In light of the recent fires that have struck Northern California, our local community is faced with the direct and devastating effects of this loss. Thousands of us have a direct connection to the path of destruction – whether it be losing a home or helping a loved one who lost theirs, the death of a friend or family member, ash raining down, and even the poor air quality.
The traumatizing effects of the fire can spread even farther, as simply hearing stories on the news or from other people can cause fear, anxiety, and stress.
For many Bay Area residents, these fires may be their first experience of individual or collective loss and grief. For others, the trauma may have resurfaced old losses and wounds. Either way, for us to be able to rise again and maintain our collective resiliency, it’s essential to pay attention to and nurture our mental and emotional health.
Below is a list of ways you can help yourself or anyone else suffering from the effects of the recent fires.
During times of grief, it is important to allow yourself space to have time to feel your feelings and grieve in any way that is specific to you.
Some people will feel a wide array of feelings, from anger to denial to feelings of hopelessness. There is no right way to grieve. However, there are certain ways to cope that tend to be more healing than others.
If you notice yourself or a loved one having a tendency to withdraw and isolate during difficult times, you may want to challenge those behaviors. Withdrawing and isolation are often ways of coping that stem from having shame around your sadness or any other difficult feeling.
Shame and isolation are a breeding ground for causing our suffering to perpetuate further. Remember during times of loss, Grief is Part of the Process. if you are struggling, that does not mean there is anything wrong with you. The worst thing we can do to ourselves while facing grief and loss is to berate and criticize ourselves for having a difficult experience.
As the wise Tibetan Buddhist Pema Chodron stated in her book, When Things Fall Apart,
“Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we can acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.”
Rather than being angry at ourselves, can we find room to be curious of the experience? Another way one can allow for their grief is by not running away through unhealthy and possibly addictive coping mechanisms. Rather than numbing your experience, try to allow yourself space to be with your feelings in a healthy way.
This can look like a meditation that invites one to look and feel into bodily sensations and breath, journaling, or speaking to a therapist.
Reaching out to another person or a community of people is often the key towards resilience during difficult times.
Finding someone, be it a trusted friend, therapist, grief support group, religious or spiritual community, can be incredibly healing. Often allowing oneself to be vulnerable allows for the deepest sense of belonging and connection.
3. Self Care
During time of tragedy, often the things that resource us are the first to go.
Remember, you are much better at being there for others when your proverbial cup is full. Take time to do the things that make you feel nourished, replenished and happy. This can include giving yourself permission to sleep more, to leave the area and go to nature, to spend time with loved ones, to eat healthy tasty food.
This may feel uncomfortable for some, because taking time to make yourself feel nourished during difficult times feels counterintuitive. One may feel guilty at the thought of finding pleasure in their life if there is a sense of collective suffering. However, being resourced rather than in your own suffering gives you more space to be there for others.
4. Volunteer or spend time with those affected by the fires
One of the ways to combat despair is by volunteering with local charities or spending time with those affected by the fires.
Volunteering often leads us to feel more interconnected to others and can even give a spiritual experience of a greater web or life that has its inevitable joys and losses. Below are a list of organizations that are looking for volunteers and, if time is a constraint, donations are greatly appreciated:
- United Way
- Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership
- Redwood Credit Union
- North Coast Opportunity
- American Red Cross
About the Author
Sharon Avesar is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist at Well Clinic in San Francisco.
I provide opportunity to explore all parts of your inner self in an authentic and nonjudgmental space, and, in doing so, you are able to create new stories and ways of being that are more expansive and meaningful.