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Limits, Structure, Meaning, Help!

October 17, 2017

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.”     - Helen Keller
 


 

While there are many benefits to living in a technologically connected society 24/7, there are some important disadvantages as well. Being able to communicate with those we love, even when they are thousands of miles away, is one of the advantages I am thankful for today.

 

Unfortunately, one of the consequences of this hyper-connectedness is the constant barrage of information about tragic events taking place all over the world. Proximity to an event is no longer the key factor in determining how much something will affect us.* One example is the recent tragedy in Las Vegas. I cannot begin to estimate how many hours of coverage we have absorbed since it happened. Seeing the faces, and hearing the stories told by loved ones, makes the losses tangible and heartbreaking.

 

Sadly, this suffering is but one entry in an endless parade of disasters, both natural and man-made. Within the last month, coverage of the hurricanes Harvey and Irma allowed us to witness the complete devastation of entire communities. The onslaught is overwhelming… So, what can we do to protect ourselves, while maintaining connection with the larger world around us?

 

 

  • Set Limits – One of the best ways to protect ourselves is to limit the amount of time we spend in front of a screen filled with images and accounts of terrible suffering. I am not suggesting sticking your head in the sand, so to speak, but I am proposing you set reasonable limits on your intake. It is unlikely the flow of information will diminish, so you are the only one with a vested interest in controlling your rate of exposure. By using your phone to set a timer, or download an app that limits your screen time, you are using technology in a way that will benefit you.

 

  • Add Structure - “When things are not normal, do normal things.” This quote in Real Simple Magazine (Feb. 2014), where Melanie Thompson shares her mother’s wise words, is one I often share with clients in the midst of crisis. Following a stable routine of eating, sleeping, and exercising, etc.…helps to keep us on an even keel.

 

  • Do something - Part of why we feel overwhelmed and hopeless is the belief that we cannot make a difference. You can. The gifts of time, money, and service to others are never wasted. We may not be able to fix the entire problem, but the act of ‘doing’ contradicts the helplessness that often comes with great loss. Again, use technology for good by using your phone or computer to donate to a cause you care about. Whether your actions help your neighbor, or someone across the world, you will feel better having done something concrete.

 

  • Make Meaning - Take the time to connect with someone around you. Call that friend you have been intending to call. Have a meaningful conversation with your family at dinner, without phones, or TV. It is helpful to share our heartaches, so we don’t bear them alone, but don’t forget to talk about the things you are grateful for as well. Journaling your thoughts, or creating art, are other ways to make meaning, especially when we are struggling to make sense of complex emotions.

 

  • Seek Help - Sometimes we are caught off guard by how current events can bring up old feelings of pain, hurt, and fear. A therapist can provide a safe and supportive place to resolve issues that are often difficult to confront alone - past trauma, broken relationships, life stage transitions, and devastating loss. It is important to obtain professional help if you are feeling increasingly depressed or anxious. Seek immediate care if you are having thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else.

 

For additional resources, please see below:

 

https://emergency.cdc.gov/coping/families.asp

http://headington-institute.org/files/vicarious-trauma-handout_85433.pdf

http://strategicpsychology.com.au/impact-of-vicarious-exposure-to-traumatic-events-on-mental-health/

*Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation - http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/Eberly: (412) 268-2896 | Blackboard: (412) 268-9090 © Copyright 2008, 2015, Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation, Carnegie Mellon University.


 

 

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