Living Mindfully Through a Natural Disaster
Throughout the past few weeks, as our community has been devastated by Hurricane Florence and her floodwaters, I’ve found myself turning to skills that for the past 10 years I’ve helped teach clients in our Mindful Living group. This group is informed by the principles of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). The 4 main tenets are: distress tolerance – coping with stress and difficulty in constructive ways, mindfulness – staying in the present moment, emotion regulation – identifying and accepting both positive and negative emotions without becoming overwhelmed by them, and interpersonal effectiveness – utilizing effective coping skills such as assertiveness and setting boundaries within our relationships.
As I was evacuated to Florida with my family for over a week and reflecting on the use of the same skills I teach others, I received a message from a client who recently just completed a round of Advanced Mindful Living. With her ever present humor, it simply said, “I’ve been mindfully living like a mutha”. Thus, my blog was born – how student and teacher alike have applied these skills in the most trying of times. This client was gracious enough to agree to co-author this piece with me and share her experiences of using mindful living skills during Florence and the aftermath.
One of the most popular and useful tools from the distress tolerance portion of Mindful Living is the concept of “Radical Acceptance”. The idea behind this is that while we can’t avoid pain, we can avoid suffering (which is what happens when you have pain plus non-acceptance). This doesn’t mean we have to like or approve of bad things that happen, but that “it is what it is” and “this too shall pass”. We can’t control certain situations (in this case, a hurricane that’s projected path was literally a line going through my backyard), but we can control our reactions to those situations.
Staying in the present moment can be very hard in crisis. It’s natural to get caught up in “future tripping”, imagining all the worst-case scenarios, worrying, and what-iffing. Mindfulness teaches us to breathe, brings us back to center, and focus on the here and now. Children are wonderful examples of mindfulness practitioners. So as I started to get caught up in the worries of what could happen to my friends who stayed, my house, my belongings, my office, my friends’ houses, my clients, etc. etc., I’d look to my almost 2 year old who was blissfully oblivious to what was happening in Wilmington, happily coloring or splashing in the pool and remind myself, “All we have is the right now”.
Another piece of mindfulness practice is gratitude. Words cannot express the gratitude I’ve experienced in so many different ways over the past few weeks and reveling in the amazing people and acts of service I’ve witnessed in action in my beloved community. I’m also grateful for my client who shares her experiences below:
During mindful living one of the distress tolerance techniques that helped me the most was going to my safe place. Even though I was surrounded by scary wind and rain, my apartment literally feeling like it was going to blow away, going to my quiet beach house in my mind, the ocean sounds loudly crashing on the rocks outside, was helpful. Physically I was stuck in my apartment scared of what Mother Nature was doing outside of my window, but in my head, I was at my safe place tasting the salt water and feeling the sand blow softly.
Staying mindful that the storm can thankfully only be temporary and it won’t last forever (even though it felt like it would) gave me some peace. “This too shall pass” are the words that kept flashing in my head like a neon sign.
Another thing we learned that helped me “weather” hurricane Florence was staying in the present moment. Having a daily battle with anxiety the way I do, being in the present moment is very difficult for me because I constantly worry about tomorrow or if it tomorrow doesn’t come or if it does come, what it will bring. Staying mindful that it was a storm, remembering that the noise is rain, and the feeling I felt in the pit of my stomach is just worry, helped to diffuse the anxiety. As emotion regulation taught us, feelings will pass- just like the storm will eventually pass. This helped me avoid a few panic attacks.
One more skill from emotion regulation I applied was naming the feelings that I felt in my stomach, in my chest, and in my heart and the nervousness I felt in my hands. Normally when those emotions arise, I usually go straight into a panic attack because I don’t recognize why those emotions are there and I jump straight to what they could be instead giving them a name and reason. Labeling them allows me to overcome the emotions and not let the emotions overtake me.
Chrysalis Center will be starting a new round of Mindful Living Group, which runs for 12 weeks, within the next month. For more information, please call our office at 910-790-9500.
Kelly Broadwater, LPA, LPC, CEDS-S developed and co-facilitated the Mindful Living group series alongside Kendra Wilson, LCSW, CEDS, DBT-C at Chrysalis. These groups have successfully run for a decade and produced dozens of “graduates”, many of whom have gone on to complete our Advanced Mindful Living group. It has been her pleasure to see so many individual clients make progress utilizing the skills taught in these groups and then to thrive moving forward, continuing to apply them in their lives.