Lindsay Simon, LMFT – August 25, 2021
Humans are creatures of habit and we like certainty. The current wildfire situation is one of many current external crisis in the world right now that is bringing up many uncomfortable emotions. In California there are 12 active large wildfires that have burned over 1.6 million acres. In the face of uncertainty and potential threat, we experience anxiety, unease, discomfort, feeling trapped, fear, anger or possibly sadness.
Currently (as of 8/25/21) in South Lake Tahoe the Caldor Fire is less than 20 miles away, 12% contained, has burned 126,566 acres, and is creating extremely unhealthy smoke and air quality in the Lake Tahoe Basin (700 plus AQI at times). The smoke provides a constant reminder of threat, leads to restlessness as outdoor activity is limited, creates and exacerbates health problems, lethargy, and of course anxiety. We are all feeling it. We are all in this together.
Here are some tips that might help you to cope with the current wildfire and smoke situation in the West, where wildfires are running rampant. (For additional reading on specifically managing COVID-19 related anxiety check out this previous post here: https://www.abalancedlifetahoe.com/coping-with-anxiety-in-these-difficult-times/)
- Radical Acceptance
This is a coping skills coined by Marsha Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). DBT is an evidence-based form of therapy developed for clients who experience intense emotions and identify as emotionally sensitive (usually as a result of childhood complex trauma and neglect). Radical Acceptance is the concept of fully accepting things that are out of your control just as they are, rather than wishing they were different than they are. Our desire and wish for things to be different than they are creates additional unnecessary suffering. Something in all of our control is changing our thinking to accept situations that are out of our control. What this might sound like is: “it is what it is” or “the wildfires are what they are, we can’t change the past, we can’t predict the future, it is what it is, and we can do the best we can to handle whatever comes our way when it comes our way.”
- Focus on What is IN Your Control and Take Action
Since you are radically accepting the things out of your control, (such as the fact that there are wildfires, smoke, or past human behaviors impacting the current situation) then you can focus your thoughts and actions on the things in your control in order to feel less anxious, sad, stuck or resentful.
Examples of things in your control that you can do right now to help you feel better:
Pack a bag to prepare for evacuation, prepare your house using the evacuation preparation list from Cal Fire, stay informed very intermittently (not constantly) of the fire situation, call a friend, read, play video games, do an online workout, meditate, practice gratitude for what you do have, research ways to help improve the environment, find volunteer organizations you can help through your time or financial support, focus on your blessings, do a creative project, paint, journal, play a board game, pray, sing, listen to music, dance, cook, eat healthy food, drink calming tea, limit caffeine intake, clean, catch up on sleep, re-arrange your furniture, build something, de-clutter, attend therapy and follow through with your therapy homework! When you take the time to brainstorm there are lots of indoor activities that are possible.
*try sitting down for 2 minutes and writing down at least 10 action item ideas that work for you*
- Be Mindful and Limit Your News Consumption
A negative spiral of anxiety can occur if you consume negative news that is meant to elicit negative emotions in order to keep your attention and improve ratings. This becomes a negative cycle as once the news is off, anxiety creeps in from the uncertainty, you check the news again, then once you stop watching the anxiety comes back, then you check it again, etc. This cycle of anxiety you experience can then be felt by those around you and create a negative mental, emotional and environmental space that is not necessary.
You can be in the midst of a natural disaster and stay calm, it all starts with what thoughts you choose to focus on (and recognizing and letting go of those that are not helpful such as future-tripping thoughts), use calm breathing and grounding skills, and create a calming environment. Set boundaries around your news consumption and with those around you who are in a negative spiral in a kind and compassionate way. Set a time to check on the news, ideal is at most once a day for less than 5 minutes. Have an alert set on your phone for any immediate crisis responses needed.
- Practice Faith and Compassion in Yourself and Humanity
Although we like certainty, we are also a species of resilience and adaptability. We have managed to evolve and survive over the past 2 million years, out surviving many other species while our population has grown dramatically in a vast variety of environments. Being able to focus on our strengths as humans and believe and know that we can handle things that come our way when they come our way, can help increase your confidence in yourself and others. The journey may not be perfect and smooth, and very bumpy at times, but we will get through it the best we can given the skills, awareness and knowledge we have at the time.
If you would like support in coping emotionally and mentally with the current world and personal stressors, a skilled therapist can help you feel better. Here at A Balanced Life we have 6 highly skilled therapists, check out our options here: www.abalancedlifetahoe.com or reach out directly to the office to speak with Terra or Brit who can help answer your questions and find you the best fit therapist:
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