By Marianne Clyde
I had a meeting in Charlottesville, VA the other evening. As I got out of my car, alone, in the dark, I was keenly aware that there had been violent protests just a short time ago exactly where I was. It felt eerie.
Remembering in 2005, when I had travelled to the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan to help earthquake victims, my team members were guests of the chief of police in that region. Early in the morning, the beds started shaking and I realized that we were experiencing another aftershock, tremors reminding us all of the disaster that had recently happened, causing many to be re-traumatized. It was frightening.
Tromping through the streets of Port-au-Prince, after Haiti had experienced 4 devastating hurricanes one right after the other in 2008, seeing so many homeless people making do in tent cities, hoping to resist the strong potential for a cholera breakout, I was heartbroken.
Now we are experiencing similar aftermath in our own country: floods, hurricanes, fires, deadly shooting sprees and violent demonstrations.
How can one begin to feel safe again? Can one ever feel safe again?
I see people post on social media about how we’ll never feel safe or that there’s nothing we can do. So I want to offer some thoughts.
The first thought is, we have never been guaranteed safety or that nothing bad will happen. We need to remember that. Life is full of turmoil and changes and natural disasters and people full of hate. All of that is probably not changing any time soon. It’s all part of this great adventure we call “Life.”
However there are things we can do to strengthen ourselves, our coping skills and our responses, so that we can be somewhat prepared to handle a crisis when it does arise, and begin to make a constructive contribution to the solution.
- When a disaster strikes or we are caught up in a trial, the first thing we must do is embrace what’s happening. You don’t need to like it, but you need to acknowledge that it is, indeed, happening. That way you don’t waste any precious time making things worse. If we get stuck in resistance or negative thinking, we only prolong the moments until we actually use the power we have to do something productive. Those moments can mean the difference between life and death in some cases. It doesn’t matter if it’s a hurricane, or a divorce, or a sick child, or a life-threatening illness, the first thing to do acknowledge what’s happening and ask yourself, “What do I do now to move forward?”
- Next, we must learn to control our thoughts. When I was walking down the dark streets of Charlottesville the other night, I could have focused on thoughts like, “Oh my gosh, what if a boisterous, dangerous crowd gathers again?” “Maybe I’m in danger.” “Oh, I’m terrified!” If I would have done that I could have worked myself into a tizzy and become an anxious wreck.
Instead, I paid attention to my surroundings (which you should always do, anyway) stayed focused on my destination and assured myself that things looked normal and that there was nothing to be afraid of.
The same focus on the positive helped again when I was experiencing the aftershocks of the very earthquake that I was there to help with. “I’m here to help.” “Stay focused on your goals.” “Pay attention to your surroundings and put one foot in front of the other.”
If I had allowed my thoughts and feelings of heartbreak to paralyze me in Haiti, I would have been no help at all. So keeping our thoughts in a positive, forward moving direction is vital to stay productive and healthy.
- Third, resist getting sucked into the panic and emotion around you. Learn to take a deep breath and detach from the drama, the panic, the fear, so you can stay grounded and clear headed, able to make the decisions that are best for the situation of the moment. Being empathetic and compassionate is one thing. Getting sucked into the vortex is quite something else.
- Fourth, avoid blaming and looking for someone or something on which to release your fear and frustration. Pay attention to what can be done. What you focus on increases. If you focus on asking questions that have no answers or blaming and finger pointing, nothing gets done except your blood pressure goes up, to add to the problem and chaos while nothing constructive gets done.
There will come a time after the immediate crisis to sort out what could have been done differently the next time. Unfortunately, many seem to take advantage of a crisis and politicize it to make a point, or to promote their agenda. This is not compassion; it’s grandstanding. This, too, only wastes precious moments that could be used finding a solution to the immediate problem and focuses on creating confusion and division at a time when it’s most effective to pull together.
Much of what is happening these days, as we try to make sense out of all the disasters and frightening situations, is making matters worse. We need to remember that we are all leaders. Someone is looking to each of us for answers. So if we resist heaping more fuel on the fires of chaos, but simply doing the things above, we will be contributing to the solution, rather than the problem.
Marianne Clyde is an expert in Mental Health in the workplace. Speaking to businesses and associations about empowerment, team building and relationship networking, she is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, in practice for over 27 years, energizing speaker and dauntless world traveller. She lived in Japan for over 8 years and has spent time in at least 20 developing countries, teaching about recovery from trauma, personal empowerment and interpersonal relationships.
She has met with child soldiers, amputees and rebel army leaders in Sierra Leone, visited with victims of rape as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, taught doctoral students in Afghanistan about the effects of stress on mental health and spoken to large gatherings in Pakistan after visiting with earthquake victims in the Northwest Frontier. After partnering with the former Ambassador from Malawi to Japan, to establish village maize gardens and other projects, the Ambassador had this to say, “Marianne is an excellent trauma counselor, networker, change agent and revolutionary. Through her initiatives, the poor children and women of Malawi have realized new lives. Child mortality has been mitigated by the provision of clean borehole water. Hospitals are no longer overcrowded by children who were admitted due to hookworms. School going rates have doubled as no child is soaked while at school. In return Malawian women call Marianne ANAPHIRI meaning a woman from the great clan.”
She has written and published numerous articles, appeared on radio and television worldwide, commenting on topics ranging from gun violence to having a happy marriage. Host and producer of her own TV shows, she has also hosted a call in radio show and has produced Moments of Mindfulness Meditation CD.
After launching 2 best-selling books, Peaceful Parenting: 10 Essential Principles and Un-Leashed: Practical Steps to Get Your Life Unstuck, she has now released her most powerful book to date, Zentivity™: How to Eliminate Chaos, Stress and Discontent in Your Workplace. As chaos, reactivity and polarization reign, whether your workplace is in politics, business or home, she recognizes and advocates for mental health in the workplace. She encourages readers to establish a strong internal locus of control, so as not to get knocked off balance by the winds of opinion, changes in the economy or upheaval in politics. Only then, she asserts, can you truly make the changes that need to be made. Only then, can you even begin to be the leader you are called to be.
Marianne is the founder of the Marianne Clyde Center for Holistic Psychotherapy, in Warrenton, VA, winner of the 2017 Best of Warrenton award, and also the founder of Be the Change Foundation empowering and equipping women in need to build successful home-based businesses.