes.
Remember, it is important to care for your own health before caring for others.
Should you wish assistance from GPEx in regard to training issues as a result of the ongoing fire traumas please call Dr Paul Dilena, (08) 8490 0400.