by Christian Burgess
I'm the Director of the Disaster Distress Helpline, the nation’s first and only 24/7 crisis hotline dedicated to providing year-round access to immediate crisis counseling and support for survivors, loved ones of victims, first responders, and anyone in the U.S. and territories struggling with distress during any phase of a natural or human-caused disaster. Needless to say, my job is stressful, which is one of the reasons why I love running: it allows me time to process, to think of creative new ideas, to channel unspent energy from one day so that I might face the next.
This is a common theme of runners, and I’m no exception: exercise as therapy. No matter your sport and no matter at what level you dedicate yourself, from the first-timer to an ultra-distance competitor, we love to engage our bodies in order to stimulate our minds and better understand our emotions.
In the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing last April, I didn’t have the chance to run that week because I was so busy, working alongside my colleagues at the Disaster Distress Helpline in ensuring that our network of crisis contact centers across the country had the support they needed to, in turn, assist callers and texters who were reaching out because they needed what the DDH provides: a listening ear, resources for coping, referrals to community-based services for follow-up support, validation.
Running is a sport rife with metaphors, and so for those that may be struggling one year after the Boston Marathon Bombing – or after any disaster –I offer these 5 tips that can help you reach the emotional recovery “finish line”:
What has helped you get through or recover from a tough race in the past? While sometimes it’s easy to forget, coping during a stressful time in your life is a lot like thinking about past races when you’re getting ready for your next one: what worked for you then will likely also help you now.
Every runner likes to try new gadgets, and often times these then lead to new routines. Similarly, when you’re feeling stressed, try new ways to cope: vary your running route or cross-train, engage in creative arts, practice or develop a new hobby. Also, slow down (while not stopping altogether) - take walks, listen to soothing music, pamper yourself in some way.
Spectators along a race route aren’t just there to look or be looked at: they cheer and offer encouragement. Runners along the route also help each other when another falters. Apply the same approach to the healing process after a disaster: offer those struggling your shoulder to lean on, a listening ear, and offer help while they’re recovering- babysitting, running an errand, making a meal, all of these ‘random acts of kindness’ can actually go a long way in helping a disaster survivor understand that she or he is not alone in their recovery. What’s more, you’ll feel better yourself.
In a difficult race, the finish line might seem far off, but you know it’s there: one foot in front of the other, and eventually you’ll cross that finish line. Recovery looks different for every person and may have ups and downs, but getting to the point where you feel like you can move forward – just like getting over ‘the wall’ in a long race –is possible.
Even after trying these tips, sometimes you need to know when you have to seek help along the course. Knowing your limits isn’t a sign of failure, it’s a recognition that we’re all human, and therefore we all need help in order to be able to get back up and try again some other time.
If you or someone you care about is struggling after a disaster, reach out to the Disaster Distress Helpline, 24/7: call 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746.
photo credit: dark matter