I was listening to Ariana Grand talking about the anxiety, depression and PTSD that she experienced as a result of the tragedy that occurred during her performance in Manchester, England in which 21 people died and 139 people wounded as the result of a suicide bombing attack. As I listened to her story I was touched by both her honesty and courage as she shared her experiences related to the incident and her emotional healing. It was clear that the emotional support she received from her friends, fans, and loved ones was a major component of her ability to recover from the tragedy.
The tragedy and challenges that we currently face in some ways are very different from her experience, and yet in some ways very similar. An event occurred and is occurring that creates fear, anxiety, frustration, and anger, as well as a variety of other emotions. Even now many individuals are experiencing financial stress and will likely suffer this for quite some time.
A friend of mine recently pointed out that most of us living in the U.S. have not experienced such a large scale event that has made such a great impact on our lives during our lifetime. The exceptions might be for those who have experienced the trauma of going to war and devastating events such as the flooding in Louisiana.
In 1942 Dr. Victor Frankyl was sent along with his family to a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. Over the next years he had been sent to several concentration camps including Auschwitz. During this time several of his family members either died or were killed in those camps. In response to his experiences he had written a book entitled “Mans Search for Meaning”. This book is an account of his experiences in the camps. It seems to me that the premise of this book is that people are more likely to cope with and survive difficult circumstances if they can find meaning and purpose in that traumatic experience.
So what is it that helps us to cope and heal during and after challenging events and what is it that causes us to be less adaptable? I suspect that the answer to this question is different for each individual. Some of us have pre-existing issues related to anxiety and depression that are worsened under stress or circumstances that stimulate those vulnerabilities. I personally tend to be a anxious person and definitely feel the impact of our current situation. It is important to realize that we all have challenges and have different coping mechanisms for dealing with life.
It might be worth pointing out that stress can add to challenges and conflict in relationships. This is particularly true when individual anxiety levels are extremely high. Individuals in families and couples may disagree regarding decisions related to handling life and making personal decisions during a crisis. One individual may try to control another family members behavior or another family may criticize or demean a family member because of their anxiety, coping style or decisions that they do not make sense to them. Neither of these behaviors is likely to be helpful.
What can we do to strengthen our families and personal relationships during these challenging times and reduce interpersonal stress? I would suggest that trying to control another’s behavior is only going to lead to more stress and conflict. On the other hand criticizing a family member for being anxious is only going to make them more anxious and create additional conflict. How can we be understanding of each other’s experiences, be responsive to our family members needs, and work toward being non-judgmental regarding the other person’s emotions or anxiety? This becomes very difficult when we are frustrated and annoyed by the way they are handling things. What can we do to support more effective behavior and improved coping without being excessively critical or demeaning.
On an individual level anything that we can do to be more present and live in the current moment would likely be helpful. This is a major challenge for most of us. We tend to live in the past and the future. With regards to the past we too often we remind ourselves of what we did wrong and overly criticize ourselves. With regard to the future we too often create frightening pictures about the future. It is so frustrating when we realize that we are creating those pictures and then react to them.
I have been asking myself what I can do to help myself cope as well as helping others and the people around me cope more effectively while still caring for myself and staying safe.
A couple great questions to ask ourselves are what do I want and what do I need? Abraham Maslow designed the “Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid” . (Worthwhile checking this out) At the bottom of the pyramid he identifies Survival Needs. These include breathing, food, and water. (toilet Paper?). The next level relates to Safety Needs. The third level upward relates to Social Needs. The fourth level is about Self-Esteem. Getting our needs met and trying to be happy is something we are always trying to do, but for most of us this is a bit more challenging than usual.
Is there an opportunity within this mess for us to improve our ability to relate to others, improve our ability to relate to ourselves, learn to take better care of ourselves and meet our needs? Is there an opportunity for us to learn to be more appreciative for what we have? Who would have thought that we might be grateful for the ability to go to the market and buy toilet paper, or for that matter just being able to walk period. Is there an opportunity for us to find more meaning and purpose in our lives? Is there an opportunity for us to learn to be more loving , caring, and compassionate?