By Lynn Walsh, M.S., LLP
Like others, on Monday, Feb. 13, I listened to the police scanner with my 19-year-old Michigan State University sophomore as she sheltered in place. I felt utterly helpless, as did she. Growing in confidence and competence to overcome helplessness is a critical step in creating a roadmap to coping and transforming helplessness into action by creating personal “anchors” that provide emotional stability in the face of chaos and trauma.
To feel helpless in response to a traumatic event is a universally human experience and, if not addressed, a precursor to serious mental health issues such as anxiety disorders, depressive disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder. The impactful practices of establishing new self-care routines, maximizing current healthy habits and maintaining consistency with them are key anchoring elements.
Physical, psychological and emotional manifestations of the loss of control that one experiences in the face of a traumatic event and its aftermath include the following:
* Physical sensations can be a feeling of tightness or heaviness in the chest, racing heartbeat, a sense of derealization, gastrointestinal upset, anticholinergic effects such as dry mouth.
* Psychological and emotional sensations associated with loss of control can be panic, anger/rage, despair, emotional numbing, a feeling of hysteria or mania/feeling hyper.
A critical first stop on the roadmap to stability is to recognize these sensations as they happen (as an adult, stay especially attuned to your child’s variations in mood or behavior and reflect out loud what they might be experiencing) and practice a self-care response in the moment. Upon noticing physiological hyperarousal, practice controlled breathing, a mindfulness practice, a 10-minute journal exercise describing the feeling. Think of these as your “anchors” in a storm of emotions.
A short mantra to creating a personal “anchor action” in your roadmap to wellness is to 1) identify the feeling as it’s happening, 2) validate what’s causing it and 3) choose a response you have in your arsenal of anchors.
These can be stored in your personal mental health toolbox and used any time hyperarousal or stress call for it, and can be shared and demonstrated for others.
Lynn Walsh, M.S., LLP, is a local therapist in practice for 14 years. Her office is located at 355 Fisher Rd., Suite C. For more information, call (313) 779-3089 or visit bit.ly/41lrNPs.
The Family Center provides free programs and resources that empower families to successfully navigate life’s social, emotional and physical challenges. Learn more at familycenterweb.org.