If you are like me, plenty of your friends in Portland and all over the Pacific Northwest are sharing a certain well-written but possibly anxiety triggering article from The New Yorker on their social medias. It speaks about the threat for a potentially huge earthquake that could happen in the next century... or as soon as tomorrow (often focusing on the latter for dramatic effect). If this article or other world events or perhaps daily life threaten to send you into a panic or overwhelm you with anxiety, firstly know this: you are not alone. Whether it’s GAD (general anxiety disorder) or PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) or just plain ole’ excessive worrying please know it is normal and okay for stories like these to elicit a reaction in you. The key thing is what you do next. Here are a few tips based upon personal experience and research.
6 Steps to Stay Calm
1. Take a breath
Realize that while this information is troubling or even could make you feel threatened, right now you are alive. You are safe. Breathe. Your lungs are working great. You can do this.
2. Slow Down the Fear
When fear hits us it can quickly become panic. If safety is like lying on a water bed then a triggering thought can feel like someone just dropped a pair of scissors onto it, puncturing it. But in reality the triggering thoughts (or news stories) are really just presenting the idea that scissors exist (threats exist). You are not in impending danger at this moment. Will fear about everything help you remain calm? No. Is fear justified right this moment? It probably isn’t.
3. Examine the Facts
Facts can seem like gibberish when we are overwhelmed by fear, but the truth can set you free! Headlines and presentation get clicks and shares in today’s media culture, but buried deep in these fearful or sensationalized articles are facts (at least in credible articles). The facts helps us understand the risks and prepare for them, step 4. Consider writing down the facts (not the quotes or even off hand theories) and looking at them alone. However, if you don’t feel like you are ready to look at this objectively that’s okay too. Move on step 5 and 6.
4. Prepare Yourself
Now that you have a grasp on the facts, you can prepare. In reality something like an earthquake may never happen in your lifetime or possibly ever at all. However it can be comforting and risk reducing to be prepared. Check out the Red Cross for tips on putting together an emergency preparedness plan and what to do in case of an emergency or check out this OPB resource for more location based tips. Prepare yourself in an orderly manner so that you don’t feel overwhelmed and/or cause useless panic.
5. Avoid Unnecessary Triggers
You need to feel safe. This is basic self care. If you feel unsafe or afraid, you are not in a healthy place. Avoid things that are going to trigger troubling thoughts that lead to unnecessary or unhelpful fear. Someone constantly posting on social media about things that upset you or make you worry? Unfollow them for bit. It’s okay to do that. You need to take care of yourself. You don’t have to unfriend them, but make it so you don’t see their posts in your feed. Furthermore don’t read heavily opinionated or stylized articles or watch news that sensationalizes things. If you do engage in those things remember to go back through the first 4 steps.
6. Talk with Someone
Sometimes we can feel silly when we are overcome with fear or anxiety, whether it is about a natural disaster or bad date or a family reunion you are nervous to attend. Seek out people in your life that care for you no matter what. Believe us, you are not ‘crazy’ or ‘unreasonable’ so seek out people who will never call you such things. Don’t seek out pity though, because you don’t need that either. You need someone that will intentionally listen, calmly respond, and assure you that you are not alone in your struggle… because whether they feel the same way or not they are there for you.
In closing, always take care of yourself and make a routine out of it. Get exercise, intentionally rest with prayer or mediation or a bath, connect with others, and seek out joyful activities. You are worth it and with a solid foundation of self care you are far less likely to be ‘shaken’.