In the aftermath of the Northern California fires, nervous systems have been revved up and are now crashing down. The fear and unknown has led many adults and children to live in a hypervigilant state. Now that the fires are contained and threats to homes and lives are at bay, it is time get back to living. This may be hard to do given the state of the community if you are in a fire struck area, lost your home or loved one, if you have been volunteering, and/or living in a constant state of fear.
While many people are resilient and will bounce back easily into their own lives, some people will not for a variety of reasons. Whether impacted directly or indirectly, a natural disaster can have a traumatic impact on lives. It is important to care for yourself, and as parents, it is vitally important to care for yourself so you can better care for your own children. So what does caring for yourself mean? This means getting back into your own routine, getting a lot of sleep and rest, nourishing your body with healthy foods, exercising, and engaging in other activities that bring you relaxation and pleasure.
It may take some individuals days, weeks, months, or even longer to recover from this experience. I would encourage you to notice your own feelings and move with gentleness if not feeling quite as resilient as some of those around you. Each day is a new day with new feelings and thoughts emerging. Moving through a traumatic experience can take time so please be patient with yourself and those around you.
New trauma can trigger old trauma and sometimes cause a regression. This can be a regression in behaviors or memories and can take many forms including an increase in separation anxiety, reverting to younger behaviors, and thinking about past traumatic events when one thought they had moved past them. Again, please be patient with yourself as you move through your own process, care for yourself in healthy ways, and get some further support from loved ones or professionals.
Some people who did not experience the fires directly or whose home and family came out ok may feel guilt for having not lost their home or loved ones even though they are thankful they did not. This is known as survivor’s guilt and is a common feeling for people to experience. I encourage you to not disregard and down play your own feelings. Last week evoked a lot of emotions. We are all different and will process this experience differently. There is no right or wrong way to move through these feelings.
If you are feeling stuck, having difficulty sleeping, overeating or under eating, feeling lethargic, do not have any interest in things you used to, having nightmares, and/or you don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel, I highly encourage you to talk with a professional for further support if it is feeling overwhelming and you feel unable to move through it one your own. Talking with a professional can have many benefits including giving you the space to explore and process your experience, gaining support, having space to not feel like you are overwhelming people around you by talking about your feelings, and helping you find your way back to wellness.
Like adults, most children will remain resilient and bounce back easily while others can be deeply impacted by the disaster whether it has touched them directly or not. Younger children do not have the sense of time and when seeing images or hearing people talk around them, they may be unable to differentiate if the disaster was from last week or from this very moment; this can be frightening. If you are noticing any changes to their behaviors, including regressive behaviors, they are letting you know they need more attention right now. It is extremely important to continue to check in with your child about their feelings as they head back to school and hear about the events from their peers. If you are feeling overwhelmed as a parent, please reach out for support.
I am wishing everyone good health and loving kindness for oneself and each other as our communities recover.
Here are some local community resources for professional help:
Hospice of Sonoma County
Petaluma People’s Services
Social Advocates for Youth
Petaluma Health Center
Seeds of Awareness
Psychology Today has a list of therapists in private practice