Victims of Disaster, You Are Not Alone! : Brain Bites

Victims of Disaster, You Are Not Alone!

by Janet Zadina on 09/07/17

It is with a heavy heart that I send my greetings to so many colleagues in cities impacted by disaster. My heart is with you through these terrible events and I want to provide whatever small help I can.

First, and foremost, I want to tell you that you are not losing your mind!  Many people struggle with thinking after trauma and fear that the trauma has given them brain damage.  No!  But it has severely impacted your thinking, particularly in some areas.  For example, do you find yourself getting lost?  That is managed by the hippocampus, a region very impacted by stress.  Do you have trouble organizing, planning, carrying out long-term projects, or making decisions?  Your frontal lobes are less activated so that you can be in survival mode, doing what is necessary to sustain life.  You are probably having some memory issues and maybe even having trouble remembering things that happened prior to the storm.  Yes, that is another area impacted by stress.  The good news is that you will recover!  However, you want to minimize the damage and impact and recover as quickly as possible.  So you must take action.

  • Below are some materials and practices that may help you reduce stress so that you do not get chronic post-traumatic stress disorder.  An important research study of hurricane survivors found that self-efficacy, the feeling that you could cope and manage, was the mitigating factor that separated those who recovered from PTSD and those who developed chronic PTSD.  You can cope!  By engaging in some of these practices and using some of the materials you are sending a message to your brain that you are rewiring.  You are taking measures to protect yourself! I know you are very busy working hard to restore your lives, but take just five minutes a day to restore your mind and your brain!

  • Turn to my web page to the Butterfly Project. You will find many resources about PTSD and stress in general.  You can also go to Latest Research and look at the stress category there for information and resources.

  • I give free talks whenever possible to school districts or colleges impacted by natural disaster.  If your district or college would like a free 90 minute presentation I will be available November 9-16.  Please contact me immediately through the invite link on my web page.  If those dates do not work, I may be able to work something in the second semester.  Contact me and let’s see what I can do.  

Practices to reduce stress and handle trauma

  • The 4-7-8 breath stops anxiety in its tracks.  Breathe in to the count of 4, hold it for the count of 7 and breathe slowly out for the count of 8.  Just do it a few times.

  • Gratitudes Taking five minutes to write down three things you are grateful for every morning or evening has been scientifically shown to increase happiness.  Why? It changes your focus throughout the day as you look for things to put on your list.  If you want to make this practice have an even stronger effect, take pictures of things you are grateful for throughout the day, because action is stronger than thinking.

  • Music After Katrina, people asked me “what do you need?”  Well, I needed lots of things.  But I knew that getting my brain fully functioning again was the most important thing. So I asked for CD’s.  Play music while you work.  Beware!  Your heart rate entrains to the beat of music so if you want to calm down, keep it at calm breathing rates -60-80 beats per minute.  Most classical music falls into this realm.  The music that helps me the most, and that meets the criteria for reducing stress includes classical and baroque (I listen to light classical on direct TV while working – it is calming and energizing), spa or new age type music (I listen to new age on direct tv when I want to sleep or rest) and Hawaiian music, which is calming and energizing at the same time.  (Start a Pandora or Spotify station using Brothers Canizaro or Izzy as your starting point.)  Research also shows that playing music that you personally like can help relax you, but if you are playing music with a fast beat and you are stressed, that might not be the best choice right now.

  • Meditation is scientifically shown to reduce stress and PTSD symptoms and to affect the brain issues listed above. I know the last thing you can do right now is sit down in the middle of the turmoil and zone out.  However, there are many kinds of meditation, which is simply focused attention.  Mindfulness is the easiest for you to practice right now.  If you are cleaning mold off of dishes or objects, then use this time to become mindful.  Focus on the object – its color, its weight, its beauty.  Send loving kindness to the object (which creates it in you and is healing for the heart).  If you are having a cup of coffee or tea, stop for just 10 minutes and savor that drink.  Smell it, taste it, and feel its warmth.  That, too, is meditation.  If you have time or once your schedule starts to return to some normalcy, take up moving meditation, such as tai chi, qi gung, martial arts, or drumming.  Try to get your children into one of these.

  • Yoga has been scientifically shown to reduce the effects we have discussed here and symptoms of PTSD. You don’t even have to be good at it!  Chair yoga works, too.  If anyone in your group of colleagues knows some simple moves, get together before or after school and do some simple moves.  It is a form of meditation, as well.

  • Exercise has been scientifically shown to reduce symptoms of stress and PTSD. Remember -while you are busy taking care of your house, your car, your body, take just 15 minutes to take care of your brain/mind.  Just 15 minutes can make a difference.  Can you walk, bicycle, or go to the gym?  Maybe work out to a TV fitness program. (Sorry, I don’t know any to recommend, ha ha).

  • Reframing Recently during extreme stress I couldn’t sleep.  I developed this strategy that worked for me by putting things into perspective, activating gratitude, and creating a mantra-type “meditation”.  In bed, every time a bad thought came up, I would make myself go through this list of questions in order and answer each one. Sometimes I would have to do it almost constantly until I would fall asleep.  Here it is in the hopes it may help you.

    • Am I safe?   Yes

    • Am I comfortable (not wet, cold, hot)?  Yes

    • Do I have food and drink? Yes

    • Do I have a hot shower and toilet?  Yes

    • Do I have a loved one near? Yes

    • Then you are better off than 80% of the world’s population, so let it go.

Repeat as needed.

Please try to work just one of these into your schedule to cope and to protect.  

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Here are some worksheets from my presentation and my upcoming book.  These may help you by changing your focus of attention and your practices, and therefore, changing your brain.

with Dr. Janet Zadina
Copyright 2013 Janet Zadina, Ph.D. All rights reserved
Janet N. Zadina, Ph.D
Brain Research and Instruction

Science and Strategies
Janet N. Zadina, Ph.D
Brain Research and Instruction
Bridging Neuroscience and Education​

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